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Bemidji School Board: Staff cuts added at BMS

The Bemidji School Board has made additional staff cuts at Bemidji Middle School - at least temporarily.

At a special meeting Tuesday morning, the board voted 3-2 to approve a resolution that officially reduced and added programs and positions across the Bemidji School District. The board, at its regular meeting last month, voted on which adjustments it wanted to make.

The motion made Tuesday by board member Bill Faver and seconded by board member Steven Johnson includes additional reductions at BMS.

Voting in favor were board chairwoman Carol L. Johnson, Faver and Steven Johnson. Voting in opposition were board members Ann Long Voelkner and Gene Dillon. Board member John Pugleasa was absent from the meeting.

Through the vote Tuesday, the board officially cut licensed staff at various levels in the district, including:

- 3.7 full-time equivalent employees at the elementary level.

- 5.84 FTE employees at BMS.

- 5.63 FTE employees at Bemidji High School and Lumberjack High School.

- 5.75 FTE employees in other areas of the district.

The board made these cuts as part of the district paring down its budget by $2 million for the 2009-10 school year.

Minus the additional cuts at BMS, the cuts made Tuesday are estimated to reduce the budget by about $1.19 million in salaries and benefits.

District administration also is making non-licensed staff reductions for this school year and the next.

Also, the district faces adjusting its spending budget by $1.1 million by reducing spending and generating more revenue.

Originally, the board considered three options for making staff cuts at BMS. On April 20, the board voted to move forward with the third option.

The third option entailed shifting from three pods to 2.5 pods in both the seventh and eighth grades, eliminating two FTE eighth-grade teaching positions and two FTE seventh-grade teaching positions.

On Tuesday, Faver proposed also including the first option. By doing so, additional cuts at BMS would be a 1.34 FTE reduction in music - affecting band, orchestra and choir - and reduce the media specialist position by 0.50 FTE.

"What I would like right now is more options to consider," Faver said.

At Bemidji Middle School, the target is to reduce staff by 3.92 FTE for the 2009-10 school year. The additions made Tuesday exceed the target by 1.92 FTE. As a result, the board will consider adding back positions at BMS.

"We're not increasing the target at the middle school - we'll just give us a few more options to consider," Faver said.

He said BMS administration had presented the first option, which also included moving to 2.5 pods in the eighth grade, as its preferred option.

The first option, Faver noted, keeps class sizes smaller relative to the third option.

Faver said he believes smaller class sizes at BMS is preferable academically and socially for students as well as for the district at large.

He noted that larger class sizes at BMS could prompt students to consider attending other schools that are outside the district.

Long Voelkner, who was opposed to Faver's proposal, said the board made its decisions on staff reductions April 20.

"When the board makes a decision like that, it affects people," she said, noting that these people include students and staff.

She said she believes the board needs to make those choices and move on.

"We can't put people in limbo, which is part of what I felt that this resolution did in terms of adding ... additional staff to potentially reduce at the middle school," she said.

She said the other reason she opposed the proposal is because she believes that the district could use - when it arrives - federal stimulus dollars to augment the reductions in the third option.

On Tuesday, the board voted 5-0 to approve a resolution to terminate and not renew the contracts of 13 probationary teachers. The board also voted 5-0 to approve a resolution placing four teachers on unrequested leaves of absence.

Meanwhile, the board voted 5-0 to offer to rehire four employees on these two lists.

Jordan Hickman, director of human resources, said the teachers placed on unrequested leaves of absence and the probationary teachers whose contracts were not renewed would receive formal notice later Tuesday.

"There are four teachers who will be offered rehire," he said, noting that they would be offered contracts Tuesday.

With the additional reductions made Tuesday at BMS, Hickman said he will have to present an additional action related to unrequested leaves of absence or nonrenewals of probationary teacher contracts to the board at its May 18 regular meeting.

"I am anticipating that it may affect one additional individual," he said.

Also due to the additional reductions made Tuesday, one teacher was removed from the rehire list and will likely remain on the list of teachers placed on unrequested leaves of absence.