School board hears cost data for mental health programming

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

For students with mental health needs, District 831 uses the services of neighboring districts.

NEW fl logoAt the Aug. 1 board meeting, Special Education Director Deb Wall reported that these programs are filling up, and Forest Lake must act this fall to find an alternative.

Three options are to add a day treatment program in the district, partner with another district, or become a member of Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

At the Aug. 15 board meeting, Wall presented cost estimates for the 916 option.

Northeast Metro 916 works with member districts to provide special services. An intermediate school district offers specialized educational programs and services to member districts that, individually, they would find difficult to provide on a smaller scale.

Northeast Metro 916 has an audiology program in Little Canada, an auditory/oral program in Stillwater, a communications and interactional disorders program in White Bear Lake, deaf and hard of hearing services in Little Canada and alternate learning programs in Little Canada, Maplewood, Hugo and Woodbury.

Connie Hayes, 916 superintendent, said the district is consolidating and improving the facilities. A K-8 building in Blaine will open in the fall of 2014, and the high school in Little Canada is being upgraded.

Serving a total of 4,420 students in member and non-member districts, 916 has a total operating budget of $44.8 million, of which $34.8 million is salaries and benefits.

“In the past, 916 has been very available to meet the needs of our students,” Wall said after the meeting. “As we go into this school year, they have notified us that they will not be able to meet the needs of additional students because we are not members and they are struggling to meet the needs of their member district students.”

The total cost Forest Lake pays now for 916 services is $732,957. This includes $164,270 in the form of a 28 percent access fee beyond tuition costs for services totaling between $150,000 and $250,000.

The annual fixed fee to be a member of Northeast Metro 916 is $150,615.

“As we send more students to 916 programs, that access fee continues to be tacked on to every tuition bill we receive. There is a tipping point where it is more cost effective to be a member than a non-member,” Wall said.

Forest Lake was a member in the past but pulled out because of the expense.

Cost estimates for the other two alternatives will be presented at future meetings.

Location equity revenue

Business services director Larry Martini presented information on legislative changes affecting Minnesota school finance.

One difference is in counting students. Beginning in 2015, pupil units will be calculated using different weightings. Students in all-day kindergarten and through grade 6 will be weighted at 1.0 (currently .612 for K, 1.115 for grades 1-3, and 1.06 for grades 4-6). Students in grades 7-12 will be weighted at 1.2 (currently 1.3).

The basic formula allowance is increased by 1.5 percent per year for the next two years, to $5,302 and $5,806. In 2013 the amount was $5,224.

Martini said schools are “still way underfunded.” He showed a graph comparing per-pupil funding since 1991 to the 1991 amount adjusted for inflation. “There’s a $2,126 gap” in 2014, he concluded.

A new location equity revenue created for 2015 lets a district in the seven-county metro area collect $424 as “other” instead of “voter-approved” levy. But Forest Lake already has in place a $725 per-pupil levy, good for another seven years. The $424 is good for only five years.

The board took no action on a resolution converting the voter-approved referendum authority to a board-approved referendum authority.

Meeting dates

The school board approved meeting dates for the 2013-2014 school year.

Board meetings are normally held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month. Listening sessions are held before the meeting, at 6 p.m., so residents can speak informally with board members. Board meetings are open to the public.

The second September meeting was moved to Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The second October meeting will be one week early (Oct. 10) because of the Education Minnesota teachers union conference.

Other changes were made in January, April and June.

Closed session

After these topics the board went into closed sessions to discuss contract negotiations with teachers, food service workers and paraprofessionals, and to discuss the purchase of real property.