The proposed budget cuts for the 2020-2021 school year would total to roughly 2.9 million dollars, and 67% of the money is coming from instruction. This category includes reduction of teaching staff, closure of Discovery Elementary and Phoenix Learning Center, and elimination of programs like Quest, along with various other instructional opportunities like CIS classes and wRight Choice.
In addition, Buffalo Community Middle School would cut funding for every sport and activity at the school. The High School would lose four sports — Boys Swimming and Diving, Boys and Girls Lacrosse, and Dance Team.
These spending cuts would drastically change the school district. From increased class sizes to the elimination of programming, the district could look very different as soon as 2020.
Reduction of Teaching Staff
With 15 full-time employees (FTE) not returning for the 2019-2020 school year, and the potential of 22 more FTE positions being cut for the 2020-2021 school year, Buffalo High School, and many other schools in the district, would face huge repercussions.
“The high school houses a third of the teachers in the district, meaning that a third of the teachers cut would come from the high school, that’s about 7-8 teachers,” said Buffalo High School Principal Mark Mischke.
With the potential of 37 FTE positions being cut from the district in the next two years, this would have a huge impact on both students and teachers. Class sizes would rise, meaning there is less individual attention and instruction for students. Teachers would have to take on a heavier workload in order to support a higher amount of students in their classroom.
Closing Phoenix Learning Center
Phoenix Learning Center (PLC) is one of the schools set to be cut in the 2020-2021 school year if funding for the district is not found. PLC is a student-choice alternative high school that serves approximately 30 students in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District. It also has 2.5 teachers and a .5 administrator position.
According to the district website, “Phoenix Learning Center offers an alternative program when the traditional high school setting does not work for a student. Recognizing that there are many pathways for a student to succeed, staff offer personalized learning options in a family-like setting.”
The PLC gives students the opportunity to approach school from a different perspective, while still requiring them to work hard and to be accountable for their work. According to the BHM Website, the loss of the PLC could result in “at risk” students who “struggle with anxiety [and] depression” without a setting that emphasizes “communication, accountability, respect, responsibility, [and] relationships.”
“Students attend Phoenix for small class sizes, more individualized attention from teachers to support learning, and to keep on track for graduation,” said Stephanie Ward, Principal of PLC. “Students attending Phoenix feel proud of their progress and growth in school [and] we all want to see [the] programs [set to be cut] maintained [so that] all students supported.”
Discovery Elementary School serves roughly 250 students from across the BHM school district It is a parent choice school that has multi-age, looping classrooms. Parents enter their soon-to-be kindergartners into a lottery to decide who gets in, and if their child’s name is drawn they are given a spot along with their siblings.
“[At Discovery] our mission is to provide community connections and a focus on social, emotional, and intellectual development in a multi-age setting,” said Dr. Mathew Nelson, Principal of Discovery “that gives our students authentic learning opportunities using creativity and critical thinking to prepare them for a changing world.”
They believe in “educating the“whole child,” by “having our Community “C’s” (Cooperate, Collaborate, Contribute, Considerate, Celebrate, Cheerful, Courageous, Creative and Care) infused throughout Discovery Elementary.”
“Students build character and find meaningful learning opportunities,” said Dr. Nelson, “that help them consistently perform above state averages.”
The upcoming 2020-2021 budget cuts would have “a HUGE impact on our families, staff, and most importantly- our students”. By closing Discovery, “ all of our elementary classrooms would have more students in them as a result of the reduction of teachers across the district.”
“We have such a great thing going on here at Discovery Elementary for our students,” said Dr. Nelson, “and we all want to see that continue.”
Quest is a program for gifted students in grades 2-9, serving roughly 150 students, that provides a unique environment that helps them excel and where they are able to make deeper connections with other gifted students. In the upcoming 2020-2021 budget cuts, the Quest program is set to be eliminated. Students in this program would be forced into classes that do not meet their learning and emotional needs.
“We’re very unique in the fact that we have a full-time program like this,” said Robert Nosbush, High Potential Services Coordinator.
There are districts around the state that are similar to the Quest Program for elementary schools only. But when they get to high school, their only options are enriched and CIS classes. Quest students learn differently than most students, putting them in general education would be an adjustment for both the students and the teacher.
“[Teachers] really have to always be on top of their game and you have to keep thinking of ways to challenge them,” Nosbush said.
The Quest program gives the students an enriched and accelerated curriculum, students in the Quest program learn at a faster pace than in the regular classroom setting. In addition, studies have shown that gifted students are at high risk for depression, anxiety, and even dropping out of high school. The Quest Program is the only program like this where gifted students are given a full-time environment to suit their needs in the surrounding districts.
“We’re not really thinking of Plan B,” Nosbush said. “We’re assuming that this community is going to support [a potential levy].”
Eliminating wRight Choice and Reducing CIS Options
wRight Choice is an alternative to out-of-school suspension for Wright County students in grades 6-12. While at wRight Choice, students have the opportunity to do homework and receive academic support; watch presentations on issues like chemical health, public health, and children’s mental health; and participate in community service. Overall, wRight Choice strives helps students develop skills to make better decisions in the future. wRight Choice is based on a restorative model versus a punitive model of dealing with student behavior issues. It focuses on students making meaningful progress on setting right what they have done wrong or having a positive impact on the community.
CIS (College in the Schools) classes give students the unique opportunity to earn high school and college credits simultaneously. Buffalo High School currently offers 37 CIS classes in partnership with 5 universities across the state. CIS classes currently save families across the high school over 1.5 million dollars in tuition. In addition, CIS classes save the school money when students who may have previously enrolled in post-secondary options choose to stay at the high school.
Overall, the biggest educational budget cuts in place for the 2020-2021 school year is the loss of Discovery Elementary, the Quest Program, Phoenix Learning Center, wRight Choice, some of the CIS Classes offered by the high school, and a district-wide reduction in teaching staff. These reductions will occur unless the community chooses to support additional funding in the form of a levy. The existing programs that are set to be cut offer students unique educational opportunities that are hard to be matched a regular learning environment.