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Grand Forks School Board votes 6-3 to proceed with budget cuts, including teaching positions

The board voted during the meeting Monday, April 12. Discussion before the vote lasted more than two hours.

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Eli Zerr, 14, an eighth-grade student at South Middle School, gives his perspective as a student to the impact of budget cuts to music education in the Grand Forks Public School system during a school board meeting Monday regarding budget reduction recommendations at the Mark Sanford Education Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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The Grand Forks School Board voted Monday evening to accept a plan that will cut seven teaching positions from the 2021-22 budget.

At the meeting, board members discussed the plan, brought forward by its Finance Committee, that primarily would affect art, music and world languages instruction at all grade levels in the district.

The meeting continued past 10 p.m., with the vote on the budget coming just before the Herald's publication deadline for its electronic edition.

The plan is part of a larger budget reduction proposal expected to save the district about $4.44 million in the next school year. Other areas that will be affected include athletics, special education and supplies.

The vast majority of budget reductions have been realized through attrition – the process of staff members resigning and their positions not being filled – and staff retirement.

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The decision was made after numerous people spoke during the input segment of Monday's meeting. Board members, before they voted, took time to discuss the difficulty associated with the cuts. Numerous people spoke over a span of more than two hours.

Board member Doug Carpenter said "as much as everybody loves our teachers and administrators, we have to make these difficult cuts." He said that other measures, such as cutting salaries, would make it difficult to retain and recruit teachers.

"As hard as this is and as much feeling as there is in it, I agree that we need to move forward with this," he said.

Board member Shannon Mikula disagreed.

"I have questions as to why certain things weren't cut in this round which seemed to me to be very far from the classroom and would have no effect on students. ... I respectfully don't believe that some of these RIFs are needed at this point. I don't believe that," she said.

She noted that when Altru Health System laid off employees last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization also cut pay to administrators and other top directors. That isn't happening in the district, she said.

Mikula also said the cuts to arts programs will put extra work on the shoulders of other teachers.

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"It's asking a lot of the teachers to pick up the slack," she said.

Said Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education: "We love our teachers. And it hurts to look people in the eye and say 'we can't keep you next year. ... ' But our job as leaders is to script the path."

Voting in favor of adopting the cuts were Carpenter, Jackie Hassett, Eric Lunn, Jeff Manley, Bill Palmiscno and Chris Douthit. Voting against the cuts were Mikula, Amber Flynn and Cynthia Shabb.

During the meeting several people, including some students, pleaded with the board to keep the arts and music programs intact.

Eli Zerr, an eighth-grader at South Middle School, said he found the proposed cuts to the humanities to be “very disappointing.” He said he worries that cutting certain positions in the music department will impact students’ growth because there would be fewer teachers available to give individual lessons.

“I know that there are many demands on budgets, and everybody has a program that they love, but for me and many others, losing arts and music programs would limit our educational experience greatly,” he said.

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Maura Ferguson testifies during Monday's school board meeting regarding budget reduction recommendations at the Mark Sanford Education Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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