NEW ULM - In a move intended to help the administration with pending staff and budgetary planning, the District 88 Board of Education Thursday night approved an increase of 3.5 teaching position equivalents for next year.
The action is intended to help reduce class sizes, and is made possible by the passage last November of a new local operation levy. It also factors in an anticipated 1 percent increase in state basic school funding.
At roughly $50,000 per teacher per year, the action also carries an approximate combined price tag of $175,000.
It is up to administrators to decide how the positions would be allocated among school buildings.
The board also directed the administration to spend some $57,000 of the new funding on making up an anticipated shortfall in federal and state-funded basic literacy and gifted-and-talented programs. (Specifically, the programs include Title I, Title II, Literacy and Gifted and Talented funding.)
Expenses for these programs are staff-related and directly benefit students, noted Remme. The choice is to either cut the underfunded services to students, or else subsidize them locally.
In background information, Remme recapped that the new local tax levy will bring in an anticipated $1,334,534 per year. If state basic per pupil funding increases by 1 percent - which many consider likely under the current Legislature - the district would receive, approximately, another $188,508, at current student counts. The new revenue available, then, next year, would amount to a combined $1,453,042.
However, officials and the board agreed that, before adding any positions, the board should end deficit spending - making up the $740,000 taken out of the fund balance last year, expressly to minimize classroom cuts.
Next, the board factored in the cost of new contracts. Collective bargaining costs are known for five out of six employee unions, noted Remme. Employment agreements have also been completed with all (except one) non-unionized employees, and with the new superintendent to replace the retiring Remme. In all, these new contracts will result in increasing district costs and using up $371,000 of the new money.
The unspoken-for remainder is just $342,042 a year (and that's the funding used to add back previously cut positions).
The board discussed, but did not at this stage take action on, the allocation of the remaining, smaller portion of the new funding.
Some acknowledged priorities include more support for extra-curricular activities, staff development, technology enhancements, and developing a newly-mandated teacher evaluation model.
Remme pointed out the urgency of putting some money back into the previously reduced extra-curricular activity budget. Some equipment (helmets) must be replaced due to safety requirements, he especially pointed out. Uniform replacement has been reduced and suspended over the past couple of years, and seventh and eighth-grade programs need support, he added.
Several board members expressed regret about their inability to allocate more funds to class size reduction. Some noted that it is always easier, if needed and possible, to add positions later, than it is to add now, then turn right back and cut because programs cannot be sustained. Some observed that custodial and secretarial staff is also stretched very thin. Board member Patricia Hoffman urged putting some resources into innovative, enrichment classes for advanced students (an expense that is also staff-related).
Remme noted that $238,109 in funding will need to be set aside, by law, for staff development. This requirement had been temporarily lifted in recent years, to help districts deal with funding cuts. Remme observed that the impact of the re-instatement of the set-aside requirement can be minimized, by coding some existing practices to staff development. Examples include coding a proportional share of the salary of the curriculum development director (high school co-principal Steve Weber) to this fund, and other similar steps.
New board member
The board appointed Christie Dewanz to fill the board position vacated by Jill Hulke.
Dewanz will serve until the November 2014 general election, at which time someone will be elected to the seat.
Hulke, elected last November, resigned after it was discovered she was ineligible to serve because she lives just outside the district.
The board invited people to apply for the seat, and five candidates did. The board's personnel committee reviewed the applications, before recommending the appointment of Dewanz.
Dewanz works for Brown County Family Services. She is a graduate of New Ulm High School. She attended the U of M, Waseca, and Mankato State University. She is involved with the New Ulm Basketball Association, the New Ulm Music Boosters, the Searles Baseball Association and other groups. She is a 4-H leader.
She has for children, two in college and two who attend New Ulm Public Schools.
She stated in her application that her goals as a board member include: building positive community relations, a focus on cultivating pride in the schools, providing quality teachers and coaches, providing safe facilities, respectfully listening to concerns from staff and community, providing resources for classroom instruction and accountability to tax payers, and providing a curriculum for all students to excel.
During a work session preceding the regular meeting, the board heard a report from consultants Springsted, Inc., on the possibility to use tax abatement financing for an estimated $600,000 project to rebuild the main campus parking lot.
"Tax abatement" in this case is not an actual abatement or non-payment of taxes, explained the consultants. Instead, taxes are "captured" from properties that "benefit" from the project.
This tool can be used to finance public infrastructure. It would allow the district, if it chooses to use it, to conserve deferred maintenance or capital improvement funds for other projects.
In just one example, funding the parking lot project in this way would result in a tax increase of $2 per year on a $100,000 home (calculation based on eight to 15-year-term bonds).
The report was for information-only.
The discussion that followed indicated that while board members saw some advantages to the option, some were also concerned about the public-relations aspect of what can be described as a tax increase on the heels of a new local levy referendum. Some were concerned about the timing of the project (specifically, lining up a good contractor to do it this late in the year).