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Delay did not bring change for budget

One month later, not much has changed in the Farmington School District's preliminary budget, and that has some parents disappointed.

A group of Farmington parents felt like they had won a victory May 24 when they convinced the District 192 School Board to delay a decision on a preliminary budget that included elementary school classes with as many as 31 students. But as the school board prepares to take action on that budget next week those class size projections remain unchanged.

That doesn't mean those numbers won't change in the months ahead. School board members and district staff have said throughout the budget discussion that staffing guidelines typically start out with large class sizes and that classes shrink as the district develops a clearer picture of how many students it will have. Hire too many teachers now, they have said, and they're committed to pay them whether or not the students show up in the fall.

A District 192 Budget Advisory Council was scheduled to meet Wednesday, after this issue of the Independent went to print, but comments made in the past month by board members, elementary principals and other district staff make changes seem unlikely.

Tera Lee, one of the most vocal parents over the past month, said she was happy to have the budget decision postponed but frustrated now to see nothing has changed.

"We're just asking simply to include the projected teachers in the budget," Lee said.

Lee called the past month a learning process as she educated herself on school budgets and talked with district staff and board members. She said board members sometimes seemed defensive when she first approached, but most got more comfortable after she talked to them. Overall, though, she called communication a problem area in the district.

"It seems like as soon as you start asking questions, immediately defenses go up," Lee said.

Lee hopes to do something to fix that. She said whatever happens Monday she plans to be more active in the district. Over the past month she's collected a large mailing list of parents who joined in the debate over class sizes, and she plans to use those contacts to spread the word whenever she sees an issue she feels is important.

"My new goal is to help other parents be more informed about other things that are going on," Lee said. "I think that people are so busy they don't have time to look into all of these things."

The budget

The district has proposed a number of cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing changes for the preliminary budget that will be acted on Monday. Changes include a $10 increase across the board for athletic fees, the elimination of phone specialist and reduced use of contracted food services.

The district has also proposed a plan to increase the radius that determines which students are eligible for free busing to school. The new radius would require elementary students who live within one mile of their school and secondary students who live within two miles of school to walk.

Along with the busing change the district would introduce for-a-fee busing service for students who live in a walking zone but who want to ride the bus.

Burke said at the board's June 14 meeting that he plans to introduce changes to the preliminary budget including the elimination of a the busing fee and the elimination of a levy for programs run by 360 Communities. He also said he would propose decreases to some salaries and increases to others, though he did not offer specifics.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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