By Julie Critz, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools
Thanks to our community’s support and generosity, we had a successful referendum in November. The result will be increased revenue beginning next year to help meet our students’ academic needs, our program goals and our operating costs. As communicated prior to the November vote, the increased operating levy revenue will help support these goals:
Maintain or reduce class sizes.
Continue with specialist teachers.
Expand mental health support.
Maintain or expand real world work experiences at middle and/or high school.
Provide more financial stability.
Commitment #1: Maintain or reduce class sizes
A high priority for families was addressing class sizes. I want to share the steps the district is taking to follow through with our commitment to maintain or reduce class sizes – with elementary class sizes being addressed first.
The data gathered through our demographic study as well as from city and county experts showed that the Alexandria area is growing and therefore, our school enrollment is growing as well. To plan for this growth while addressing current class size challenges, an elementary school boundary review process is being conducted in January. The goals for our school boundary review include:
Balancing and reducing (where able) class sizes across our elementary schools.
Balancing services available to students in all of our elementary schools.
Minimizing the number of families affected by a potential adjustment to attendance boundaries.
We will work hard to make any changes as smooth as possible for all families, while also accomplishing our ultimate goal of reducing class sizes. A committee made up of parents, community members, principals and administration has already begun to study this issue, with decisions expected by the end of January.
Since elementary classroom space is at capacity district-wide, district staff plans are underway to move the District Office (DO) and Community Education (CE) offices out of Woodland Elementary and convert the spaces into classrooms. This allows the district to accommodate growth and manage class sizes without putting a new addition onto our facilities.
Woodland Elementary will be expanded to accommodate four sections at each grade level. This puts students first – a priority for all district decision making. Adult work represented through DO and CE support services can be relocated most easily. This would not be the first time the district office was located in a separate building. Prior to Woodland being built, district offices and community education were housed in the Spirit building (old Fingerhut building on Aga Drive) and in the County Services building (old Central School).
Commitment #2: Continue with specialist teachers in elementary, such as music, art and science
Referendum dollars will allow for programs to continue as they currently are, with additional staff now being added to the Woodland building to accommodate the additional sections planned for the 2020-21 school year.
Commitment #3: Expand mental health support
The district was notified recently that we would receive one-time revenue in the amount of $147,000 from the State of Minnesota for the purpose of increasing safety in schools. This allowed us to take action in the current school year, rather than waiting for the referendum funds to kick in next year. The board took action to approve adding 2.5 additional mental health/counselor positions that will be funded with this one-time money for the current school year. We plan to maintain those positions in future years, thanks to additional revenue from the voter-approved operating levy.
Commitment #4: Maintain or expand real world work experiences at middle and/or high school
The board approved seven new courses at Alexandria Area High School for the 2020-21 school year that will give students additional real world work experiences and go deeper into programming within some of the college and/or career pathways.
Commitment #5: Provide more financial stability
Last month the district was delighted to learn that the tax impact for the approved operating levy funding will be 43% lower than originally estimated for property owners in 2020. The lower-than-expected tax impact is due to community growth and higher property values. Exact property tax impacts will vary based on individual home values and other factors. This is great news for our community! We are also seeking the most fiscally responsible manner in which to relocate the District Offices and Community Education out of Woodland Elementary to make more space for kids. More to come as plans unfold.
On behalf of the board, our students and our staff, I thank you for your continued support. We promise to keep you informed of our progress on fulfilling our referendum commitments and invite you to follow our progress by visiting our website at alexschools.org/referendum.
Here’s to a continued great year!
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Julie Critz is the superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.