By MaryHelen Swanson
The North Branch school district is not going to conduct a levy referendum this year, but as promised with the failure of last year’s levy, adjustments to the 2012-13 budget will affect the classroom and more.
Last Thursday, the school board held a special meeting to hear the presentation of the budget recommendations. The most difficult adjustments may be in the loss of staff, with the board looking at reductions of 11.5 FTE positions, which will impact many more than those teachers and staff who will lose their jobs.
In January, there was a projected budget deficit of $2.1 million for the 2012-13 school year. The causes for the budget deficit include declining enrollment, lack of operating levy, insufficient funds from the state, plus increasing operating costs.
On Feb. 9, the school board took action to withdraw funds from several district funds that reduced the deficit and left a balance of $1.3 million for the superintendent to address.
Superintendent Deb Henton and her administrative staff have done just that.
As noted, the budget process is “aligned with the strategic plan and prioritized to protect class size and program quality.”
The principals made recommendations for their buildings, but with state requirements for performance in math, reading, writing and science, those areas are generally prioritized over areas that do not have state performance measures.
Dr. Henton noted that the public was told last fall that a failed levy would result in cuts to teachers.
After an intense budget boot camp, at which 19 topics were thoroughly researched by a large team of district professionals, a recommendation has been formulated.
It comes with that reduction of 11.5 FTE (full time equivalent) positions, of which 6.5 are teacher positions. Tenured teachers are among them.
The staff reductions include: 3.0 FTE at the high school, 2.5 FTE at the middle school, and .5 FTE at Sunrise school. In addition, the recommendation is for 1.0 FTE reduction of support staff at the middle school.
The recommendation includes a redesign in the ALC program, staff reassignments, program site changes and reductions in contracted services and supplies.
In other areas, there is a reduction of .5 FTE in buildings and maintenance, 1 bus driver, 2.5 paraprofessional/clerical, and 1 technology position. One bus route would be eliminated.
Other recommendations include increased fees. It is being proposed that high school activity fees be increased from $175 for gr. 9, 1st and 2nd sport, to $210.
Grades 10-12 would increase from $200 to $210. Hockey from $500 to $525. And more.
A family cap would increase from $850 to $900. A fee would be charged for students qualifying for reduced lunches with an adjusted family cap. There is currently no fee.
There will also be reduced hours and days of summer programming.
New positions will be created, including a combination activities director/community education director.
Programs will be relocated. School Age Care to the Education Center, and activities moved from Sunrise to the Education Center including Targeted Services, Marvelous Mondays and Community Ed classes.
A draw down from the district’s fund balance of $500,000 is the final recommendation and will save 8 FTE teacher positions and 1.67 support staff positions. It will also assure that class size will be kept down at all grade levels. A complete budget presentation can be found on the district’s website.
Bringing in families
More positively, the budget recommendation includes a marketing plan to attract and retain families. That includes making better contact with open enrollment families and promotion of district achievements.
Coming soon, are exciting new programs such as Project Lead the Way, a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program set to begin at the middle school next year and move up through high school.
A pilot program called School of One is another example of the changes in programming that may attract families as well as the expansion of kindergarten targeted services.
Students will be attracted to NB’s D3 program which allows the use of digital devices in the schools. The district also continues to push toward an electronic curriculum.
There are still many unknown factors that can affect the budget, including the direction of the economy, changes in funding levels, enrollment and negotiations (77 percent of the budget is wages and benefits and contracts have not been settled).
The board and administration want families to know that while the district has made these adjustments to address its budget deficit, the quality of education at NB schools remains top priority.
The public is encouraged to attend a hearing on the budget this Thursday, March 8, 6-7 p.m. in the board room at the Education Center. The school board will take action on the recommendations March 15. Public input is being accepted by voicemail at 651-674-1080; by e-mail at email@example.com; at the district website: www.northbranch.k12.mn.us; and at the public hearing tomorrow night.