July 19, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.
The teacher contract that was recently ratified in the North Branch District, which is retroactive to July 1, 2011, resulted about $200,000 “extra” which was projected to be spent but ended up not being needed due to how wages and benefits were settled. School Board members last week discussed whether the district should spend that or bank it. Two Board members were at odds with the administration’s recommendation to retain the money. The superintendent and finance director told the Board to use this to reduce an estimated deficit for next year of around $2.1 million. Board members John White and Trent Jensen argued for putting the money into hiring three instructors ($60,000 each with benefits, etc.), and funding North Branch’s proposed entry into a special technology curriculum called Project Lead the Way. The Board had agreed to start middle schoolers in PLTW this fall-- at an estimated expense of $50,000.
Jensen said his goal is to chip away at growing class sizes. He said this unbudgeted money is an “opportunity” to address this concern of his. But, the Board Chair and the district’s financial director, explained that three instructors for $180,000 won’t impact class size on any noticeable front. “One or two courses” or a single grade level might benefit, said Randi Johnson, Finance Director. Johnson also explained that the better approach is a “longer term outlook” when budgeting. Addressing “one year at a time” not developing a cushion for dealing with expected structural funding deficits is not recommended. Chair Kim Salo said all throughout negotiations, the School Board was firm that any surplus would go to reduce the 2012-2013 projected deficit spending. “No board member ever said anything other than to hold the line.” Salo added that to realistically reduce class sizes the district would be looking at hiring “many teachers everywhere.” Board member Kirby Ekstrom said adding $180,000 as new teacher wages is not “sustainable.” He prefers the district look at “investing” it into a proven academic enhancement option, such as all-day, every day kindergarten. Randy Westby spoke in favor of this as well, as a way to “market” the district and attract pupils into North Branch. A program like All Day K would “...let them know we are on the rebound (financially).” Jensen responded that if he’d known the $200,000 built into the budget wasn’t going to be utilized he wouldn’t have voted to lay off several instructors the district ended up letting-go. Jensen made a motion to allocate the sum to three instructors and spend $50,000 in equipment/technology programming. He and White were the only yes votes as the measure went down 4-2.
Chair Salo noted that at one time there was a maximum class size mandate for the early elementary grades, in state law, and that this issue would be a good discussion item for the Board. There was consensus the Board should review what is an ideal class size and if there’s a strategy for achieving this in North Branch-- a “game plan” as Board member Westby put it. Chair Salo also commneted that it would be helpful to know from the district residents if there’s a “common factor” the public truly supports dedicating funding to. In other business: the Board gave the garbage hauling bid for 2012-2013 to Terry’s Disposal, at the same cost as last year, $2,310 per month. (One other haul bid was higher.) Fuel went to Federated Co-operatives in a joint bid put out with the City of North Branch. Fuels are bid based on a profit margin in addition to the price the supplier pays at the depot. Federated’s difference or margin on each gallon will be .0050, the next closest bid markup was .0686. The Local 284 contract with custodians was unanimously ratified. The salary is frozen in the first of the two year contract and no insurance increases were granted, and in year two wages get a 20 cent increase. The student handbook for the coming year was adopted and will be available on-line. The first day of school for North Branch is Tuesday, September 4. Students have 149 days in school and teachers have 159 days plus two extra for conferences.
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