3/14/2019 3:42:00 PM North Branch Schools budget
reduced by $2.3 mill
The public hearing for citizen feedback on proposed budget reduction measures for North Branch Area Public Schools last week attracted very few people. The 20 or so FCCLA Club student-members in the audience were the exception. They wore their red club logo shirts to demonstrate opposition to eliminating this program, and FACS (Family and Consumer Science) due to the advisor being one of the 37 full-time equivalent staff positions to be eliminated.
Some staff reductions result through attrition-- retirements and voluntary career changes-- explained Finance Director Dr. Jon Ellerbusch.
The structural deficit North Branch is facing in 2019-2020 of $2.3 million must be addressed. Ellerbusch showed charts where the red ink compounds to over $6 million, all things remaining consistent, by the 2022-2023 school year.
North Branch is not unlike many Minnesota districts which have seen insufficient revenues due to three main causes: declining enrollment, unfunded expenses to provide special education services and lack of state pupil aid keeping up with cost of providing an education. In North Branch’s case, these are all “equally important,” Ellerbusch stated. Superintendent Dr Deb Henton added that in her 12 years as North Branch superintendent, the School Board has dealt with budget shortfalls in 10 of those. The Board then voted unanimously to enact the recommended reductions to trim $2.3 million. (Chair Kirby Ekstrom and Member Kevin Bollman were participating from remote locations via Internet.)
Audience members apparently misunderstood when it was their chance during the March 7 meeting to speak; and they requested time after the meeting had adjourned.
The North Branch High School chapter of FCCLA or Family Career and Community Leaders of America, sobbed when they addressed the Board. One 2018 grad also explained what the program has meant to her. The real life skills they learn and practice have kept them interested in school, when otherwise there’s not much offered that’s appealing, they said.
During the budget review public portion there were several written questions read aloud by moderator Patrick Tepoorten, for the Board to respond to: ~ How were cuts in activities done? The district looks at fees, structure and participation levels. They considered possibly retaining any programs that could be provided through the Community Education department as well. ~ How do you pick which teachers are cut? Teacher staffing is reviewed by administrative teams for areas where there’s student growth, for student interest and class size is a priority.
~ What is cross subsidy of special ed that people keep talking about? Special Education program mandates were created by and are supposed to be supported at 40 percent by the federal government and never have been. North Branch has shifted about $2 million into paying for special education that should be paid for from other sources. The MN Legislature is considering a law capping local districts’ special ed costs where they are now.
~ Why are property taxes increasing but the district is making cuts? The property tax statement is complicated. Take a look at each entity and how the tax bill is divided. There’s county, city (township) and special taxing districts on your statement along with your school district. Also-- property valuation is part of the math formula that calculates your tax and when your property value goes up, it impacts the math. The referendum approved North Branch school projects also show up on property tax statements as an increase but this money goes into paying the debt for the physical construction and equipment expenses-- this money is not for salaries and operating the district.
In another matter, the Board agreed that if total hours required for school instructional time are not waived, which the MN Legislature is considering doing, 12 minutes are to be added to the day for high school, starting as of March 18.
The high school curriculum needs to provide a certain number of hours in order to qualify for state pupil aid funding and with winter weather cancellations, many schools are short. North Branch middle and grade school sessions are okay so far.
The School Board found it preferable to extend each day than to add a full make-up day. The Board was cautioned that, should there be any more weather related interruptions, there will need to be more time added. It depends on the hoped-for waiver in statutory hours under consideration in St. Paul.