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July 18, 2019

6/20/2019 2:45:00 PM
North Branch School Board asked to reconsider academy busing

The mid-summer North Branch School Board meeting was lengthy last week, with the Board recognizing dozens of athletes, and participants in academics and fine arts and their coaches over approximately the first hour of the agenda.  

As for public comment-- the Board heard from two parents and a grandmother speaking for Phoenix Academy students-- who pleaded for the district to reconsider action declining to provide bus transport for Phoenix Academy pupils next year.  

The citizens said busing is necessary to give these kids the option of attending this charter school.  They commented that they did not fully understand all the details leading up to the action to not provide buses, but asked the Board to reconsider.  One woman explained that her kids weren’t thriving academically in public school, and were gaining some ground this year at the newly-opened Phoenix Academy.  She said without bus transport her days will be challenging with toddlers still at home, and getting her older kids to school by herself.  Another said without transportation truancy levels could be aggravated  and she said truancy is at the root of later troubles-- unemployment, criminal behavior, lowered income.   She declared that to not provide transportation is not in the district’s best interests.

Public microphone is not intended for immediate discussion.  The Board may or may not elect to address issues later.

The North Branch Board (see story May 16 Press) had denied the charter school’s request for busing for 2019-2020 due to various concerns. The academy experienced delinquencies in payments for other services North Branch staff provided, plus the notification of bus service was submitted past the district’s budgeting and planning deadline.

In agenda actions, the Board adjusted the 2018-2019 $33.1 million budget (this is without capital projects’ costs) and adopted next year’s proposed budget on a 5-0 vote, with Sarah Grovender absent.  

The Board heard the contract negotiations committee continues to meet with instructors and custodians. No settlements have been reached.

The last session of the state legislature approved two percent pupil funding increases for each of the next two years, which Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton described as “woefully inadequate at that level,” adding, “I wish I could be more positive.”

She did note that lawmakers are beginning to address chronic shortfalls in special education program responsibility.

The cross subsidy-- where local taxpayers cover bills for federally-mandated special education costs-- has plagued districts for years.
In North Branch’s case local dollars are funding about $2.6 million in special ed costs that should be paid through federal and state governments.  

There is an upcoming North Branch increase in the state budget, for cross subsidy aid in 2020 of $85,000 and in 2021 of $228,275.

Fees hearing
A public hearing took place at the start of the Board meeting and fee adjustments were reviewed.  There was no public comment.  
Lunch prices are going up 10 cents or $2.70 elementary, $2.90 secondary and $4.10 adult next year. Milk stayed at 60 cents and breakfast was left at $1.80 and $2.40 (adult).

There will be a $5 planner as a required purchase for ALL grades in middle school next year.

The Board also approved a required resolution to revise policy guiding activities and extra-curricular bookkeeping.  

GASB rules (Govt. Accounting Standards Board) now mandate these sports and extracurricular revenues be put into the General Fund and that the School Boards be more involved in expenditures. The change comes out of review by a sub-group consisting of MN Dept. of Education, district business managers, auditors;  and all districts are adopting this change, according to Business Services Director Dr. Jon Ellerbusch.

Ellerbusch attended his final North Branch meeting before former middle school principal Todd Tetzlaff takes over directing the financial division.  Ellerbusch has accepted a superintendency, and Tetzlaff’s post as Principal  will be filled by Assistant Principal Kelly Detzler.

The School Board met at Sunrise Elementary School because the education center, just down the road on Grand Avenue, is undergoing major construction over the summer.  The district office is based at Sunrise Elementary, hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30.  The high school and  middle school administrative business is based at the middle school, use door 5.  Hours are 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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