North Branch budget recommendation goes public

By MaryHelen Swanson—

A sizable crowd attended a public hearing on the North Branch school district budget recommendations for 2012-13 last week. Some were hearing the presentation for the second time, for others it was a first.

That recommendation includes elimination of 11.5 FTE positions, of which 6.5 are teachers.

Supt. Henton at the podium explained details of the 2012-13 budget to the audience at the public budget hearing last Thursday. Director of Personnel & Finance Randi Johnson stood with Dr. Henton as the budget was explained. Photo by MaryHelen Swanson

Facing a $2.1 million deficit going into budget preparation, administration and a team of district professionals worked hard at a “budget boot camp” to search for all possible areas of resources including those things that would attract more students.

The reasons for the deficit include such things as declining enrollment, lack of an operating levy, pending negotiations with teachers and custodians and one-time federal jobs funding expiring. Plus operating costs are always an unknown.

In February, the school board agreed that funds should be used from available sources to help offset the deficit, taking $486,000 from OPEB Trust, using one-time money of $290,000 (2011-12) and $280,000 (2012-13) from Staff Development, and $80,000 from Early Retiree Reinsurance Program. This action reduced the deficit to $1.3 million.

To address the $1.3 million, it has been reccommeded that fees be increased for extracurriculars, the staff reductions made as noted above, that there be rearrangement and redesign of programs, reductions in contracted services and supply budgets and a drawdown from the district’s fund balance.

It was noted that the $500,000 drawdown from the fund balance actually saves an additional 8 FTE teacher positions and 1.67 support staff positions.

North Branch continues to remain one of the lowest funded districts in the state due to continued failures of an operating.

Being a public hearing, the people could ask questions.

One asked about the 4-day week schedule and if the district went back to 5 days, would it draw more families?

Superintendent Deb Henton reminded all that the district is in year two of a 3-year schedule. The district has no plan to go back to the 5-day week.

Responding to why teachers are still being paid the same amount as the 5-day week, Henton said because they are working the same amount of time, as required by the state when going to an alternate schedule.

On the question of administration cuts, Henton noted that there has been several in the past 5 years and she did not feel that the staff is top heavy in that area. In addition, she noted that no staff told her to cut administration.

Why is the district adding programs while making cuts? Director of Personnel and Finance Randi Johnson said it involves reallocating funds and that new programs, such as Project Lead The Way, will use grants and operating funds that can only be used for such things as equipment purchases. In addition, federal professional development money will be used to train staff for the program.

Question: how many teachers have no student contact? While there are a few, Henton noted, teachers on special assignment have a direct impact on student achievement.

Question: Are the teachers going to strike? Board member Kirby Ekstrom said they are still in negotiatons and he could not comment.

Question: What about the superintendent’s contract? Henton said it is not up until the end of the year. She reminded all that she has taken a voluntary three-year freeze.

Question: Why TIES when it is costlier? Henton responded saying the teachers wanted real time data and belonging to SCRED it was important for all school districts involved to be on the same system. TIES provides a lot of professional development and money for TIES would not be used for teachers’ salaries.

Question: How much is saved by the 4-day week? There are savings in transportation, energy and custodial staff costs, in addition to lower costs for substitute teachers. The savings have proven to be more than projected, Johnson replied.

Question: What’s the impact of the state budget surplus? Johnson said it will impact cash flow, but not the budget. There will be no increase in funding, just a change in when the district will receive the funding.

The school board will act on the budget recommendations at a meeting tomorrow night, Thursday, March 15 at 7 p.m. in the board room at the Education Center.

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