The Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education and administrators are hoping for a large turnout Thursday evening for the town hall meeting at the MHS auditorium starting at 7 pm.
Board President Jeff Verdoorn has called the meeting so the public can have an opportunity to weigh in on budget cuts it has to make to the district budget for the 2011-12 school year. The board must finalize at least $1.3 million in reductions from the budget and has voted to take a four-tier approach to identify up to $2 million more in cuts to provide a cushion if state lawmakers slash aid to K-12 schools in the next biannual budget. As part of the approach, the Board has said it could lay off up to 35 teachers in a worst case scenario, depending on what the state does to school funding.
As part of the contingency planning, district administrators have said it might eliminate SAGE, which is a state program that partially funds additional teachers to keep class sizes smaller in grades K-3 in the three largest elementary schools. Also being considered is closing either Pine River or Maple Grove elementary schools, or both, moving fifth grade to Prairie River Middle School, and reduce class offerings at the high school by eliminating a department.
MAPS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder said the district has made all the easy cuts that it can in the last 10 years to its budget, and the district’s financial woes are now “at a crisis point.”
“Quite frankly, we’re at a crisis point here where we have some decisions we have to make that are too difficult I think for the board or the administrative team to make without the community’s input,” Snyder said last month.
Snyder has gathered input about possible cuts from members of the public through the Fiscal Advisory Committee, as well as from staff members, teachers and the board. Since coming to MAPS over a year ago, Snyder has been giving these stakeholders unlimited access to the district’s financial information in hopes that they can recommend reductions the administration hasn’t already seen.
Members of the public will be allowed to speak at the meeting Thursday, and since the meeting is not as strictly regimented by an agenda as a normal board meeting is, members of the board and administrative team will be able to more freely interact with the audience. Verdoorn hopes this format will give the board a more accurate indication of where the public stands on the proposed cuts. He has said that the board may also hold an advisory referendum to further gauge the public opinion on some of the more controversial proposed cuts.