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At urging of parents, district holds off on budget approval

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news Farmington, 55024
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

As the Farmington School Board discussed its preliminary budget Monday night it asked residents to trust it would keep class sizes from growing too large next year. The public, or at least the representatives in attendance, politely declined.

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A growing group of Farmington parents launched an e-mail campaign in recent days to ask board members to hold off on approving a budget and to take a closer look at the need for teachers, particularly in the elementary level. As a result, the board, which was scheduled to approve its budget Monday, voted instead to wait until June 28. The preliminary budget must be approved before July 1.

The little theater at Dodge Middle School gradually filled with parents as Monday's meeting went on, and many applauded as parents asked board members to consider cutting administrative positions and adding teachers to reduce class sizes that projections suggest could climb as high 31 students next year at North Trail Elementary School.

"I think our main goal is to educate the kids, and that means teachers," said Mary Stivers, a North Trail parent and one of seven district residents to address the school board Monday.

Board members and finance director Jeff Priess said the district is in the same position it is most years at this time, with only an educated guess at exactly how many students will walk through school doors next fall. Class sizes tend to look larger this time of year, they said, because if the district hires a teacher now that teacher is guaranteed a job next year even if student enrollment falls.

With state funding for school districts based on the number of students enrolled, being overstaffed can cause problems.

"We're constantly making those adjustments," superintendent Brad Meeks said. "We're going to work hard to make sure we don't have those 31 second graders at North Trail."

Board member Julie McKnight asked why parents were more vocal about class sizes this year than they have been in other recent years when projections have showed class sizes larger than the district's targets. According to parents, the answer is all about money. Parents said they're worried that if the district does not set aside money now to pay for additional teachers that money will not be available later.

"We are concerned that there wont be funds this year because the economy has basically plummeted," said parent Tera Lee. "We're not dissing the process."

The idea of holding off on teacher staffing decisions did not sit well with parents. They pointed to the importance of making sure teachers have an opportunity to work closely with all of their students. They also pointed to the fact the district spends an estimated 6.4 percent of its budget on administrative salaries, more than many neighboring districts. Lakeville, by comparison, spends an estimated 4.2 percent of its budget on administration, according to numbers Lee collected.

Priess called those numbers into question. He said there are too many variables to ensure numbers parents collected from those district are truly comparable.

The district has identified cuts already. The preliminary budget on Monday's agenda included the elimination of a telephone specialist and a special education coordinator as well as increases to fees for athletics and a proposal to offer for-a-fee busing for students who currently live in areas where bus service is not available.

Board member Veronica Walter made the motion to postpone action on the budget Monday. She asked Priess to use the time to make more budget information available to parents.

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