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December 11, 2019

11/21/2019 3:27:00 PM
Auditors advise Chisago Lakes School District Board to build-up currently seriously low General Fund balance

The Chisago Lakes School Board was presented with its annual audit at the monthly meeting Thursday, November 14.

After a round of cuts last year, there was some positive news that the district’s general fund balance had grown from 5.64 percent of the annual general fund expenditures to 6.70 percent. But, Brad Falteysek CPA with auditing firm Abdo, Eick and Meyers, said there is still work to be done. “Six and a half percent is significantly low, especially when five percent of that is restricted,” he said.

The regional average is 25 percent, but that includes some  small districts that may have a very high percentage available.

“We’d have to increase our fund three times just to get to the regional average,” board member Lori Berg noted.

Berg asked Falteysek what a realistic goal was for the district to increase the general fund balance, and he noted anywhere between three and four percent per year. The district improved by 1.27 percent from 2018 to 2019.

Director of Business Services Doug Hasler noted that 2018 to ‘19 was a positive step, but that the district saw more of an increase in restricted money (money where it is dedicated to a specific expense, and not for future spending) and they’d like to see the balance in unrestricted money.

Superintendent Dean Jennissen added that the district had just gotten the audit the week prior to the meeting and that it was a lot of information to digest. “We will work with the administrative team and the board’s finance sub-committee to dig into the audit and see where we see ourselves now and in the future,” he said. “It’s important to note that we are still in the process of reductions. We laid out an 18 month plan and there are still seven months to go. We did some really good things last year. We are trending in the right direction but there is still work to be done.”

Jennissen continued, saying that current student funding may not be enough in the future.

“We need to consider ways we can put more money into our district,” he said. “It may be in the future that we look at potential levies. The questions for the community will be ‘what will they support?’ We’ll have to work on letting the community know what our needs are and how we can work on passing a levy.”

When asked after the meeting if the current funding per pupil was too low, Jennissen continued, saying, “The short answer is yes. Even the $225 (local approved) doesn’t buy as much as it did when it was approved in the fall of 2013. The cost of nearly every resource we have at school has gone up since 2013. We get $949 per student beyond our state aid. We are thankful for every bit of support we get, but it’s not keeping up with the costs.”

The audit team agreed, saying in the report, “The district has a voter-approved operating levy of $225 per pupil unit that expires in 2024. After budget reductions implemented in the FY19 and FY20 budgets, the school board will need to give  consideration to further budget reductions, and/or requesting that voters approve additional operating levy authority as early as November 2020.”

In other business:
The board unanimously selected Premier Commercial Properties to sell the  Lakeside School property on Highway 8.

Premier was the last company to make a proposal at the October board meeting, and it was done by Chisago Lakes alum Bradee Thompson, now a commercial real estate sales and leasing agent.

Board member Melissa Donovan initially suggested going with Gaughan Properties, saying she was impressed with their marketing reach. Board member Brenda Carlson voiced that she preferred Premier, saying she bought into their presentation a bit more, and was convinced they would really focus on the Lakeside property sale and put extra resources into it. Berg echoed those sentiments, expressing concern that with Gaughan  Properties being so big, the property would just be added to their listings and left alone. Carlson added that having a CL alum that would be heading the effort, was “sugar on top” of the Premier  presentation.

Board member Dani Strenke also agreed that Premier did the best job in presenting their pitch. She said that out of the first three presentations the board got, Gaughan Properties was the best, but Premier’s was just that much better.

Board chair Mark Leigh noted that he had recently seen signs promoting Premier Commercial Real Estate in response to Donovan stating she was impressed with Gaughan’s marketing. He also recounted some stories of coaching Thompson in high school hockey and how impressed he has been with Thompson.

When it came time to vote, it ended up being unanimous in support of Premier.

Community Ed Director Bob Meyer gave the first report on the newly-opened  Community Center, and he said it’s been positive so far.
There are 313 members between yearly and monthly subscriptions and there has been a similar number of residents registered for the free walking track.

The center has generated $85,000 so far and is almost two-thirds the way to first year goals within the first two months of operating.

In some fun news, the demolition of Lakeside Elementary finally revealed that there was in fact a “time capsule” behind the 1939 stamped brick in the school.

The 80-year-old capsule is still sealed shut and will be opened at an event around the holidays, according to Jennissen.

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