Willmar School Board decides against cutting two more teachers

WILLMAR -- Two Willmar kindergarten teachers have been saved from the budget axe. The Willmar School Board voted 6-1 to remove probationary teachers Kristin Egge and Amanda Pehrson from a layoff list presented at the Tuesday board meeting. The bo...

WILLMAR -- Two Willmar kindergarten teachers have been saved from the budget axe.

The Willmar School Board voted 6-1 to remove probationary teachers Kristin Egge and Amanda Pehrson from a layoff list presented at the Tuesday board meeting. The board did vote to lay off another probationary teacher, part-time Title I teacher Alyssa Diederich.

At its May 12 meeting, the board voted to lay off five part-time tenured teachers who work in the federally funded Title I program. The layoffs were part of a package of $1.4 million in budget reductions.

However, school officials later learned that the tenured teachers, although they are part-time employees, would be able to keep their jobs by displacing probationary teachers.

On Tuesday, the board rescinded its earlier motion to lay off Amber Erickson, Rebecca Larsen, Alicia Madsen, Lyndsey Post and Meghan Wiebe. They will retain their jobs with the district.


The only tenured staff member to be officially laid off Tuesday was an administrator, Michael Mohs, who is director of secondary alternative education.

Mohs will be on a callback list for five years. If a position opens for which he is qualified, it will be offered to him.

Title I provides reading and math instruction for at-risk elementary students. Federal funding for the program has decreased in recent years. In the past year, 40 percent of Willmar's Title I funding has been diverted to staff training, a consequence of the district's not making adequate yearly progress as defined by the federal education program No Child Left Behind.

A number of the tenured part-time Title I teachers will remain part-time, said Superintendent Kathy Leedom, but it is possible some of them will have their hours increased. As a result of the need to keep those teachers on staff, administrators looked for ways to cut more probationary teachers.

It was difficult to choose probationary teachers to lay off, because "we have hired very well," Leedom said. "They all show exceptional promise."

Four of Egge's colleagues at Lincoln Elementary asked the board to consider keeping her on staff. Kindergarten teacher Joan Kuhn agreed with Leedom that the district has "done an awesome job of hiring." The teachers praised Egge for being an intuitive teacher, a strong team member and a supporter of the district.

The school board had a number of questions about the proposed layoff.

Board member Sandi Unger asked if the Title I teachers would move into kindergarten classrooms. "I don't know that that's the best thing to do," she said. The students "only go to kindergarten once," and she wants them to have experienced teachers, she added.


Leedom said the district would make sure that any teacher moving into the full-time classroom would be properly licensed and prepared to make the move.

Beckie Simenson, the principal at Lincoln and Jefferson elementary schools and the district's Title I coordinator, said it was too soon to know what reassignments would take place.

The reductions in Title I funding are a problem, Simenson said. "It's tearing my staff apart."

Board members asked what would happen if the two kindergarten teachers were not laid off.

The district's general fund would, in effect, be subsidizing the federal Title I program with local funds, Leedom said. She added that keeping the Title I teachers working in their field would not be a problem, but there aren't enough federal funds to pay them.

"We can always use more people," she said. "It could be done, and people would have meaningful jobs."

Some board members suggested laying off probationary teachers by seniority, as schools do with tenured teachers. Others said such a policy would limit administrators' options during a time of tight budgets.

Several board members pointed to a board decision a year ago to add a number of staff positions to meet student needs, even though some of the additions could only be sustained for one year.


Chairman Mike Carlson and board member Wayne Lenzmeier suggested that the board could do the same thing for next year on a smaller scale.

If that's the case, asked board member Brad Schmidt, "Are there other things that we would spend money on besides these teachers?"

Other administrators would have ideas for additions, too, Leedom said.

Carlson suggested that having "some extra time and extra people" might help the district with children who are struggling to meet the federal standards. "If we can give one year, let's do it," he said.

"Anytime you are investing dollars in a child's early school experience, it is never money wasted," Leedom said.

Board members who voted to remove Egge and Pehrson from the layoff list were Carlson, Lenzmeier, Shawn Mueske, Eric Roberts, Unger and Dion Warne. Schmidt voted against the motion.

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