July board meeting will be interesting

By MaryHelen Swanson, editor

I was unable to attend the June 28 North Branch school board work session. Thus upon returning from a week of bliss in the north woods, I spent the last hours of my vacation listening to the podcast of the meeting. While time-consuming, it really is a great way to keep up with the school board.

After 27 years of attending meetings, I honestly never tire of the drama that goes on, and knowing the players at this board table, I could easily picture them making their comments, although a few need to lean into their microphones a bit more.

The session was long and intense. Due to the settlement of the teachers’ contract and a subsequent budget savings, it appears that NB will have a smaller deficit next year than predicted. And there are school board members at the ready to find ways to spend any savings, potentially a couple hundred thousand dollars.

First and foremost, Supt. Deb Henton wants to retain any surplus for future deficits. As most are aware deficits have been predicted for several years, and longer perhaps, if the enrollment doesn’t start to increase. And that, says the demographer hired by the district, won’t happen until housing picks up in the NB area.

Board member Trent Jensen is concerned with class size and member Randy Westby wants to minimize the declining enrollment. Westby says class size is the reason he’s heard that people have taken their kids out of NB schools.

Board member John White wants stepped up technology. He said his own children have not been challenged enough in such areas at NB.

While the student loss was predicted to be 70, it looks like it’s more around 90 kids that have left the district. But Dr. Henton pointed to the injustice when people who vote no on a levy referendum take their kids to another district where the residents are paying for a levy.

She suggests that to attract students and increase enrollment, NB should offer all day every day kindergarten – free. It’s good for the kids, she says, and the Legislature should pay for it.

There’s a war for our kids among school districts, she said, adding, when it was suggested that “we need to get in the game,”  that “we are in the game.”

In addition, she is surprised that board members are not recommending a return to the 5-day week, if they want to spend this couple hundred thousand dollars.

If the district doesn’t have 4-day next year, the board will have to make some decisions, she said.

This week at the board’s regular meeting, Dr. Henton will provide some information, members have requested, for use of the extra money.

Starting with technology, she’ll probably recommend funds for Lego Robotics at the middle school to enhance technology opportunities as well a funds that are needed to get Project Lead The Way going, another program that will be of significant value to our students. The path to this program has already been opened here at NB.

She may be recommending the addition of a secondary math teacher, an elementary science teacher and a pupil support teacher, along with a guidance counselor at the middle school, and the costs.

Still, from beginning to end of the work session, Dr. Henton could not stress enough that she’s learned from 5 years of “cutting” that whenever you can, you should save the money. And that remains her priority.

Finance director Randi Johnson also reminded the board that spending fund balance is one-time money.

Like I said, this week’s meeting will be interesting.


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