Minnesota is short-changing its schools, and Blackduck students and their tax-paying parents are among the losers.
Superintendent Robert Doetsch painted that grim scenario to school board members at their Monday night meeting, and the board reacted by setting two open meetings to let people know what has happened, and what the district faces as a result.
Earlier the board went through a formal reorganization session, returning all officers to their present positions. Dale Compton continues as chairman, with Grant Mistic vice-chairman, Larry Zee as treasurer and Cynthia Nord again serving as clerk.
Doetsch's pessimistic projections came after an earlier indication of changes being made. When a question was asked about the safety of food served in school meals, Doestch reported that Blackduck School facilities and food service get state inspections twice a year "and we passed again this last fall" he told the board, "but with a change. The state used to do this as a public service to keep kids healthy but now they charge us $1,000 every time... another $2,000 we didn't budget for!"
He continued that people may not realize just how serious this money problem is, but right now they're looking at having to lay off three or four teachers next year. "We may see bigger classes with just a couple of classes instead of three, and some of the electives will have to be looked at."
"The four-day week is just a band-aid," he went on. "We're doing better than a lot of districts, but we've been warning for the past three years that there's a problem, and now the state has done this to us."
Doetsch cited the delay in state payments and the prospect of not having any money until after the end of the school year. He said the school was advised just this week that payments would not only be delayed, but that the state reimbursement will be cut back to just 73 percent of previous levels.
For the first time in years, he told the board, we may have to borrow money to meet cash flow requirements for paying suppliers and meeting payroll. Many districts have been forced to do this -- Bemidji among them --and the result is that the added cost of interest puts school funding even further behind.
Referring to the public meetings held before the advent of the four-day week, chairman Compton emphasized the need for public understanding. Quickly, the board scheduled two special meetings to acquaint district residents with the extent of the problem. The first will be an open board meeting, with the public urged to attend, Jan. 27, at 8:30 a.m. Another public meeting will be scheduled Feb. 22 at 7:15 p.m.
At both meetings, discussion will include a report on how the four-day week is working. Doetsch said at the moment it seems to have accomplished a savings of at least $70,000. He said there's a great deal of interest in how it is working.
The Wall Street Journal, the network television show, Dateline, and other media inquiries have been made since the first of the year, and in the week ahead, there'll be a visit from another school where there's an interest in making the change. Representatives from Clearbrook-Gonvik will meet with students, faculty, school officials and board members.
Also at both meetings, there will be further discussion on a proposed referendum. Beyond necessary facility repairs, the board will look into operating fund requirements. Members nodded in agreement when Doetsch told them the Blackduck schools currently "are the cream of the crop. Our test scores are high, our kids do great. We can't lose that."