School board OK’s budget for 2014-2015

The 2014-2015 budget approved at the Thursday, June 26 board meeting will result in a general fund draw-down of almost $2 million in Forest Lake School District 831 over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.

“The budget draw-down is driven by staffing costs,” Superintendent Linda Madsen said in an interview. “Teachers, administrators, custodians, food service — everyone in the system” was given a salary increase in the most recent contract settlements, she said.

“We had to do that for quite a few contracts. There comes a time when we try to compensate them as they should be.” For several years district staff had no or minimal increases. 

Madsen said the district will still maintain a healthy reserve. The end-of-year general fund balance is estimated to be $5,052,953.

According to state law, the school board is required to approve a budget before June 30. It will be modified in November when the final student count is in. The budget anticipates that there will be 100 fewer students than last year, meaning a potential decrease in state per-pupil funding. 

The overall population of the school district, however, is up. The school district population was certified at 47,450 as of June 2014. This number shows an increase of about 1,000 residents over last year. 

Other business

The district’s telephone system will be replaced. The board voted to award the contract for telephone voice system, data switches and implementation services to Integra for $576,295. The project will be paid for over five years with lease financing. 

A new employment policy for the activities director was approved. The new policy is modeled after the agreement with principals, but is now separate from that document, as the activities director is not part of the principal’s collective bargaining group. 

Like the district’s communications coordinator, family support advocate and assessment coordinator, the high school activities director will have an individual contract.

Other districts require the activities director to have a principal’s license, Madsen said, because the training  principals receive in finance and legal issues can be helpful in dealing with budgets and data practices. The state does not require this.

The principals bargaining group did not object, Madsen said, and their approval is not necessary in any case.

Southwest Junior High Principal Marc Peterson, in his last board meeting before he takes a new position in New Hampshire, reported that Southwest has been accepted as an International Baccalaureate candidate school.

For the staff of 55, he said, this is a big change, and change is not easy.

“A year ago, I didn’t think as a staff we were ready,” he said. 

Staff training will continue through the summer, including an in-service day on Aug. 28.

Retiring Special Education Director Deb Wall was also recognized for her impressive career, leadership roles in the state and cheerful attitude. 

Gifts to the school district included $6,600 to purchase laptops and iPads, a $2,000 tool to help students with disabilities stand, and two cars for the high school automotive program.

Three School Board seats will be open in November as four-year terms for members Bystrom, Morehead and Turner expire. The board approved filing dates of July 29 to Aug. 12.

The board approved paying $3,957 as its portion of the Northeast Metro 916 health and safety program budget.

Teaching and Learning Director Jennifer Tolz-mann reported on the district’s progress with a Minnesota requirement to adopt a “comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to support and improve teaching and learning that is aligned with creating the word’s best workforce.”

This will be the umbrella document for several existing programs, Tolzmann said, including kindergarten readiness, reading well by third grade, closing achievement gaps, getting all students ready for career and postsecondary education and helping all students graduate from high school. 

“My best understanding is that they would like to consolidate all programs we currently do and submit to the Minnesota Department of Education,” she said. 

So far, she has not seen any streamlining, Tolzmann added.

The board approved appointing an advisory committee with Tolzmann as the facilitator. 

The board heard from trap shooting coach Don Spears, with assistant coaches and team members. There were 40 students in trap shooting this year, he said, and he expects the number to increase next year.

Board members reported attending graduations at the high school, adult education, STEP and Project Search programs.

“It was a simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating couple of weeks,” Bystrom said. Of the four students graduating from the first year of Project Search, she said, one has been hired by the Fairview Lakes nutrition services program.

  • The district has in excess of five million dollars in the general fund yet maintains rhetoric they are broke and have deferred maintenance for all these ‘needs’ … Seems to me that using some of these funds on the district true needs might be a more viable option than asking taxpayers for more.

    • DJL

      The drawdown of reserves indicates a budget deficit of $2M in 2014-15. Are you really suggesting the district spend even more when they are already spending above revenues? That doesn’t sound fiscally responsible.

      • What is not fiscally responsible is giving raises across the board to every employee when they have infrastructure needs that should be met first.

        • DJL

          The raises were already negotiated and approved. What is your solution, time travel?

          You also cannot decide to freeze salaries forever. The talented people will leave.

          • Well, if the raises were ‘already negotiated and approved’ then maybe we have a dysfunctional school board that is inadequate. I look forward to joining you in electing new members this November.

