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Larger class sizes and a potential squeeze on quality extras await many Minnesota students this fall following the latest wave of annual school district budget cuts.

Federal COVID aid expires in September and the impact will be especially harsh in Minneapolis and St. Paul under 2024-25 budgets approved this month.

But few school systems have gone unscathed from the effects of inflation, higher-than-usual salary increases and lagging state aid — not even wealthy Edina, Wayzata and Minnetonka — the latter of which is enacting budget cuts for the first time in nearly 20 years. There, 15 full-time teaching positions are being eliminated, district spokeswoman JacQueline Getty said.

Many districts that aim to maintain some stability are doing so by drawing down on reserves — a year after a historic $2.2 billion state investment in schools.

"What is happening on the ground at the school district level doesn't seem to be understood," said Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association. "The budget issue is real and it's not just because of declining enrollment and COVID money going away."

Districts that successfully asked voters for additional funding last fall are faring better. But those whose proposals failed — Thief River Falls and Crosby-Ironton among them — are having to act now on both extras and essentials they warned earlier they may no longer afford.

There'll be no pep band, after-school concerts or library book purchases in Crosby-Ironton, which also is eliminating a section each of kindergarten and second grade, Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said Wednesday. The district, which received $2.6 million in the final round of COVID aid, is using $500,000 in rainy-day funds to help fill its $1 million budget gap.

Thief River Falls students will see their class sizes grow by four to six students, and those who live less than 2 miles from school will have to find their own way there. The district also plans to trim three to five games from all of its varsity and junior-varsity schedules, except for football, Superintendent Chris Mills said.

The district chose not to tap reserves.

Three school systems facing multi-million-dollar shortfalls — Duluth, Rochester and South Washington County — are avoiding cuts by closing the deficits entirely with rainy-day funds.

North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale negotiated a teachers contract that cost it less than half of what it is receiving in new state aid — a bargain compared with other school systems. Still, it's had to tap $2.7 million in savings and make $4 million in cuts, with reductions in nurses, counselors and behavior intervention support being among those to be "felt in our schools," Superintendent Christine Tucci Osorio said.

Outstate, the need to be competitive in the hiring and retaining of teachers has put some rural districts in a bind, especially those with neighbors that agreed to deliver handsome increases.

"Educators were looking for good settlements, and some districts had to settle for higher than they probably should have, according to their budgets," said Bob Indihar, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, who declined to give specifics.

Minneapolis and St. Paul face deep cuts

Months ago, Minneapolis and St. Paul — each facing deficits of more than $100 million — laid out an array of potential cuts that eventually would leave no part of either school system untouched.

In Minneapolis, eight preschool classrooms funded by pandemic aid would be shuttered and the athletics transportation budget reduced, the district said at the time. There'd be cuts to the ranks of assistant principals and nurses, and the elimination of 36 vacant bus driver positions.

A glimmer of good news: a fifth-grade band program in danger of being cut since has been restored.

But class sizes are rising, much to the frustration of parent Greg Thompson, who told school board members recently that his school — the Keewaydin campus of Lake Nokomis Community School — faces the possibility of having 41 fourth-graders per teacher this fall.

"We're still here because we love our community and we love our teachers," he said. "But, if you're a good parent with good intentions, one way or another you wouldn't put your kid in one of those classes."

Minneapolis is tapping $55 million in reserves, while St. Paul plans to draw down $37 million.

In St. Paul, an early education hub is being closed and more than 200 full-time teaching positions are slated for elimination, and Minneapolis is cutting about 300 teaching positions— resulting in some schools possibly increasing the number of classrooms with students from two consecutive grades within them.

But it's the planned elimination of dozens of specialist teaching positions that drove St. Paul parents and students to turn out to recent board meetings to profess support for the arts.

Lily Wolfe, an eighth-grader at Capitol Hill Magnet School, spoke against the proposed compression of that school's orchestra program into a single unit requiring kids to pass auditions — a move she said favors kids who have the time and money to take private lessons.

"I think that's unfair and I think it will only decrease the amount of diversity within the program," she said.

In the end, a pair of part-time dance and music positions were spared from cuts at two other schools, but the Capitol Hill proposal stood, and the principal now is exploring partnership opportunities.

The school board voted 6-1 in favor of the district's $1 billion budget package, with Carlo Franco in opposition and Uriah Ward taking solace in the fact that the pain was spread evenly enough, he said, so as to not unfairly harm any particular schools.

"We are doing about as good as we can with a very bad situation," Ward said.

Star Tribune staff writer Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this story.