In an attempt to finish discussions on the possible switch to all day, every day kindergarten, the Chisago Lakes school board held a special meeting Wednesday, Jan. 23. However, at the end of the night, the board had yet to make their decision, pushing it to the Feb. 12 meeting.
The board remained divided on the issue, with some voicing support for the program and others wary. Board member Lori Berg began the discussion by saying she talked to numerous people in districts who have recently implemented all day, every day K.
“With everyone I spoke to, not only did it stop the bleeding in enrollment, but it boosted it,” she said. “We have to do something to stop families from leaving, and the sliding scale just doesn’t work.” Across the table, however, new board member Brenda Carlson was more worried about the students and families currently in the district. “We’re either going to lose kids in kindergarten or we’re going to lose kids to 30-plus class sizes (if the district spends an extra $300,000 on the all day, every day K plan),” she said. “We need to take care of the kids we do have and I don’t know if we can do that and still add this program.”
Board member Tom Lawlor fell somewhere in between Carlson and Berg. He agreed that the current all day, every other day is not ideal, but wasn’t sure if now was the time to spend the money. “We have to get rid of all day, every other day K,” he said. “I’m just not sure next year is the time to do that. I’m cautious.” Berg suggested that the district run the program as a pilot next year, and see what the data shows them and if there is an uptick in enrollment.
Regardless of it being a pilot or permanent offering, Berg was adamant in her stance that it was something the district had to have. “If we lose these families in kindergarten, we’ve lost them for good. And if we lose them, we’re going to lose teachers.”
It was then brought to the board’s attention about a possible Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday block of classes for kindergarteners. It would allow the students to retain things from day to day if they were going to class three days in a row. It would also avoid the extended absences that can be problematic in the current every other day plan. The board was intrigued enough by this idea to have the three-in-a-row looked into for the Feb. 12 meeting. Another possibility was to at least have that block for Taylors Falls Elementary. There is already a group of TF families interested in all day, every day K at a price but because there isn’t enough to fill out a section -- about nine families -- it isn’t something they can offer currently.
Superintendent Mike McLoughlin, who is on his way out at the end of the school year, sided with Carlson as he spoke to the board. “Our obligation is to 3,300 kids,” he said. “And shrinking,” Berg interjected. “Not just 200 kindergarteners,” McLoughlin continued. “The black and white of this is that we’re talking about offering something that we’re just not funded for. We need to fund the programs that we’re mandated to fund.” McLoughlin also pointed to the critical upcoming referendum for the district as a reason to hold off on offering something that isn’t funded. “When people go to the ballot in November, they’ll be thinking if the district has been wise with their money or not.”
Budget cuts were also a hot topic at the meeting as proposed cuts at each site were made public. The high school will save nearly $85,000 of their $100,000 target in budget reductions with four janitorial retirements. One position will not be filled at a savings of $52,000 and three other new hires will save just over $33,000. At the middle school, there will be a .5 full-time equivalent (FTE) reduction in both a science and history teacher and a .2 FTE reduction in choir. At Taylors Falls, they will cut a third grade teacher at a savings of over $55,000. At Lakeside, there will be a halftime reduction in music at a savings of $30,389. In the Primary School, a first grade teacher will be eliminated, but that’s due to a small kindergarten class advancing. Class sizes will still remain around 25-27. Colleen Cavanaugh, a second grade teacher at Primary School, took a moment to tell the board how the teachers felt about the cuts. “These are some wonderful teachers being moved out,” she said. “We’ve gone through the fat, gone through the muscle and now we are down to the skeleton. Twenty-eight kids in a class is too many. We don’t have the solutions, but we stand together as men and women and ask you to take another look.”
Director of Business Services Heide Miller said there have been 21 applications for the superintendent position. McLoughlin is retiring at the end of the year.
The board heard from a concerned set of parents about the school’s policies regarding disseminating private information. McLoughlin apologized to the parents for the incident, but was also appreciative of them coming to the school board to share their feelings. The board said the district’s current policies will be reenforced to clerical workers.