          • FLRanger

            “Buildings before People”

            That could be your campaign slogan if you decide to run again

        • Lisa Lenz

          How many people do you know personally that have not received a pay increase for 5 years, other than ISD 831 employees? That is unacceptable!

          • ISD-831 employees have not gone 5 years without a raise. That is a flat out lie. To answer your question, I know of people in the private sector that have as well as those that have lost employment.

    • Foodonastick

      You seem to be contradicting yourself from another post you have on this article

      Mr. Langness wrote “Debate can certainly be held on the proper amount needed in reserve. Most rationale people might agree between 5 and 10 percent”

      Mr. Langess wrote “Seems to me that using some of these funds on the district true needs might be a more viable option than asking taxpayers for more”

      By my calculation the school board is budgeting a reserve somewhere around 7% at $5 million. Which is it Mr. Langness, should the Board maintain a reserve between 5% and 10% or should they spend it down?

      • DJL

        From the article, the school board did decide to spend $576,000 for infrastructure upgrading their phone system. It wasn’t either/or.

  • Foodonastick

    I would think when you talk about this you need to look at other figures such as what is the total amount spent (budget) in a year. I would expect it is tens of millions of dollars.
    The article says they are already or will be drawing it down to $5 million. $5 million sounds like a lot of money but is it the proper amount of reserves if the general fund budget is $70 million. To me the question is what is the proper amount of reserves to keep on hand; a 5% reserve, a 7% reserve? I’m not absolutely certain but I think if they maintain $5 million in reserves it is some where around 7% of what they spend in a year (general fund only).
    I certainly do not think they should run our schools on pay check to pay check mentality and draw their reserves below 7% or somewhere close to that.

    • Debate can certainly be held on the proper amount needed in reserve. Most rationale people might agree between 5 and 10 percent. What you’re missing here is that they seem to find it reasonable to draw down the reserves for the purpose of giving raises across the board and prioritize that over fixing their infrastructure needs.

  • Concerned person

    The 5 million plus is what they will have left over AFTER teachers are paid. Eric Langness how much to do you suppose a school district needs to run properly? plus have a buffer for unexpected costs such as repairs to broken pipes etc?? I’m sure it’s not cheap…

    • 5-10% and reasonable people can disagree on the exact amount. Experts in school finance don’t even agree on a specific number. What I see as irrational is that they find it acceptable to dip into these funds for the purpose of giving across the board raises and not the infrastructure needs.

  • Foodonastick

    Teachers and administrators are the most vital infrastructure of any school; the fact that they have received minimal or no wage increases for a number of years seems to have escaped Mr. Langness.
    What I find irrational is Mr. Langness’s logic that it is unacceptable for people teaching our children to receive a wage increase.

    Fortunately the voters in our school district rejected Mr. Langness’s rhetoric when he finished 5th in a 5 person school board election the last time he ran.

    • 60% agreed with me that the bond was not worthy to vote for this year too. I also won 2 school board elections within the same borders. Why is it you fail to ever mention those elections?

  • Mr. FOAS, since you like to hide behind your real name – No contradiction here. Simply put, I agree that a fund balance should exist somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. Once the board decides what that amount should be they should maintain it. The discussion appears to not be what the percentage should be but rather how they should pay for the unfunded commitments they choose to make. Secondly, if having a lesser amount on the fund balance is adequate for the districts potential liability needs then I would have prioritized a spend-down to fix the maintenance issues they spent the last 6+ months talking about versus giving a raise to everyone in the district including many six-figure salary ranged administrators.

    • Foodonastick

      Ahh, you want it both ways

      You support a reserve but also a draw down below what you stated in a previous post was reasonable. Mr. Langness said ” Most rationale people might agree between 5 and 10 percent. ” Your right “No contradiction here”

      Typical (perennial) politician – don’t live up to commitments (promised pay raises to teachers), defend that position by throwing in a small group of people who make 6 figure salaries rather than the lion’s share of employees who are middle class salaried teachers, drivers, custodians etc.
      By the way the 6 figure people you speak of most likely would make much more $ in the private sector. A private sector administrator managing a company with the school district’s budget, the number of employees, building(s) maintenance, transportation logistics etc. are highly compensated in the real world.
      As far as hiding behind my stick man; I know from real life experiences that there are too many wackos in the world that retaliate against family members, even children. In reality, we are closer than you think – we may have even bumped into each other on occasion