by David Hill

While the situation with Activities Director Mike Biermaier might have filled the board room Monday, Feb. 23, it wasn’t the only controversy the Board of Education faced that night. In revealing the 2018-19 budget projections, it became apparent one program would be facing bigger cuts than the others.
Mandy Schuster, English teacher at the Northwest Area Learning Center, said she cannot stand to hear that education is a business. Rather, she asserted that it is a public service paid for with tax dollars, and that class size matters, especially to students in the ALC program, which stands to be affected the most by budget cuts next year.
In January, the finance committee of the Board of Education recommended reducing the budget by $200,000. Several meetings have been held since then. It was also explained that the District has been deficit spending since 2014-15 and projecting deficits since 2013-14.
Cuts have been made in the past, but if the District is to reduce the budget by $200,000 and maintain its unassigned fund balance at a healthy level, more cuts would have to be made and this time it would mean cutting staff.
(The fund balance goal for the district is to have an unassigned fund balance of not less than 10 percent and not more than 25 percent. The current fund balance would be 13 percent for 2018-19. The optimal fund balance is 15 percent of the total annual operating expenditures.)
Among the cuts proposed by the finance committee and administrative cabinet, was a reduction of $106,000 to the Area Learning Center. Those reductions include a .5 FTE social studies teacher position, a .5 FTE English teacher position and a .75 FTE administrative support position.
The District recognizes that this isn’t fair. In fact, its assumptions include “fair is not defined as equal for all buildings.”
Schuster doesn’t believe the District is holding true to another of its assumptions – that student achievement is the focus and priority of decision-making. If the cuts are made, Schuster believes the needs of students will not be met.
There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of kids enrolled in the ALC program.
According to the enrollment report issued last week, there were 18 students enrolled full-time in the ALC program, and one part-time student.
No one understands why the numbers are down. However, Loren Leake, director of the ALC, said the numbers generally increase as the year progresses toward graduation.
In a separate interview, Superintendent Brad Bergstrom said fewer students are coming to the ALC from outside the District. Lincoln High School also made some adjustments to its requirements last year that makes better use of an open block. As a result, more kids are taking classes at the school.
During the meeting Monday night, Misty Hempel, vice chair of the Board of Education, said she was concerned that if an influx occurred, the District wouldn’t be able to meet their needs.
Bergstrom said the option available to the District is to offer instructors overloads. He also said they couldn’t build a staff plan based on where the enrollment might be.
Wayne Nomeland asked whether the students would get the services they need and Bergstrom said that from his perspective, yes.
Bergstrom also said he understands that this is very personal to the staff at the ALC. He also said the District will not ever not have an ALC.
Other cuts recommended in the budget adjustment list included $5,000 from miscellaneous and instructional supplies from Challenger Elementary School; $8,850 from instructional and miscellaneous supplies at Franklin Middle School; $70,000 from Lincoln High School in the form of a .5 FTE social studies teacher, and a .5 FTE English teacher position; $3,000 from supplies and the Envirothon program in the Activities Department; $4,000 in a reallocation of funds in buildings and grounds; $8,000 from the sale of three older buses from the fleet and savings to the tire budget in the Transportation Department; and $12,000 from the District Service Center in the form of a .25 FTE administrative support position in the business office.
The total adjustment was $216,850.
The Board of Education approved the 2018-19 budget adjustments as presented.