St. Francis teachers and staff face tough decisions in 2008


Historically, teaching has been one of the more secure professions. Teachers – especially those who work in the public school systems – have generally been able to count on keeping their jobs, barring mishaps, until retirement.

Like so much else in our society, that’s changing, in some places more dramatically than elsewhere. Take, for example, what teachers in the St. Francis School District north of the Twin Cities face this coming year.

Last fall, a district referendum that would have provided more funding failed to pass. Because of this, Independent School District 15 had to make a $1.9 million reduction in the budget for the 2008-2009 school year. This means fewer teachers, larger classroom sizes, and fewer programs.

Currently, the district’s fourth grade is located at the Sandhill Center because portables used for that class had to be shut down in October, and later removed, because of mold. For the 2008-2009 school year, though, fourth grade will be back in St. Francis Elementary but the fifth grade will be moved to the district’s middle school.

Meanwhile, first grade classes are being reduced by two sections, and second and fourth grade by one section each. The numbers of specialists in physical education, music, art, and enrichment are also being reduced. Next year the district will no longer have a media teacher for the media center, and the center’s six noon-time aides will be reduced to five.

Staff and teachers feel the stress.

Fourth-grade teacher Danielle Miller always knew she wanted to teach.

“It sounds corny but I feel destined to do it,” she says. “I jump out of bed to get here in the morning and I hate leaving at night. Both of my parents are teachers and it seems to run in the blood to be a teacher. I remember being excited when I found out that in ancient cultures the children followed what the parents did. Even then I knew I wanted to teach.”

Miller earned her teaching degree at Bemidji State University and has been teaching and subbing for a total of four years now. She was cut because the number of fourth graders attending St. Francis is going down. She and several other fourth-grade teachers found out about the cutbacks in a conference with St. Francis Elementary Principal Kathy Kohnen.

When asked if she was prepared for the news, Miller said, “No, it came out of left field. I figured it would happen next year with the major cuts that might be coming but I had no idea it would happen this year.” She said the weekend before the conference her mother had even asked her if she was worried about the cuts, and she told her that she had nothing to worry about.

“It is a horrible feeling being cut and not having a say in it, but I know it isn’t because of my performance but because there just isn’t enough money or students.”

Although being laid-off had nothing to do with her performance, she still has to deal with it on a personal level.

“My husband and I were thinking about buying a house and settling down but now we will be moving to wherever I get a job and basically starting over. I will miss my fellow teachers as we have become good friends in this short time,” she says. She also worries about getting a new job and finding a new place to live.

As for the other teachers’ reactions to the cuts, Miller says, “The mood is pretty somber at school. We have kid of gotten over the shock and are now starting to look around but it is still rather depressing.”

It’s a very tough time for many of the teachers and staff who now have to figure out what they will do for a job next year. Many went to college to be sure something like this wouldn’t happen to them, and they are now facing many tough decisions. The teachers now have to try to find another teaching position elsewhere, which could cause them to have to relocate or find other ways to commute to work.

Though many drastic changes will take place next school year, administrators stress that the district is continuing to focus on the needs of the students.

“While this is financially a difficult time,” says Kohnen, “we will strive to deliver the best instruction possible for our children.”