GMR School Board’s message to Superintendent: Bring more cuts now

 

Back at its February 24 meeting, Greenbush-Middle River Superintendent Larry Guggisberg explained that the school board was going to have to do more reductions next year, beyond the $310,260 in proposed cuts he just presented, including two and a half teacher positions.

During a March 4 work session, the board’s message to the Superintendent was to not wait until next year to make those additional reductions. Several board members expressed interest in making GMR a one-section school.

In terms of teacher reductions, the district already approved the reduction of two of the presented two and a half teacher reduction. Offering early retirement incentive to teachers in January, the district had two teachers accept these incentives, including physical education teacher Laura Strand and math teacher JoLeah Hasson. The board approved these teacher resignations with this incentive, effective at the end of this school year.

As for the district’s financial situation, according to budget numbers provided in July 2020, the district’s deficit sat at an estimated $545,371. Declining enrollment, as Guggisberg explained at prior meetings corresponds with a decline in revenue.

GMR’s enrollment has declined and, based on projections, will continue to do so. The GMR enrollment currently sits at 243, with its largest class being its seniors class, at 29 students. The enrollment is projected to be 218 for the 2021-22 school year. GMR’s neighboring school Badger is a one-section school and has an enrollment of 222 students as of last month.

As part of the reduction recommendations he made last month, Guggisberg recommended reducing one of its senior high science teachers to half-time. Along with not replacing these two teachers who accepted the early retirement incentive, if the school were to reduce one of the senior high science positions to half time, it would save the district $181,000.

Talking to many people, Allison Harder said a question that she has received is why the district would go down to one math teacher, but not go to a single-section in everything else.

“I grew up in Badger. I’ve been single-section my whole life, and it worked great,” Harder said. “And so I’m just wondering, when you look at the chart, you look at the class sizes, you look at, obviously we (in Badger) didn’t have as many options to pick from, but that’s part of being single-section.”

Her next question was, when looking at schedules, what are the class sizes?

“I know it’s the elephant in the room, but we need to get it out there and we need to talk about it,” Harder said, referring to going to single-section.

“It’s not an elephant in the room. I’ve made it very clear. If you look at your structure, you have more teachers than any one other school district similar in size,” Guggisberg said. “You have more administrative support than anyone else your size. I think I’ve made that very clear. What I’m trying to do is to ease you into reductions not only for this year, and for next year; you’re not done.”

Board member Brandon Kuznia asked what the next cuts beyond the ones already proposed would be and Guggisberg pointed to single-section school type things. Asked how long it would take to look at one-section type reductions, Guggisberg said he could start tomorrow.

Its current elementary staffing is fine, but its high school staffing, Guggisberg explained, is more than schools similar in size.

As Board Chairperson Shane Kilen explained, 75 percent of the district’s budget includes staff salaries and benefits.

“It’s been that way since I’ve been on the board. And you can take the COVID money, yes,” Kilen said. “It’s going to get us by, it’s going get us by, but that’s gone (after some time). We still got to fix the problem.”

Kuznia said, “You can cut all the little $1,000 things you want out of this thing… We need to look at big numbers.”

Guggisberg said Kuznia was “absolutely correct.”

Addressing its current administration structure also is part of reduction discussions, Guggisberg said. Discussing its future superintendent options, Guggisberg said its administrative structure would need to change by no later than next year.

Currently, on paper, the district has 1.65 administrators, with Guggisberg serving the .65 time. As Kilen explained, Guggisberg does more work than the .65 indicates. Kilen added that Guggisberg might come back for one more year.

“I’m not your long-term solution,” Guggisberg said at the February 24 board meeting. “And if I do next year, that is, that assured is it.”

Getting a referendum passed was also a topic of discussion. The district’s current referendum— $506 per pupil— expires at the end of next year.

“I’ve been through this before. I mean, it’s, none of it’s fun to do,” Kilen said. “But if we don’t get it fixed, and the referendum doesn’t even get renewed, we’re really in trouble.”

Kuznia responded, “We have to be proactive on it. We have to get ahead of it.”

Based on what he had heard, Guggisberg said he would dig deeper in terms of reductions.

To see the complete story, read the March 10 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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