Residents packed the Blue Earth Area School Board meeting on Monday night to see what reductions would be made to the district’s Art department next year.
On a 4-2 vote, board members passed a resolution to eliminate an elementary art teacher and not replace a current high school art instructor who is retiring at the end of the school year.
In addition, other 1.58 full-time equivalency positions will be cut. By making the moves district officials expect to save $206,000.
Superintendent Evan Gough says declining enrollment is a driving factor for the reductions. He says the district has 65 less students this year, which means a decrease in state aid of about $560,000.
“We were definitely not prepared for that, the number of families moving out of the district,” says Gough. “We’re getting smaller. Our enrollment is down and we have to reduce staff. We will be O.K.”
Gough discussed the district’s finances, saying that state aid has dropped from $10,221 per pupil in 2013 to the current $8,687.
He says the district’s revenue consists of 10 percent from local property taxes, 3 percent from the federal government and the rest from the state.
“This is not an easy decision for anybody up here,” says board member Jesse Haugh. “We’re struggling with the budget. It stinks. But, I have trust and faith in our administrators.”
Several residents gave their input including Aaron Johnson, a doctor at United Hospital District.
Johnson told board members his family moved to Blue Earth was because the district was one of two in the area that offered orchestra for his daughter.
Johnson says the district must maintain its excellence to education and that includes a strong Art department. He warned against making cuts for just economic reasons that would set a precedent.
“We wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t that commitment to excellence,” he says. “I can promise you if that changes, we will move.”
Former music teacher Sue Ellingsen says that the arts teach that problems have more than one answer.
“Art teaches that small differences can have large effects….Arts help children say things they can’t always verbalize,” she says.
Marlene Hanson says the school website says, “BEA empowers their students to reach their full potential. Excellence for all. ‘We need the arts program to remain excellent’.”
Like Haugh, board member Sheila Ripley says she supports and values the arts, but district officials have to make tough decisions when funding is tight.
“We can’t ignore the fact we are already deficit spending,” says Ripley. “We have to do something.”
Board member Jeremy Coxworth asked if the matter could be tabled until more information is available. The newly elected member is concerned whether changes are proposed for the high school program.
“The opportunities for art are going to stay, but they may look a little different,” says Gough. “Maintaining opportunities is important.”
Gough reassured Coxworth that for now no changes will be made at the high school and schedules will be adjusted to accommodate the loss of an instructor.
“That wouldn’t be my recommendation (to table the matter). You have to put trust in your administrators. They have a job to do,” says Gough. “We’re not done, next year we’ll have more conversations.”
Voting in favor of the resolution to discontinue positions and curtail programs were Haugh, Ripley, Susan Benz and Sara Hauskins, while Coxworth and Amber Patten voted against.