The Hazelwood School District, one of St. Louis County’s largest school systems, will have a balanced budget for the second straight school year, but at the cost of further reducing its teaching staff.
The district held a public hearing Monday on its first budget since a state audit found some poor bookkeeping and potential overspending by district administrators.
Hazelwood Chief Financial Officer Christopher Norman presented a $198-million spending plan to the Board of Education, to keep the district within expected revenue. This will be the second balanced budget after the district scooped millions of dollars from its fund balance for five consecutive years before that.
“From the beginning, the idea was if we look at some programs or staffing that we feel we need to add, then we need to try to find other places where we can reduce, repurpose, so that we can balance that out,” Norman said.
Hazelwood educates about 17,400 students at 29 schools in far north St. Louis County communities. That’s about 2,000 fewer students than attended the district a decade ago. The decline is leveling off, according to Norman, who became the district’s top financial officer in September.
The district is projecting more than 200 fewer elementary students in the fall, and a slight drop at the middle-school level, based on birth data projections, while there’s expected to be a roughly 100-student increase in high school students.
The budget would reduce instructional positions by 17 in all, with a dozen at the high school.
“I’m struggling to understand how we can gain more (high school) students and lose teachers and not have that result in larger class sizes,” said Betsy Rachel, a newly elected board member.
Hazelwood has eliminated dozens of teaching and staff positions over the past two years, including physical education and music teachers, as well as custodial staff.
The district’s budget includes funding for more English-language learners (ELLs) instructors, which have been severely understaffed. Hazelwood wants to hire a gifted-education instructor for the high school. The district also proposed restoring driver’s education.
Jennifer Bagwell, a parent of four kids in the district, said cutting teachers and spending will not make Hazelwood an attractive place for families to move.
“I’m not sure where their mindset is as far as what they decide to put as priority on the budget and what’s really needed to keep what’s the foundation of this district strong,” said Bagwell, who is also vying to be appointed to the board by the other members in order to fill a vacancy.
The school board is scheduled to vote on approving the budget at its regular board meeting on June 19.
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