It was a full house at the Gwinn High School library: parents, teachers, and board members, all facing an empty budget. A $1.7 million budget deficit has forced the district to downsize.
" I don't know that I could be any more sad right now; I did not want to have to do any of this," said Superintendent Kimberly VanDrese.
Nine teachers and six other staff members won't be walking the halls in the fall after a resolution passed Monday, leaving the schools with a bare $40,000 balance. Three of the nine teachers cut comes as a result of the move of sixth graders from both Gilbert and Sawyer Elementary Schools to the middle school in Gwinn. It's a crisis that's faced the district for years: a dwindling student count. They've lost roughly 400 students in the last 10 years. And as enrollment falls, so does state funding.
" These funds were meant for public schools and they should be given out accordingly," said Bobbie Jacobson, a union representative. "There's a huge fund balance that should be given to the schools. We don't want to see any schools go under and be taken over by the state."
In the past, Gwinn schools have worked to shrink their budget, cutting anything from utility costs to bus runs. But with 85 percent of the budget dedicated to salaries, officials say there's nothing else left to cut.
" It will absolutely have an impact, and that's what bothers us the most is that our student education is going to suffer from this," VanDrese said.
The board dismissed other options like pay-to-play sports, which some parents say could bring more than $200,000 to the district.
" There isn't any reason why we couldn't do some of that here, at least prolong maybe some serious cuts, but there's also the possibility that revenue will come," said Dale Wedig, a parent.
The state budget will be set sometime in June. Board members are still urging the community to reach out to state representatives to bring light to the issue because there is still the possibility that money could be returned to the district.