By Staff Reports
After enrollment did not meet projections for the 2016-17 school year, officials at ISD 110 have announced a restructuring plan to deal with the shortfall and associated impact on the budget.
The district saw a net gain of 20 students in the current school year – the district had expected to gain about 110 students. The lower-than-expected growth led the district to overshoot it’s projected deficit spending – the district had expected to deficit spend about $500,000, but the shortfall in enrollment ballooned deficit spending to $1.2 million.
Despite the shortfall this year, district officials remain confidence about future student body growth.
“Our district has been able to thrive over the past 10-15 years in large part because of our continued increase in enrollment numbers,” Brian Rothstein, chair of the Waconia School board, said. “Even though our growth lagged this year, we remain confident enrollment will continue to climb and we are focused on a projection rate that is appropriate to use for planning and strategic purposes.”
Over the past four years, Waconia schools have seen consistent growth, averaging 110 students per year. The district based future growth estimates on that figure, expecting the student population to climb by triple digits for the current school year. In reality, the student population grew by only 20 students. As a result, the district has undertaken budget adjustments for the coming year and is also researching reasons for the decline.
The district has seen an increase of triple digits or near-triple digits for all but 3 of the last 16 years – in 2007-08, the student population grew by only 38 students; in 2011-12, the population gained 21 students; and in 2014-15, the district saw a gain of 77 students.
To cope with the financial impact of lower-than-expected growth this school year, the district has restructured the specialist rotation at the elementary level and reduced staff by 5.5 full time employees. The last time the district made similar staffing adjustments was 2003, according to district officials.
“It’s never easy to make these kinds of decisions when we are dealing with staffing changes and people’s livelihoods,” said superintendent Pat Devine. “But, when there are budget constraints, it’s our duty as the administrative team to look at the various options for creating the best plan moving forward.”
Devine explained that the restructuring plan is district-wide.
“We needed to create a model that made sense in all of our schools,” Devine said. “We looked at all departments and buildings and then aligned staffing with the revised budget.”
Officials did not that some of the 5.5 FTEs affected will be assigned to other buildings in areas such as adaptive physical education growth and growth in the music and phy ed programs at the secondary level.
“It seems appropriate to broaden discussions about what type of courses to offer and explore best practices to ensure our approach is budget sensitive and serves the needs of our community,” Rothstein added. “Students and families want options and, research coupled with stakeholder input, should help dictate which options need to be prioritized.”
Officials believes there are many benefits of the plan for the 2017-18 school year, among them: 100-minutes of weekly core curriculum time will be returned to elementary students — adding up to 60-hours of increased core instruction time; Spanish will offered to all K-5 students; the district will still fulfill state and federal mandates that drive teacher growth and professional development; and adding additional support for special education staff.
At the elementary level, there will be a new specialist rotation that includes more than an hour of music, phy ed, art and Spanish each week. Currently, elementary students get 100-minutes weekly of music and phy ed and 1-hour of art instruction. Students in kindergarten through second-grade don’t currently receive Spanish instruction. The new model will offer Spanish to those grades.
“As we opened Laketown this past fall we were aware of some inefficiencies in how we deliver balanced curriculum to the students in our three elementary schools,” Rothstein said. “Coupled with lower than expected growth, the need to review these inefficiencies became a high priority.”
The school district moved on a relatively fast timeline to give staff who were released from their positions ample time to find new employment before the fall. Devine admitted that this is an emotional time for the district but said leadership has a responsibility to find an efficient plan that continues to deliver a positive educational impact.
“This is a rarity in our school district because we have experienced consistent growth for many years and this situation is new for many people. As much as I would like everyone’s support, I can’t expect that from everyone. I am fully aware that we lost some music and phy ed time, and that will be a concern for some parents,” Devine said.
District officials will conduct program assessments and make adjustments if needed.
“We are identifying the best structure for all students given the available resources,” Devine said. “Our goal is always do what is best for students while being fiscally responsible and we believe this restructuring provides the best path to reach those goals.”