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Chisago Lakes Schools

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June 5, 2020

4/3/2020 11:53:00 AM
Budget cuts finalized; TF school sprinkler funding revised; will no longer impact taxes

The Chisago Lakes School Board held its first ever remote meeting on Monday, March 23, following the guidelines passed down from the state government on limited gathering and social distancing.

Three board members; Lori Berg, Mark Leigh and Brenda Carlson, were physically present at the board room along with Superintendent Dean Jennissen, Director of Business Services Doug Hasler and Director of Technology Eric Simmons.

Joining remotely were board members Jerry Vitalis, Dani Strenke and Melissa Donovan.

The board used Google Hangouts, which allowed the public to also view and hear the meeting and participate in the open forum if they so chose. The meeting topped out at 21 people attending remotely.

The big decision for the school board was looming budget cuts of $614,611.

There was supposed to be a public comment meeting for the cuts the week prior to the official school board meeting, but because of the COVID-19 guidelines, that meeting was cancelled and community members were allowed to call or e-mail the district with concerns, as well as speak in the public forum section of the remote meeting.

There were $324,000 of district wide cuts, $20,000 at the Primary School, $48,000 at Lakeside, $62,000 at Taylors Falls Elementary, $41,000 at the middle school and $117,000 at the high school.

The biggest district wide cut was the decision to limit the textbook budget to $100,000 rather than returning to the prior $200,000 amount.

Much of the savings throughout the district are coming from retirements that are being replaced at a lesser cost.

At the middle school level, seventh grade football was cut indicating that due to declining participation, only one team was fielded for two grade levels this past year. “Student-athletes will still have an opportunity for participation in community programs with the elimination of this program,” a release from the district said.

The board also eliminated the MS yearbook position, and moved it to a self-sustaining model. Yearbook sales will need to support the position.

The only cut that was adjusted was eliminating a para  professional dean position at the middle school.

“We received a significant amount of emails about this position and this person,” Board Chairman Leigh said. “There was much good info shared and the reality is that this person was more vital and important than we realized. Middle School principal Ralph Fairchild was in favor of saving the position.”

“People went to bat for the employee and how important she is to that building, and not just in the para department,” Berg said.

Hasler figured with some potential staffing turnover, savings may be generated from that. The board approved the cuts sans the para position at the middle school.

The financing for the Taylors Falls fire suppression system was also discussed at the meeting.

Originally planned to be a bond sale that would raise taxes on the community, the board decided to alter those plans. The new proposal included funding the $1.2 million project that would be under the long term facility maintenance cap.

Annual debt payments would be paid from the district’s original revenues so there won’t be any tax impact on the residents.

Greg Crowe from Ehlers and Associates noted that in the past, they prepared a presale and taken bids on these types of projects, but with the financial markets in a state of upheaval, they were doing things a little different. If the market stabilizes and there is a bid under four percent, Hasler, Jennissen and a board member have the authority to accept that bid and officially authorize it at the next meeting.

Ehlers noted that everyone is looking for liquidity in the market and not investments.

“We started looking for solutions that didn’t raise taxes,” Jennissen said. “And  this building will be poised for great future success. We knew about this 18 months ago, but we’ve just been figuring out the ways to fund it.”

Jennissen ended the board meeting with a statement on the current state of the district in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and their remote learning program, which started Monday, March 30.

“We continue to pay attention to everything that is out of our control. What we’re doing here is unprecedented. We’re changing our education model in eight days. There is an incredible amount of info that changes daily and everything we plan for today could change tomorrow,” he said. “We are asking ourselves every day how can we take care of our students and ourselves and we need to have realistic expectations as it’s a remarkable feat we’re trying to pull off.

“We are trying to maintain perspective that this is affecting families in all different ways and those situations are fluid. We want to teach in a very intentional, but understanding way. We won’t be able to do it perfectly but we’re working hard at it.”

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