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North Branch Schools

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May 25, 2022

4/29/2022 1:32:00 PM
Still no official vote on fall levy, but CL District heading in that direction

The Chisago Lakes School Board continued to move towards a fall operating levy vote but didn’t take an official action yet. It seems to be a given at this point that it will be on the ballot, but the Board members are still planning out how much they should ask for and what the dollars would be spent on.

Board member Sarah Aadland was absent from the meeting and board member Brenda Carlson joined about halfway through after coaching the Chisago Lakes softball team.

During their Thursday, April 21 regular meeting, the board discussed a levy at length and the need for it.

“As we’ve been surveying groups and our community, teachers and administrators. It’s become abundantly clear to me that we have needs,” board member Lori Berg said.

“Our taxpayers that are thinking that ‘Oh, you’ve made these cuts and you’re still rolling along,’ I just want to say that  we are draining some people because we are asking them to do so much more than what’s fair. All the way down the line because of the cuts we’ve had to make. So I just want to say broadly the picture was painted extremely clearly that we have needs in almost every area.”

Board member Jeff Lindeman added, “I think we are using a lot of data and not just throwing stuff against the wall. We’ve surveyed and all of us have talked to people. You’ve seen what’s happened. It would’ve been nice to have money five or six years ago, but it’s like planting a tree— you can’t go back. The best time to plant a tree is now. The best time to do this is now before we have to make more cuts.

“We got a reprieve because of COVID funds, but those are going away. We are glad to have everyone healthy and we are back to being face to face but weve had a robust discussion on this topic. There’s been a lot of contemplation on how much it should be and what it should be used for and we’ve really done a good job of listening to people and surveying people. I hope people come and ask why we’re doing what we’re doing because I think we have very good answers. We’ve patched and pieced it together and at every level people are doing more and more. When finances are better, it really increases morale.”

The board also discussed being able to hang onto the district mental health specialists until after the levy vote, to see if there would be financial room to keep them. Berg proposed going from a 2.6 FTE to 4 FTE or fulltime equivalent.

“These mental health specialists are essential right now in my personal opinion and I’d hate to see it go away.”

She said that she’d heard from administrators and teachers and the specialists are essential.

The district didn’t budget for the costs, as they were hired with COVID relief money. “But, I’m in favor of looking for any creative way to keep these people for our kids and our staff,” she said.

Board member Mark Leigh added, “From the youngest grades all the way up, we’ve seen some struggles. It’d be good if we could possibly retain the ones we have.”

Director of Business Services Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson said if they look at four FTE’s, they’d be looking at about 300,000. They have about $150,000 from some COVID funds still for next year, but if they wanted more it would probably have to come out of fund balances.

“I think there is no question we need these people,” Lindeman said.
“Kids are going through more now than they ever had to, at a younger age,” board member Dani Strenke said. “It’s just a wonder some of them can even make it.”

“Unless someone’s mental health is where it needs to be, you’re not going to get anywhere academically,” Berg added. She also said she was informed specialists are booked nearly three months out at a time, so there is an urgent need.
Board student representative John Douglas, who was attending his last meeting as a high school senior, echoed those sentiments, saying it has been “really necessary to have mental support for students.” He said he thought it was important to retain the staff they have and even add more.

“It’s important to the success of not only our kids but our staff,” Leigh explained.
The board approved up to four FTE’s for mental health support into next year.

In other business: Lunch and breakfast prices saw a slight increase for 2022-23. Breakfast cost went up by a nickel to $1.80 at all schools.
Lunch costs were raised by 15 cents, bringing elementary lunches to $2.75 and secondary lunches to $3. Adult breakfast and lunch remained the same at $2.40 and $4.25, respectively.

Food Service Director Laura Cierzan was on vacation, so Vosberg-Torgerson made the presentation. The reasons for raising prices were listed as cost increases for the department and a return to normal meal programming, which meant an end to free meals for all students, lower reimbushment rates and discontinuation of COVID-19 waivers and flexibilities.

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