Document outlines proposed cuts to dozens of positions in the Grand Forks School District

By | March 8, 2024

Mar. 8—GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Public Schools administrators have recommended eliminating the equivalent of about 50 full-time staff positions to address the budget shortfall in the coming academic year.

That’s according to a document provided to Grand Forks School Board members during the Feb. 26 board meeting, when dozens of students, parents and former teachers spoke out in response to the surprise announcement of the proposed cuts during a districtwide staff meeting under led by Superintendent Terry Brenner.

The document does not necessarily show the cuts that will occur in 2024-2025, Brenner and school board President Amber Flynn said. The board will not vote on the preliminary or final budget for the 2024-2025 school year until August and October.

Brenner, who has been meeting with staff who would be affected by the cuts since Feb. 28, said the list of proposed cuts provided to school board members does not tell the full story.

“Just writing a story about the document does not accurately illustrate the budget realignment process from start to finish, and we are not at the end yet,” Brenner wrote in an email to the Herald on Thursday.

Still, the document is essentially the only paper document released by the school district that provides details on how the budget realignment might move forward.

In addition to the cuts to music and German programs that have been the focus of public backlash, administrators recommended eliminating the role of teachers at elementary schools across the district; physical education teachers at Red River and Central high schools; a part-time role as an addiction counselor, based among others in district offices and library and media paraprofessionals at all school levels.

About 68% of the proposed cuts to full-time equivalency were for classified employees — district employees who do not hold a teaching certificate or other license.

Approximately 40% of the FTE reduction among classified employees comes from paraprofessionals working in classrooms or school libraries, mostly at the elementary school level – the equivalent of 14.5 full-time jobs.

The focus of the cuts in teacher hours and compensation has been at the elementary level, where administrators are proposing to eliminate the equivalent of six to eight full-time teaching jobs in “classroom realignments” across the district.

Valley, Schroeder and South Middle Schools would lose the equivalent of one teacher each for their orchestras and one teacher each as the district consolidates its World Languages ​​programs into World Culture.

At the high school level, Red River and Central would both lose the gym teacher position, and Red River would make indefinite cuts to social studies and a personal instructor for its computer science course.

The district office would also cut 11.6 FTE units, counting one classified and one certified employee, with reductions at the SAIL center.

It was mentioned that a secondary curriculum coordinator position would be cut, but the associated savings in salary and benefits do not appear to be included in the estimated $3.7 million in savings from the cuts in salaries and benefits.

Administrators also considered and rejected eliminating the equivalent of another 40 full-time positions, including most notably the assistant superintendent position.

It’s worth noting that FTE cuts don’t necessarily equate to layoffs: Brenner has said administrators have tailored the cuts so that teachers and paraprofessionals who see their FTE cuts can fill other roles in the district.

For example, Brenner has said that music programs would be “restructured” so that teachers could fill other roles, and said the district would try to reduce the number of FTEs through attrition.

It’s also possible that some of these positions have not been filled: The district has 44 open positions on its job board as of Friday.

Brenner declined Herald requests to discuss the proposed cuts or how they would be implemented, writing in an email Wednesday that it would be “premature” to do so while discussions with affected staff are ongoing .

The proposed cuts to staff salaries and benefits would represent just over half of the $7.3 million budget adjustment to the district’s 2024-2025 budget.

That adjustment would shift the district from a projected base operating deficit of $3.1 million to a surplus of $943,719, which would help the district close the gap on the $1.2 million it must raise by the end of the 2025-2026 school year to to meet the objectives of the school board. of a general reserve of 15% of the annual operating costs.

The other half of the $7.3 million adjustment would come from outside the salaries and benefits budget and address expected additional expenses, such as increases in health insurance costs, the end of pandemic-era ESSER funds and a curriculum investment of $1.5 million.

Flynn indicated the school board has no formal plans to reconsider its plan to replenish the district’s general fund, which is lagging behind recommendations from other school districts and auditors. He said: “Right now we stay the course.”

She has also said that the details of which positions will be eliminated are the concern of directors, not board members, and that it is the board’s job to focus on broader issues, such as building general fund reserves.

Flynn also defended keeping further discussion of the proposed cuts behind closed doors. The board did not participate in the ‘listening sessions’ between directors and involved employees.

“With any business strategy or school strategy, there is a rationale that makes sense to most people, and a rationale that is probably not appropriate to communicate to large masses of people,” she said. “I am confident the district had its reasons and is sharing them with the right group of people.”

Nick Archuletta, president of North Dakota United — a union that represents teachers statewide — has been critical of what he says is a lack of transparency since the public became aware of the cuts last month.

“If things are done in the dark and they are more opaque than they need to be, that causes problems,” he told the Herald on Tuesday. “When there are no facts, people are left to guess what will happen — and to guess whether the school board and administration vetted this as thoroughly as they should have.”

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