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Bemidji School Board: Bemidji Middle School staff cuts, additions decided

The Bemidji School Board has come to a decision on licensed staff cuts at Bemidji Middle School.

The board voted unanimously Monday afternoon to approve a resolution that cut and added staff at BMS, thus revising the staff cuts made by the board earlier this month for the 2009-10 school year at BMS.

Also, the board voted 5-1 to approve a resolution to make an additional cut - reducing industrial technology at BMS by 0.34 full-time-equivalent staff. Board member Steven Johnson voted in opposition to the resolution.

A prior motion to table the resolution failed on a 3-3 vote. Board members Ann Long Voelkner, Steven Johnson and John Pugleasa voted in favor of tabling the resolution. Board chairwoman Carol L. Johnson and board members Gene Dillon and Bill Faver voted in opposition of tabling it.

With the decisions made by the board Monday afternoon, total licensed staff cuts at BMS equal 3.68 FTE. The target was to reduce staff by 3.92 FTE.

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

District administration also is making non-licensed staff reductions for the current school year and next. Additionally, the district faces adjusting its spending budget by about $1.1 million by reducing spending and generating more revenue.

Adjustments made

As a result of the board's decisions Monday afternoon, the staff cuts at BMS will include two FTE eighth-grade teaching positions because eighth grade will shift from three pods to 2.5 pods.

Three pods, however, will remain in the seventh grade.

At BMS, the board also cut the full-time media specialist position and reduced orchestra and choir staff by 0.17 FTE each.

On Monday morning at a special meeting, the board reviewed its options for staff adjustments at BMS, including three new proposals.

Superintendent Jim Hess developed the option selected by the board Monday afternoon. The option - which did not originally include the industrial technology reduction - was one of the new proposals. Hess said he developed it based on board comments.

The board had originally voted to shift 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.

In the same vote, the board also reduced music by 1.34 FTE - including one FTE in band, 0.17 FTE in orchestra and 0.17 FTE in choir - and the media specialist position by 0.50 FTE.

Hess said the two main concerns expressed by board members in making staff cuts at BMS were class sizes and the opportunity for students to participate in allied arts.

Next year's eighth-grade class, he said, will be the smallest class in the district in the 2009-10 school year. With the shift from three pods to 2.5 pods, eighth-grade core classes - which are science, math, social studies and English - are estimated to average 31-32 students per class, according to enrollment figures as of April 30.

By maintaining three pods in the seventh grade, core classes are estimated to average 29 students per class.

Meanwhile, Hess said the reductions in orchestra and choir were proposed due to lower enrollment.

The board also reduced industrial technology at BMS by 0.34 FTE. Jordan Hickman, director of human resources, said this reduction was considered because a full-time industrial technology teacher at BMS plans to retire after the current school year and an industrial technology teacher at Bemidji High School has resigned. BMS currently employs two full-time industrial technology teachers.

As a result of the board adding back one FTE in band, a potential unrequested leave of absence was withdrawn from Monday afternoon's meeting agenda.

Also Monday, the board directed administration to reduce general fund expenses at BMS to meet the target that was established for BMS staff cuts. The district will have to make a reduction of $40,000 to $52,000 to meet the target.

Concerns voiced

At Monday afternoon's meeting, BMS band teacher Janet Weaver and BMS eighth-grader Caitlyn Fleahman spoke in support of keeping both band teachers at the middle school.

Weaver said the enrollment for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in band show there is a need for two full-time band teachers at BMS. Weaver also noted that while many band programs start in the fifth grade, the district begins offering band in the sixth grade.

Fleahman said she doesn't understand how the number of band teachers at BMS could be cut in half when the number of band students is increasing.

Board members also shared their thoughts while debating options for staff adjustments at BMS.

Dillon said seventh-grade class sizes were most important to him in making a decision.

"I still think it's important to keep those class sizes as low as we can," he said Monday morning.

Long Voelkner, who was among the board members who supported the reduction in industrial technology at BMS, expressed concern that the board was below its target for staff cuts at the middle school.

Without the reduction in industrial technology, "we're way under," she added Monday morning.

Steven Johnson, who opposed the industrial technology reduction, said the money would be well spent. He said there are students who want to work with their hands and take industrial technology classes.

As the board continued debating its options Monday morning, Dillon noted, "We're going to have to live with something."

"No cuts are good," Carol L. Johnson added that morning.