Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Supt. plan to reduce teaching staff at TS Elementary draws criticism

Marcus White
Posted 1/10/19

REGIONAL — A plan to cut up to one full-time staff member at the Tower-Soudan Elementary drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from Troy Swanson, who represents the community and the school on the St. …

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Supt. plan to reduce teaching staff at TS Elementary draws criticism

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REGIONAL — A plan to cut up to one full-time staff member at the Tower-Soudan Elementary drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from Troy Swanson, who represents the community and the school on the St. Louis County School Board. Superintendent Reggie Engebritson said she had presented the plan to cut up to one full-time-equivalent staff member directly to school staff before the holiday break.

“I am not for that,” Swanson said. “We’ve known for years that Tower is one of the best schools in the region. I don’t want to do anything to undermine that. When we moved a teacher last year, no one liked it. To remove another teacher is going to undermine it even more.”

Engebritson said the staff at the school were open to the idea and had come up with a counter offer to eliminate the equivalent of a half-time position while allowing the staff to devise their own plan for restructuring.

The superintendent said she had agreed to the staff’s plan and would bring the proposed 0.5 FTE cut to the next meeting for a vote.

Swanson, however, was still not on board with the idea.

“The numbers might not be exactly right, but it’s working,” he said. “I’d rather have money going to staffing than the additions we are making at other schools.”

He said the district has spent millions in improvements at other schools, and that Tower’s share of the improvement should be in the staffing since facility upgrades similar to those at other campuses are not likely in the future. He added that Tower had the best test scores of all of the elementary schools in the district.

According to a student-teacher ratio breakdown that Engebritson presented to the board, Tower-Soudan has the fewest students per teacher of any elementary in the district, with a ratio of 11 students per teacher.

Board members Chet Larson and Christine Taylor were in favor of the cut and said the district should allocate the money to boost staffing at schools with a greater need. The two represent the South Ridge School where teachers serve an average of 21.5 students, according to Engebritson’s breakdown.

“If every classroom had eight kids, they’d all have good test scores,” Larson said.

“Every student deserves to have the same opportunity,” Taylor said. “When one school has kids with eight kids to a class and another with 25 kids to a class it’s not fair.”

Dan Manick agreed with Taylor and Larson and suggested that evening-out student teacher ratios at all of the campuses would yield district-wide success.

Swanson maintained his position and said a debate last year by the board on class sizes had yielded a consensus that classroom size didn’t always matter, and that higher teacher ratios at the other campuses didn’t mean those schools couldn’t do just as well as Tower.

Pat Christensen countered the point and said the previous debate was on classes at higher grade levels where classes were already above twenty students.

Engebritson stressed that the decrease in funding to Tower was not an indication that the school would be closing and that it was just a restructuring.

The board will vote on the measure at their next meeting on Jan. 22.

Other business

In other business, the board:

Elected Manick as the new board chair. Lynette Zupetz, who was chair, will now be vice chair with Christensen taking on the role of clerk.

Heard a plan from the district to maintain full funding for existing voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs should the state defund it later during this year’s session. Chris Koivisto expressed concern that the district was acting on an issue that didn’t yet exist and questioned whether the district could afford the $240,000 price tag. Business Manager Kim Johnson said the money was in the budget and that it was only a contingency plan so registration could occur as usual in February. She added that with Gov. Tim Walz in office, it was doubtful the plan would need to be enforced since increased education funding was part of his election platform.

Manick proposed a pay hike for the board from $250 to $400 per month. He said he wanted service on the board to have more appeal and that he was dismayed when no one filed to take his seat during his run for the county board. The increase is the largest in recent memory. Board members offered little comment, although the plan passed unanimously.

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