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November 18, 2018

12/21/2017 2:24:00 PM
North Branch School Board adopts 2018 levy

School districts typically at this time of year are reviewing their current annual budget to see if any revisions need to be made, and reviewing the audit for the year just completed, AND adopting a levy for the upcoming year’s property taxes.

North Branch School Board did just that last week, with board members Kirby Ekstrom and Darryl Goebel absent.

There were no members of the public who spoke during the 2018 levy hearing.  

The big item affecting taxes in the North Branch District is, of course, the 2017 voter-approved referendum costs showing up on tax statements.  Voters in District 138 last May approved three referendum questions allowing borrowing for building maintenance and systems repair needs, facility improvements, remodeling and other capital projects.

District Finance Director Jon Ellerbusch reminded the Board December 14 that the district got very desireable interest rates (3.1 percent) when bonding was sold, having the net effect of softening projected tax impact somewhat.  He then presented his first major fiscal overview,  as successor to longtime finance director Randi Johnson, who just retired.
Ellerbusch explained the levy is going up for 2018-2019 by one-and-a-half million,  which the School Board adopted 4-0.  The bond referendum or voter approved levies are adding $1.3 and about $200,000 relates to increases in other levies.  

Without the bonding money figured in-- the district will expend $40,373, 880.  The bonding proceeds can skew the revenue side of the budget.
Of North Branch revenue, 70 percent is state funding.  

Property tax is 18 percent of funding for 2018-2019, with the remainder in revenues attributed to interest investment income, federal appropriations, and other sources.  
Related to this income-- the Board later voted to endorse a statement advocating for federal funding for Special Education programming to be funded at the promised level.  North Branch “cross subsidizes” federally-mandated special education at the “underfunded” sum of $2.8 million annually, the Board was informed.

Another resolution stating support for a Trust Fund Lands Transfer was adopted as well.  The State of Minnesota holds parcels in trust for supplementing education funding;  but many parcels are within territory that can not be marketed or profited from.  The plan the Board lent its support to is to swap and/or sell these Trust Lands with the Forest Service, so marketable parcels can generate money for schools and the original Trust Lands can be protected.

School Board members also accepted the Clifton, Allen, Larson LLP annual audit, briefly summarized by accounting firm associate Mary Reedy.  She shared that there were no problems encountered doing the audit and cautioned the Board to monitor the fund balance carefully, as the district spent down balances starting four years ago.  In 2016 the fund balance was less than five percent, but rebounded to six percent in 2017.  Recommended practice is for it to be 10 percent. (See chart, rt. of fund balance last 10 years per average daily membership.)

North Branch finances are affected by declining enrollment, from 2,989 to 2,966 pupil units in 2017. State funds are distributed tied to a calculated weighted “average daily membership,” depending on which grade the student is enrolled in.

North Branch has 378 staff on its payroll, including bus drivers, and 70 percent of expenses are instructional and pupil support.  

Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton highlighted this saying, the costs out of the general fund for administration at five percent, are a very small part of district expenditures.

The school board also held a fall sports and arts recognition at the start of the meeting.  Dozens of students, coaches and the fall musical directors were applauded  and received certificates for their seasons.  

Rachel Bigelow and Laura Michaels noted that the community support for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was “overwhelming” and performances were packed. And, football coach Sam Ferraro reminded all that the team had the best season they have had since 1987. 

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