A year of austerity in Lakeville
2011 saw local governments undergoing cuts, restructuring
by Aaron Vehling
The art of belt-tightening abounded in Lakeville’s local governments in 2011.
The city cut thousands of dollars and merged departments. The Lakeville school district pursued more than $7 million in budget adjustments that included cuts to almost 100 positions, reductions in course offerings and the repurposing of Crystal Lake Elementary.
City cuts, additions
A new city council sought to further lighten the burden on taxpayers. It voted to eliminate an in-house electrical inspector and contract with an outside party, for a savings of $77,000 over two years.
In December, citing reduced construction, City Administrator Steve Mielke merged the Operations and Maintenance and Engineering departments to create a Public Works Department.
The move was precipitated by longtime city engineer Keith Nelson retiring in September. Operations and Maintenance head Chris Petree became the Public Works director.
The city’s tax levy, which was flat in 2011 when compared to 2010, will be reduced by about $900,000 for 2012.
In addition to cuts, the city also sought to repurpose at least one old building: the former police station across Holyoke from City Hall.
The Heritage Center, which opens this fall, will be the headquarters of the Lakeville Senior Center, Lakeville’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and the Lakeville Area Historical Society.
The million-dollar project, a source of division among members of the council and the public, will be tax-neutral and funded mostly by special city reserves and community donations.
The city will sell the current Senior Center that sits a block off Holyoke Avenue.
Former superintendent Gary Amoroso promised “systemic change” in January 2011 as the district faced a $15.8 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
Budget adjustments were pervasive, leading teachers and community members in the hundreds to petition the School Board to keep their respective programs and courses.
The district closed Crystal Lake Elementary off County Road 46 and repurposed it into the Crystal Lake Education Center, the primary location for the district’s early childhood and related programs. The closure, on top of the vacating of the leased Kenwood Center, saved the district more than $1 million.
About 100 full-time-equivalent positions were cut, affecting the staffing of co-curricular activities and athletics and enlarging class sizes at most levels.
Entire classes were eliminated or reduced as well. Fifth-grade band and elementary art specialists experienced the axe. Physical education classes were reduced. Class sizes increased.
Activities fees for various sports and clubs increased as well. At the top end, the cost to participate in hockey increased from $280 to $630. Football and soccer saw nominal increases. Speech and debate increased as well.
Some of those activities were slated for elimination, but advocacy and cost-sharing plans from certain groups allowed for programs such as speech and lacrosse to stay.
The year 2011 also saw some major personnel changes in the district. Amoroso left in early summer to accept the executive director position at the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.
The School Board initiated a comprehensive interview process during the summer that included the input of community members, both inside and outside of the district staffing rolls.
The board chose Lisa Snyder, a superintendent of schools in Merrill, Wis. Snyder promised to ramp up the district’s technology, a journey on which she and the board have officially embarked.
Some provisions in Amoroso’s contract, including a severance package in excess of $350,000, led to tighter negotiations between the board and Snyder, whose contract does not include severance.
Whereas Amoroso earned $191,000 a year by the time he left the school district on July 1, Snyder entered it earning $169,500 (or $148,000 pro-rated for the 10-and-a-half months she works in the fiscal year).
Aaron Vehling is at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/thisweeklive.