They do. In fact, over the past four years, the district has made $7.5 million in reductions to staff, programming and services to students. They’ve also looked for, and found, many creative ways to save money or work more efficiently.
On the staff side, budget reductions have come at all levels, from part-time staff to salaried administrators. Many positions have been eliminated, including teachers, paraprofessionals, clerical staff, administrators and more.
For those staff members who remain, wage growth has been below the level of inflation. Principals and administrators accepted a wage freeze for five out of the past eight years, and currently Forest Lake Area School District spends 15% less on administration than the average Minnesota school district.
Teacher’s wages are also low compared to similar school districts. In the past few years, 53 teachers have left to teach in other districts for an average yearly pay increase of $10,293.
Outside of staffing costs, the district has worked very hard to save money and find efficiencies wherever possible. In many cases, funds from outside sources have been used to improve opportunities and facilities for students. A few of the district’s recent money-saving activities are listed below:
- Lighting retrofit and solar panels resulting in utility cost savings - $200,000 annually
- Water reuse grant (BWSR Grant) - $505,000
- Design/Build equipment (Polaris Grant) - $79,500
- Auditorium upgrades (Hanifl Family Foundation Grant) - $300,000
- New gym floor - Corporate partnership donations - $150,000
- Annual corporate partnership/donations for athletics - $50,000
- E-rate reimbursements from the federal government for district owned and leased fiber optic cable for phone and internet - $80,000 annually
These savings have helped tremendously in achieving a good result for students without burdening the taxpayer, but savings and budget reductions can only go so far. There comes a point, even in a family budget, where continued reductions can’t happen without painful effects. At that point, either revenue must increase or quality will suffer.
The levy referendum is a chance for voters to weigh in on this important decision. It's up to the residents of the district to determine what level of quality they value for our students and for our Forest Lake Area Schools as a community asset.