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Bemidji School Board: No change on BMS staff cuts

Staff cuts at Bemidji Middle School will remain for now.

The Bemidji School Board voted 3-3 Tuesday morning on a motion to add back 1.34 full-time equivalent staff in music and the media specialist position by 0.50 FTE at BMS.

The motion - made by board member John Pugleasa and seconded by board member Gene Dillon - failed due to the tie vote. No other motion was offered.

Voting in favor were Pugleasa, board chairwoman Carol L. Johnson and board member Ann Long Voelkner. Voting in opposition were Dillon and board members Steven Johnson and Bill Faver.

The board will hold another special meeting at 7 a.m. Monday to consider more options.

BMS cuts revisited

At a special meeting May 5, the board voted 3-2 to approve a resolution that officially reduced and added programs and positions across the Bemidji School District, including additional cuts at BMS.

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

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 both in the seventh and eighth grades, eliminating two FTE eighth-grade teaching positions and two FTE seventh-grade teaching positions.

On May 5, 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.

The board approved the additional cuts at BMS in the resolution that it passed May 5.

Concerns voiced

Faver said he proposed the additional cuts May 5 to allow the board to consider its options and further discuss them. He noted that he wants to keep class sizes as small as possible.

Pugleasa, however, said he is concerned about having an equitable impact around the district while the board makes budget adjustments.

When Dillon, who seconded the motion Tuesday, learned the proposed add-back at BMS would not reduce class sizes, he said he would have a difficult time supporting the motion.

"I think we've worked hard for those class sizes," he said.

Superintendent Jim Hess said the key issue is how the district can support seventh-grade core teachers at BMS.

As a result of shifting from three pods to 2.5 pods in the seventh and eighth grades, the district estimates there would be 34 students per class in the seventh grade and 30 students per class in the eighth grade.

Hess noted that BMS will receive an increase in compensatory education revenue for the next school year. The increase is mainly due to the school's increasing rate of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch, which is an indicator of poverty.

Next year's seventh-grade class, Hess said, has a number of students with at-risk indicators. He said he sees compensatory education revenue as a fund that would be able to support at-risk students, including at-risk students in the seventh grade.

Long Voelkner, who supported the third option for cuts at BMS, said she sees some hope in using federal stimulus dollars to augment the shifts resulting from the third option.

"I think this is a window of opportunity for our school district this year," she said.

Hess noted that the district expects to receive federal stimulus dollars for special education for the next two years. The district, he said, could use these dollars to reduce the amount it has subsidized special education from the general fund. He said this would free up some of the districts' general fund money to be used at BMS or other areas of the district that would do the students the most good.

Also, Hess noted that some BMS students will spend time out of the classroom for special education. He said this would impact class sizes.

Carol L. Johnson said she voted May 5 for the additional cuts at BMS because she felt there was a significant reason to look at seventh-grade class sizes. Now, she said, she is convinced that the board can work something out for the seventh grade.