February 17, 2005 at 7:47 a.m.
North Branch voters in fall 2004 defeated a ballot question to allow the district to levy an additional $500 per pupil unit for five years. Johnson pointed out that while any increase in state funding is long overdue, what’s proposed in the governor’s biennium budget “...is not enough to solve our problems.”
Johnson explained some of the changes that the legislature is being prodded to make by the governor.
~ Special education appropriations are proposed to be tied to inflation indexes again. Johnson said the state quit this practice two sessions ago so Special Education aid hasn’t kept up.
~ Modified pay plan is a new concept being recommended by the governor. If adopted by a district it will secure an extra $225 per student as incentive funding. (In North Branch this could mean $900,000.)
The merit pay would probably come in the form of a bonus check for qualifying teachers.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Stepaniak mentioned that while the idea has promise, the district needs to approach this carefully because any merit-based pay schedule takes resources to implement. If the legislature yanks the special funding later the district will be left holding the bag. “I’m not sure investing the time and effort would be worth it if the funding isn’t there,” he cautioned.
~Scrapping the weighted formula is proposed.
The state now gives more or less weight to a pupil unit depending on if the pupil is enrolled in kindergarten, middle or high school. Johnson said it is proposed that kindergarten students be counted as one-half of a unit and everybody else will just be one unit. If this new formula is adopted, ”North Branch doesn’t lose and we may even come out ahead,” said Johnson.
~ Billing for tuitioned pupils is also proposed to be taken over by the state.
Johnson said bookkeeping related to transferring state aid to other districts because of open enrollment takes a huge chunk of business office staff time. If the state takes this over it would help.
~ Increases in maintenance aid is also being proposed.
State aid comes to a particular district based on the age of school district buildings. It won’t mean “much” extra money in North Branch, Johnson stated, but “...it is starting to recognize the shortcomings.” Any increase in maintenance funds goes toward doing projects like roofing, windows, parking lot repairs, etc.
Johnson finished her presentation with a graphic on the power-point screen that summed up state aid from 1995 to what’s projected for 2006.
The graph has two lines, one depicting the property values that aid is supposed to be tied to ...and the bottom graph line is state equalization funding based on the valuations.
The two lines travel across the chart fairly parallel until about 2001 where the line for property values shoots upward and the aid amount declines. This is when the state “took over” funding of school districts.
By 2006 the top graph line for valuation is nearly off the upper right corner while the aid line remains flat.
Finance director Johnson called the state’s system one of “benign neglect” and said people “need to pay attention” to what the graph illustrates.
The School Board has set the February 24 meeting to deal specifically with budget issues. There’s also a working session Feb. 17 and a tentative work session March 3.
In other matters-- the School Board voted 5-0 with Kim Salo absent, approving changing elections to even-numbered years. Board seats set to expire in 2006 will go to 2007, and there won’t be any elections this fall.
The district saves money by not having to solely cover costs of odd-year polling. Also, as Board member Mary Jo Ahlgren noted it may even boost voter turnout for school board elections by holding them concurrent with general elections.
The polling place for all of the city of North Branch will now be the Mainstreet School.
The Board supported moving the voting booths from Uptown Maple Commons. By holding polling on a school district site expenses are cut and there’s more efficiency running the polling place.
The School Board met last week at the high school media center because the Scholastic Book Fair had already been scheduled for the usual Board meeting space.
The School Board gave certificates and a token of recognition to Peer Mediators.
Peer Mediators are: Javier Arreola, Laura Backus, Amanda Bower, Gerrian Buisman, Trevor Elsasser, Carly Hinschberger, Cailie Krietz, Jacob Kolke, Morgan Leadens, Cory Linder, Kelci Lofboom, Alexander Read and Crystal Vang.
The students are trained and volunteer their own recess or home room breaks to mediate disputes between students at the middle school. Coordinator Ms. O’Hern of North Branch Middle School said, “We are very proud of this group.”
The district continues to accept applications for the high school principal job until the end of February. A sub-committee of the Board, along with parents and administration, will narrow the field to one finalist, which the Board would then act on. Principal Dr. Trok announced he is retiring at the end of this school year.
A citizen complained to the School Board during public forum about a bus driver’s response when the citizen’s dog was run over by a bus, and the driver did not stop.
John Von Lange felt the driver should have pulled over and “at least called in and said he had a problem.”
The superintendent said he’d verify policy on incidents like this and check with the transportation director and report back.
The School Board officially accepted donations of $3,200.
General Mills Boxtops collected by the middle school amounted to $805, the middle school’s penny wars fundraiser collected $1,034 and the coaches’ association steak dinner fundraiser made $1,415. Brown and Bigelow was also acknowledged for its donation of 2005 calendars to the district.