In the Know: District faces budget challenge
Our community deserves excellence in their public schools. As we strive to be a district that exemplifies excellence in all we do, it's imperative that we have a vision focused on what is important to meet our mission of every student learning and succeeding.
There are many reasons for celebrating our school year. Here are just a few:
• We honored 20 staff members that retired this year. Combined, they have provided the Alexandria School District students, families and community with 456 years of service!
• 290 seniors graduated on May 31 from Alexandria Area High School.
• The Meats Team took first place at the FFA Career Development Event, with the five team members almost sweeping the top five individual rankings.
• Three Alexandria Area High School students won second place at a state DECA competition for public relations with a marketing campaign to build pride in the community and spread awareness of reasons to buy locally.
• Our students excelled in activities and athletics in 2018-19. A few highlights include 10 gold academic teams, seven Central Lakes Conference championships, four section titles and five section runner-ups.
We are blessed to be able to provide incredible opportunities and experiences for our students through the amazing work of our staff, visionary leadership of our school board, and positive support of our parents and community members. Thank you!
As superintendent, one of my primary jobs is to ensure that our students and staff have the resources they need to succeed in our schools. Over the past several months, the School Board and administration have been looking at our budgets, our financial projections, and our enrollment patterns.
We are a growing district, which tells us families value our schools. However, we are also facing budget challenges, as are many Minnesota school districts. These challenges include:
• A $1.1 million shortfall in 2019-20 requiring us to cut more than half a million dollars, in addition to drawing down our fund balance, which is a critical safety valve for all districts. We anticipate ongoing cuts without additional revenue.
• Our school district is in the bottom 10 percent of all Minnesota school districts for general education funding.
• We are one of the only school districts in the area without a voter-approved operating levy, which means we don't have the additional financial support that many communities provide to help operate our schools.
• While we are grateful for the additional state funding recently approved by the legislature for the next two years, it does not make up for years of inadequate state funding and unfunded mandates.
One way we gather information from our community is through surveys. Two recent random sample phone surveys found the following:
• 87 percent of respondents give us an A or B for the quality of our work, of those who offered a grade.
• The top three reasons for the grades given were: academic standards, quality of instruction and leadership and management.
• If additional funding were available, respondents top priorities are expanding mental health services and real world work experiences.
• If cuts were needed, respondents are most supportive of avoiding cuts to elementary art, music and science teachers and avoiding teacher cuts at all levels.
• In these surveys, as well as in community conversations held around the district, maintaining or reducing class sizes was also mentioned as a priority.
Based on these budget concerns, the priorities identified in the community surveys, and our commitment to providing educational excellence for all students, the School Board asked us to bring them possible referendum recommendations for discussion in June and July. If the Board decides to pursue a referendum, any school funding requests would appear on the November 5, 2019 ballot.
Our goal is to provide the highest quality education for students with the dollars available. We value our partnership with the Alexandria community, and greatly appreciate your support for our students and staff.
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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.