Board discovers new deficit

/ 23 May 2012 / jennifer

Liala Helal, International Falls Journal, May 23, 2012 – The International Falls School Board Monday learned details of a new projected budget deficit for the district.

The projected budget shortfall is nearly $400,000 total — about $219,000 for this school year, and an additional $181,000 for the 2012-13 school year.

The news comes less than two weeks after the board approved layoffs of five teachers to take care of the last projected budget deficit discovered in February. The board also reduced programs to balance the budget, which was projected at about $700,000 in the hole.

“I don’t think the board is ready to reduce staff or programs to balance the budget,” said superintendent Jeff Peura at the board meeting, adding that the district’s revenue could always change.

The shortfall for this school year comes from the cost of the pool renovation project; the district had counted on the approximate $200,000 cost to be paid for by the taxpayers. A request to the state Legislature seeking approval for a levy to pay for the project was “squashed,” school board Chairman Stuart Nordquist told The Journal. The request was approved by the House, but the Senate Education Committee blocked the item from moving to the Senate floor for a vote.

“So the cost of the pool renovation project is going to fall to the district,” Peura said at the meeting. “That will come out of our unreserved general fund.”

The remaining projected deficit comes from recalculation of revenue after taking into account that the district no longer receives money from the state for Q-Comp, or Quality Compensation program. Q-Comp was discontinued after a split 3-3 vote of the board nearly one year ago.

Next school year’s approximate $181,000 projected deficit comes from reconfiguring the estimated student count. The district receives from the state approximately $5,174 per student enrolled; the amount fluctuates based on the student’s grade.

The student count is estimated to be down by 47 students next year, according to Nordquist.

“Of course (the projected deficit) could change with new revenue from students staying or coming into the district, and controlling expenditures even more,” Peura said.

The revenue from the number of students is also affected by high school students who choose to enroll for classes at Rainy River Community College through the state’s post-secondary enrollment options program or PSEOP.

“As you lose students in your school — the levy is determined and limited by student count — so the loss of student count is huge in how it affects your budget,” Nordquist said.

The board is expected to review the final expenditure and revenue budgets for fiscal year 2011-12 and the tentative budgets for fiscal year 2012-13 for adoption at the June board meeting.

“There are too many unknowns,” Nordquist said. “If any cuts would take place between now and the start of the school year, they would be very small. We’ve already made cuts to take care of the (last) deficit, and you don’t know how it’s going to go in terms of exact future costs or revenue.”

In other meeting business, the board announced a ruling in favor of the district from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Former Falls High School English teacher Marie Blumhardt, who took a job with teachers union Education Minnesota, had requested a leave of absence with a right to reinstate her teaching job in three to five years. When the board denied the request, Blumhardt took it to court, claiming that as an appointed official of Education Minnesota, the law entitles her to the leave and that her teaching job must be held for her as she completes her appointed duties. The court found that under state law, her position does not classify as “appointed official.”

“It forced us to expend funds that could be used for education to defend ourselves against a frivolous lawsuit,” Nordquist told The Journal, explaining that the attorney costs to the district are in the thousands of dollars.

The board received several revised policies to consider for adoption in June. The policies involve student activities, bully prohibition and health and safety.

The board approved the termination and nonrenewal of a teaching contract of probationary special education teacher Wendy Mayer. Mayer was up for tenure at the end of this school year, but administrative recommendation called for non-renewal of her contract, according to Nordquist. The nonrenewal of her contract was not due to balancing the budget deficit, Nordquist explained.

The following probationary teachers’ contracts were renewed: Katherine Anderson, Amanda Baron, Katie Hamers, Molly Pavleck, Elizabeth Strandberg, Heather Sunsvold and Jennifer Wenberg-Anderson. Fourth-grade teacher Beth Shermoen’s contract was also renewed, after she was removed from the layoff list at a special meeting held earlier this month.

Peura said there is a possibility that one of the part-time probationary teacher positions will be changed to a 1.0 full-time equivalency position as the administration completes staffing assignments for next year.

The board granted tenure to three teachers and a school nurse: Michelle Boelk, music teacher; Shawn Johnson, special education teacher; Susan Palm, school nurse; and Heidi Thompson, special education teacher.

The board approved the resignations due to retirement of teachers Susan Savard, Falls High School English teacher; and Debra Ciminski, Falls High School art teacher. The resignations are effective on the last teaching day, June 1.

The board also approved a retired teacher contract for the coming school year for Marva Fairchild, Falls High School family and consumer science teacher.

Peura announced the intention of the Local 510 union of district secretaries, custodians and food service staff to negotiate on their contracts. Last year, the union agreed to take a one-year contract instead of the typical two years, to allow the district time to plan its budget.