May 8, 2024 | By: Matthew Freeman

Bemidji Area Schools to Terminate 13 Teachers Due to Budget Cuts for 2024-2025 School Year

A special school board meeting was held earlier today with the Bemidji Area Schools to discuss options for budget cuts, resulting in 13 teachers possibly being terminated. Our reporter Matthew Freeman attended the meeting to see which option the school board chose.

According to the Bemidji Area School Board, staff adjustments are necessary for the 20-24 through 20-25 school year due to a budgetary shortfall, reductions in federal funding, licensure issues, and shifting enrollment.  A special meeting was held by the board, with hundreds of teachers flooding the meeting, to see which option the board would choose for these budget cuts.

“We have a $1.6 million structural deficit, that we’re trying to take care of, and we’re trying to be very responsible with that.” says Jeremy Olson, Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent, “At the meeting tonight, really, the board decided to just match our staffing to our enrollment just to make sure that we are being responsible taxpayer funds, and so that resulted in about $850,000 of savings, which should get us partially to where we need to be budget wise.”

These cuts are necessary according to the board due to COVID relief funds ending next year, and a decreasing enrollment size to kindergarten classes over the last few years.

“In the past, we’ve always been able to take and backfill our deficits with COVID Dollars, so the net effect has not been felt.” says Jeremy Olson, “In addition, we we’re maintaining some positions, hoping that enrollment would turn around and so forth. COVID dollars will no longer be available for next year, so we have to really focus in and worry about our deficit. Now, luckily, we’ve been doing this for a couple of years preparing for this, and so we’ve gone from about a $4.5 million deficit to a $1.6 million. We’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m happy about that, but we still have more to do.”

The board was presented with 3 options for reductions and additions to licensed staffing.

“Option A was the most restrictive, I would say.” says Jeremy Olson, “That option had a situation in which we would have to have a combination class in one of our elementary schools Option B had a 0.5 F.T.E reductions in industrial tech. And Option C was just adjusting our current staff to our enrollment.”

The board ultimately went with option C, but some members felt that other cuts could’ve been made, or wanted to push the meeting entirely to discuss different options.

“I think we could dig deeper and make budget cuts in other areas apart from 100% teachers.” says Justin Hoover, Bemidji Area School Board Member, “We could have look at some administration, maybe equipment, anything that we can sit down and have a work session and go through very thoroughly our budget and determine where we can cut so we can have a less reduction of teachers.”

13 teachers will ultimately lose their current jobs because of these cuts, but the superintendent wanted to make clear that different opportunities are available.

“It was really important to us that we try to preserve the jobs of all of our teachers.” adds Jeremy Olson, “We had a couple of different options. A couple of staff members have been offered assignments in different fields, and we also have an out of field license that we would encourage staff members that are affected to look at, because we do have openings in things like special education and some other areas that would really encourage those staff members to apply for. Our goal is to take care of our people to the best of our ability, and thats what we want to do.”

Teachers in attendance weren’t too happy though that 100% of the cuts were surrounding teachers, and none towards the school administration.

“I appreciate those school board members that are willing to dig deeper into the budget and look to where they can make other cuts.” says Alison Tisdell, Bemidji Education Association Union President, “Maybe it is administration. Maybe it is just simple paper cuts and not just always focusing on the teachers for cuts. I’m thankful we chose Option C so we can keep that industrial tech position at our middle school. I am saddened to see that it is just teachers that are on the chopping block for this go around.”

Administration also implemented reductions in non-licensed staffing with a projected cost reduction of 70 thousand dollars, with additional projected cost reductions of over 100 thousand dollars related to a lighting project and 25 thousand dollars on a software subscription.

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