By Linda Scherer
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie students packed the media center of their school last Monday night to try to prevent the Lester Prairie School Board from cutting high school English teacher, Joey Bayerl.
The students presented a petition to the board with 166 names asking to keep Bayerl’s position for next year, and were given the opportunity by the board to speak, but in the end, Bayerl was cut along with Kelsey Buchholz (third grade teacher), and Tracy Cederstrom (band and choir instructor).
The disappointment felt by the students was evident after the board’s final decision was made, and the majority of them spent the time after the meeting comforting each other in the hallway. There was crying, hugging, and quiet conversation.
The school board, back in the media center, was experiencing the same type of frustration over cutting teaching staff; and knowing that the budget cuts might still not be over.
When Board Chairman Fred Blaser opened the meeting, he told the audience the purpose of the meeting was to implement the decisions made at its previous meeting March 16 relating to teaching staff, which required a roll call vote.
“The cuts and the decisions have really already been made by the board,” Blaser said.
“We are trying to be as fair as possible. I will tell you sitting up here this is not easy,” Blaser said. “But this is what we are elected to do and we do have to balance our budget in some way.”
The board agreed to give the students 30 minutes of time to address the board regarding the cuts.
Of the approximately one dozen students who spoke, most of the comments were in regard to Bayerl’s position being cut.
Student Michael Schnaser, a junior at Lester Prairie, carried a petition with 166 names of mostly students who were asking the board to reconsider Bayerl as English teacher for 2009-10.
Another student told the board Bayerl was one of the best teachers she has ever had and she wanted to see Bayerl stay on. She said she thought the students were being more grown up about making necessary budget cuts than the parents.
“I have noticed that it has been the parents pushing for a lot of this stuff. I think we need to look at academics more than sports,” senior Nicole Condon said.
“I honestly feel the kids are acting more like adults when they are looking out for their own education,” Condon said. “The parents think we need to have sports, and the kids are saying we need an education.”
Another student told the board how much Bayerl helps all students.
“Look at Mr. Bayerl’s room in the morning. There are tons of kids in there, talking to him,” Derek Litzau, Lester Prairie sophomore said. “You can actually connect to him and talk to him and he has answers for almost everything.”
The board members took turns trying to explain to the audience how it makes decisions regarding cuts to staff.
“The way that we determine these cuts is to follow a master contract,” Blaser said.
“A master contract is a contract that the teachers and the school board have negotiated, and it becomes a binding contract,” Blaser said. “It is what we legally have to follow anytime we make reductions, and that is one of the reasons these cuts are being made. Mr. East and administration determine where those cuts will have the least effect on our student population.”
One student asked the board why Bayerl was chosen, since he was not the only teacher without a lot of seniority.
“We have three English teachers and, correct me if I am wrong, but some of those are licensed to teach more than just English,” board member Jim Jorgenson said. “We not only have seniority to deal with, but we have usefulness what is the most useful with what we have left. It is not the most popular decision in the world to make, but that is how it becomes the correct decision.”
Another student asked why Cederstrom’s position was cut full time when she was only to be cut half time.
Jorgenson explained the position was cut to half time, because the instructor had a contract for a full time band instructor position. That position no longer exists.
“We have to eliminate the position entirely and then, more than likely, we will offer the position again as half time,” Blaser said.
School board member Joe Miller gave the students a glimmer of hope.
“If some of these negative economic things don’t happen or are not as bad as they are anticipated, it is always a possibility that we can offer the contracts again to maybe the same people,” Miller said.
The timeline is to let the teachers know by April 15 whether or not their contracts are to be renewed. It is set up that way to actually protect teachers and give them the opportunity to apply for other jobs, Miller said.
Blaser told students that this was the first cut in next year’s budget. There is a possibility of additional cuts that might need to be made, depending on a possible reduction in state aid funding in education.
Closing the general discussion, the board moved on to make the following cuts to the teaching staff:
It voted unanimously to put third grade teacher Kelsey Buchholz on unrequested leave of absence.
The board voted 5-1 to put band and choir teacher Tracy Cederstrom on unrequested leave of absence. School board member Karla Heigl voted no.
The board was unanimous in a vote to put Joey Bayerl, English teacher for eighth grade, and 11th and 12th grade, on unrequested leave of absence.