|6/25/2021 2:56:00 PM|
Chisago Lakes School Board pumps brakes on fall levy date eight days after approving it
After unanimously voting to pursue a voter-approved levy this fall on Wednesday, June 9 at a special school board meeting, the Chisago Lakes School Board reversed course and rescinded that motion at their regularily scheduled meeting on Thursday, June 17.
The decision came after Superintendent Dean Jennissen spoke with the consulting firms the district is working with and both suggested that the timeline doesn’t work.
“Todd Rapp and Peter Leatherman really feel like the timeline is too pinched. We’ve had conversations and heard from our community and we as a board have struggled with it,” Jennissen said. “They essentially told me this is just really not an optimal amount of time to do a survey. As much as they are consultants and work for fees, they said the best option would be to wait.”
The board was unanimous behind that concern.
“There’s not enough time to truly do the proper job to be voted on November 2,” Board chair Mark Leigh said. “We want community input and we can’t do that with a fall 2021 levy.”
“I don’t think this should be rushed. I think we have to respect that this isn’t good timing,” Board member Brenda Carlson added.
Leatherman, of Morris-Leatherman, who was been handling the survey, said he would hang on to the work they’ve done and not charge the district the initial $3,500 for creating the survey.
“The community wants to know what the district will spend money on and that’s certainly a valid point,” Jennissen added. “What’s the need and what would be fulfilled in those needs?”
He added, ”Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath. We are going to proceed with a survey, but not now, and we are still in need of funding for our schools, no doubt, but now is not the time, it’s just too pinched.”
“I like the idea of having some time to let the community recover some from this pandemic and get in a better positions and for us to have the time to say here’s our needs, our priorites and the amount we need and do some planning,” Board member Lori Berg explained. “If we rush it to this fall, we don’t even have time for good planning. We need to get it done, but let’s take this year to get it done right.”
Board member Jeff Lindeman agreed, saying he wanted to set some working sessions for the board prior to the survey going out, which will now be done late in 2021. “I would like us to have a plan to determine the priorities,” he said. Jennissen agreed, saying potential needs and priorities could then be crafted into the survey questions.
The board was unanimous in their thought that there will still be a levy going to vote at some point in 2022, but they did not set a date as they need to discuss if it would be better for the spring or fall.
Without going for a levy this fall, cuts would potentially be on the table next year. The board decided earlier in the meeting with Director of Business Services Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson that $900,000 of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) would go towards the budget in 2023. It’s just a band-aid fix, but something that can bridge them to a potential levy.
The total ESSER III funds are over $1.7 million. On top of the $900,000 earmarked in budget relief, $325,000 will be alotted for Elementary Reading and Literacy Training, $350,000 for mental health support for students and staff, and $211,931 for technology, including Chromebooks, Prometheum boards and projector replacements.
The fiscal year 2021-22 budget, was approved unanimously by the board.
There was some good news on the teacher front. After seven teachers were laid off in the initial round of cuts, based on the elementary administrative teams’ calls and predictions, three teachers will be hired to alleviate some large class sizes at lower grade levels.
“If all the Wildcat Academy students returned, we’d have some pinch points at schools for class size, and that has come to realization,” Jennissen said. “What we are predicting for enrollment means we have to bring back a third grade teacher at Taylors Falls Elementary, fourth grade teacher at Lakeside Elementary and a K-1 teacher at Primary School.”
At Taylors Falls Elementary, the class sizes would be around 19-20 in three sections instead of 29-30 in two sections.
At Lakeside, they would’ve been at 31-32 students in six sections, but they’ll move up one section, and be at 27-28 in seven sections.
At Primary School, they are going to nine sections in both kindergarten and first grade to get to 20-21 students in each section.
Board members Melissa Donovan and Dani Strenke were not present. It was Donovan’s third absence in a row dating back to the May regular meeting. Jennissen confirmed that Donovan is still on the board and that the absences were relayed to Chairman Leigh and were work-related.
Jennissen said there is not an attendance policy on the board, “but of course, attendance is the expectation.”