St. Louis Park School Board approves 2017-2018 budget, including $1.2 million in cuts

By Kristina Busch

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The St. Louis Park School Board approved the 2017-2018 budget as presented June 26.

The budget included reductions of $1.2 million for the next fiscal year, which began July 1, including the ParkSCI science program in the district elementary schools and the number of reading intervention specialists.

Martin Wetherall, a parent of two daughters enrolled at Susan Lindgren Elementary School, said he marveled over the stories told by his fifth-grade daughter about her ParkSCI lessons, and that he looked forward to his first-grade daughter receiving the same lessons.

“[ParkSCI] is a remarkable, efficient model that’s bolstered learning outcomes and student success by introducing the students to the high school faculty at an early age, building a stronger foundation for student-teacher interactions at the high school and engagement with the increasingly important STEM subjects,” Wetherall said, using an acronym that refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He said this was especially true for female students and students of color.

“I know of one African-American student in my younger daughter’s kindergarten class who hadn’t raised his hand all year until he raised his hand during a ParkSCI lesson, to the amazement of his classroom teacher,” he said.

Superintendent Rob Metz said the budget reductions were necessary because, in previous years, he cut into the district fund balance in order to keep funding certain programs.

At the June 12 meeting, Metz said his budget would still maintain some reading and math intervention teachers, an instructional coach and equity coaches.

Metz also proposed the budget with the two-percent increase in state aid per pupil in mind. At the early June meeting, Director of Business Services Sandy Salin said that funding will bring in a revenue of about $150,000 to the district.

The approved budget includes the addition of a 10-month high school assistant principal and a half-time coordinator position. The district also redesigned the first- and second-grade curriculum and incorporated mandatory all-day kindergarten classes. Metz said the district plans to redesign the third-grade curriculum next year.

The budget includes reductions of two ParkSCI positions, three elementary reading intervention positions, an English Language Learner teacher and a gifted and talented middle school teacher.

Nevertheless, at the most recent meeting, Metz said the district will use the ParkSCI lessons and the elementary science curriculum and create a “scoping sequence” at the schools. He said high school teachers will train the elementary school teachers on how to use the ParkSCI lessons and merge the lessons with the current science curriculum.

Board Chair Jim Yarosh said that though science teachers have “expressed dismay” about losing the program, they have been “team players” at implementing this new plan.

In regard to art, Metz said he worked with parents and staff at Susan Lindgren Elementary School to design a plan of three-to-four art lessons for grades K-5, which will be easy to replicate and be taught by a specialist.

“We haven’t had to cut a budget in about six years,” Yarosh said. “Having not done it, our community, and as the board too, we weren’t so prepared and ready for having to deal with these issues.”

He added that this opportunity gives the board a chance to learn and anticipate any future issues a little earlier.