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February 24, 2020

1/30/2020 2:56:00 PM
North Branch School Board; budget tweaks getting a jump on future gap

The financial director at North Branch Area Public Schools had kind of a good news-bad news presentation at last week’s School Board meeting.  The district needs to balance its budget by trimming about half a million dollars in order to put the district in good shape for 2020-2021.

But as Board Chair Kirby Ekstrom observed, “This (imbalance) is more manageable than what we’ve seen in past years.”

The unassigned fund balance for North Branch District 138 ought to be in the range of five percent of the General Fund, according to Board policy and cash flow comfort, Tetzlaff explained.  

North Branch is projecting end of the next school year to be at nine-tenths of a percent if no revising is done.

With  a $500,000 cut in expenses there could be a balance at 5.5 percent of the General Fund as of July 2020, the start of the new fiscal school year.

Finance Director Dr. Todd Tetzlaff told the Board,  with Kevin Bollman absent, that meetings in February, including the “Budget Boot Camp” February 11 will be part of a cost reduction review.  Public comment is welcome and there will be administrative and staff input.

School Board action would happen March 5. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.  The Board was told there are contractual lay-off and termination notice deadlines to be met. so the budgeting window closes fast.

Tetzlaff pointed out a few factors in the district’s favor this year, helping to make the looming budget gap less severe.

The district,  in its official headcount in October, was up 39 students from projections.  Yet, Tetzlaff cautioned against betting on this continuing. The incoming kindergarten class this year has fewer students than the exiting Class of 2020.  

Also, on the positive side, the state dispersed “surplus” revenue to schools last summer for safety related expenses, and North Branch got $99,000.  

Employees also voted to apply some staff development line item monies towards a media specialist position.

If you have ideas on budget call 651-674-1080 and relay these in the voicemail.

To e mail address suggestions, it’s budgetinput@ isd138.org.  

The earlier in the process the public can be involved the better, Tetzlaff stressed.  

Board member Tim MacMillan thanked staff for being very pro-active and, “...taking the right steps on this.”  Any delay only hurts the outlook for future sustainable budgeting, he said.

The basic problem with school funding in Minnesota remains unresolved, however.  North Branch does not have an extra property tax in place.  Many citizens of other districts that have a broader and more varied tax base, have voted approval for local levies to supplement district revenues.

State per pupil aid has not kept pace and the school board members saw charts showing this, created by Schools for Equity in Education.  Based on consumer price index, the general education basic formula would need to provide $1,300 more per pupil unit,  just to match the past several years’ inflation in energy, food, transportation, materials, wages, etc.

State legislators set the aid formula.  Let your lawmaker know if you feel the state must do all it can to ensure equity in education doesn’t depend on where you live.

School Board ok’s search for new superintendant
North Branch school board members will be interviewing three search firms, the Board Chair has invited to a special session February 6.  The firms have been asked to  provide details of professional services for finding superintendent candidates.  

North Branch Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton has accepted the executive director’s post for the Minnesota School Administrators Association and she leaves North Branch at the end of this school year. (Story January 23.)

North Branch School Board Chair Kirby Ekstrom observed last week that there aren’t tons of eligible superintendents looking for jobs and it’s a relatively specialized profession ading, “...other districts are already out there looking.”

Costs for using a search firm will vary depending on how much the board members are able to be involved. If there are meetings with the public, can the board coordinate and run these?  If a survey is desired, can this be done in-house?  

“This will be a pretty intense time,” Ekstrom promised.

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