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Facing budget cuts, Willmar School Board votes to lay off 29 teachers

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board voted to lay off 29 teachers from all or part of their jobs in an effort to cut $1.4 million from the district's budget.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board voted to lay off 29 teachers from all or part of their jobs in an effort to cut $1.4 million from the district's budget.

At its meeting Monday, the board adopted a list of cuts proposed by the district's administrators.

School officials have said the cuts were needed to adjust to falling student numbers and to deal with rising costs while school revenue is tightly restricted by the state.

The cuts total about 3.5 percent of the district's $40 million budget.

The district's goal is to have an unrestricted fund balance of 7 percent of expenditures for the coming year, leaving a cushion of about 3Β½ weeks' expenses.

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As a result of these budget cuts, the district will increase its class sizes from kindergarten through senior high.

Class sizes will begin at 20 students per section in kindergarten and gradually increase through the grades until they reach an average class size of 27 to 28 students in junior high and senior high.

Other impacts of the cuts include eliminating mock trial, eliminating two elementary school social workers and consolidating secondary department chair positions. The number of layoffs might have been higher, but the district was able to eliminate the positions of some staff members who retired or resigned.

In some cases, like with Title I teachers who help at-risk students with reading and math, staff members could be recalled when the district knows more about its funding levels for the next school year. The same is true of instructors who work in early childhood programs.

"Some of this could be precautionary in nature," said Superintendent Kathy Leedom. However, she added, state deadlines make it nearly impossible to cut staff positions after June, so district often lay off teachers who are called back once more is known about funding and enrollment.

Federal Title I funding has been shrinking for several years, even though the need for the services is still there, Leedom said.

"It is unfortunately a sign of the times on a national level," she added.

The cuts in Title I staff are unfortunate, Leedom said, and she hopes the district can recall some of the teachers. Along with the loss of funding in recent years, the district has been required to set aside some of its Title I funding to pay for staff training because the district did not score highly enough in some areas of the state's standardized tests last year.

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Board member Brad Schmidt, a lawyer, said he has been contacted by people who may try to raise money to keep the mock trial program going. He asked if it would be possible to reinstate the program is that happens.

If the money could be found from another source, "we would add it back as soon as we could get to a board meeting," said Senior High Principal Rob Anderson.

After the board voted on several resolutions to make the budget cuts and layoffs official, Board Chairman Mike Carlson said, "This is never a thing we like to do. We do definitely thank people for their service to Willmar Public Schools."

After the meeting, Carlson said it was difficult for the board to take the action.

Carlson referred to a statewide study of teacher layoffs released last week that indicated at least 1,000 teachers would be losing their jobs this spring. He also talked about state officials' concern about the possibility of 1,000 layoffs if the Northwest Airlines/Delta Airlines merger takes place.

"If we were any other entity, would the state be stepping in," he asked.

Leedom talked about the same issue. "It is such a call to action about the need for adequate funding for students in the state of Minnesota," she said. "Students are not able to repeat the learning opportunities that are missed because of budget cuts."

The teachers who were laid off are listed below. Tenured staff members will be on a recall list for five years and will have an opportunity to return if the district has a job opening that is in line with their licensure.

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Some of the teachers currently work part-time, and some were placed on leave for only a portion of their jobs.

Of the tenured teachers, one was laid off full time -- Michael Mohs, director of secondary alternative education. The others face partial layoffs: Amber Erickson, Title I; Rebecca Larson, Title I; Alicia Madsen, Title I; Lyndsey Post, Title I and physical education; and Meghan Wiebe, Title I and English language learner.

Full-time layoffs of probationary teachers include David Bendickson, science; Brian Gauer, math; Michelle Gregersen, physical education; Jennifer Larson, adult basic education; Edwina Lorensen, ELL; Nichole Miksche, elementary instructor; Carrie Jo Richards, special education; Jason Schorn, Science; Sara Squibb, communications.

Probationary teachers facing partial layoffs: Sandy Baker, elementary music; Elsa Bross, ELL; Tracy Borstad, early childhood; Kathryn Droske, French; Shauna Eilts, elementary music; Shayla Honken, parent educator; Maria Iedema, ELL; Jennifer Laumeyer, early childhood family education; Edward Oehlers, physical education; Katharine Orth, physical education and Title I; Ann Rislov, school readiness and family education; Gloria Skalbeck, business; Sarah Swenson, early childhood; Jan Turner, group home tutor.

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