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K-12 education bill could impact PR

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BY JEAN RUZICKA

The K-12 Education Finance Bill, touted to appropriate $485 million more to Minnesota schools in the 2014-15 biennium, could potentially have a negative impact on Park Rapids Schools, district business manager Carol Hutchinson said of the funding provisions.

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The basic general education formula will see a 1.5 percent increase in fiscal years 2014 and ’15. The base amount in 2013 is $5,224.

All-day, every-day kindergarten will be funded at 1.0; it’s currently a weighted amount .612 per pupil.

That’s the good news.

However, Hutchinson points out, the current pupil weighting on grades 1-3 will drop from 1.115 to 1.0. Grades 4-6, now at 1.06, will also go to 1.0 and grades 7-12 weighted funding per pupil will go from 1.3 to 1.2.

“It’s causing me concern,” she said. And her worries are exacerbated by a 44-student drop in enrollment from September to May.

Students enrolled at the beginning of school last fall totaled 1,500. Enrollment in May is 1,456.

Currently, operating referendum amounts are based on resident pupil units. That’s now being changed to adjusted pupil units which will negatively affect the district because Park Rapids loses more students to open enrollment than it gains.

“But we still have to maintain space for them,” she said of resident pupils who choose to enroll in neighboring districts.

Earlier this year, the school board approved recommended budget adjustments, putting some teachers on unrequested leave. And implementation of providing students with mobile computer devices – such as iPads – has been shelved for the time being.

A new component of the bill establishes a student achievement levy (formerly known as the general education levy), shifting state general education aid to local levies.

The legislation increases the amount of the safe schools levy by $4 to $6 per pupil, which Hutchinson applauds. Half of the amount pays for a law enforcement liaison officer. The funds can be used for security enhancements, climate improvements and collaborating with mental health services.

But at this point, both Hutchinson and superintendent Lance Bagstad are waiting until all the numbers have been “crunched” before making recommendations.

In other action Monday, the board:

n Learned Century Middle School has been awarded a $8,750 3M Ingenuity Grant.

The competitive grant recognizes teams of teachers working across grade levels and disciplines to integrate STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ­– into their classrooms to spark student interest and achievement, assistant principal Shawn Andress explained.

Proposals were scored on the following criteria – alignment, teamwork, engagement, relevance, evaluation, sustainability, clarity and interdisciplinary usage.

The grant will provide the school with Mindstorms EV3 from Lego – a robotics set allowing students to build, program and test their robots while gathering data on a computer.

This project will be implemented in 7th grade industrial technology class.

The grant also funds Water Studies.  Eighth grade students will be taken to nearby lakes and rivers to gather water samples, macro-invertebrates and take physical water tests using the methods and equipment that the professionals use.

Once samples are gathered and tests completed, students will analyze the results and make conclusions based on their data.

Physical equipment, such as nets, thermometers, water monitoring kits, turbidity tubes and rubber knee boots, will be purchased to make this class possible.

Both of these classes will be in place for the 2013-14 school year, Andress told the board.

n Will likely address the proposals to rename the auditorium in honor of the late Martin Carter in June.

“There are four pieces to process,” superintendent Lance Bagstad said. “We must make sure we cover ourselves for precedents,” he cautioned. Each request should be separate and specific.

He recommended the board appoint a vested committee and bring back recommendations. Bagstad said he expects to present information on administrative procedure at the next meeting.

n Learned 96 students are enrolled for Century’s Targeted Services, with more expected.

Sessions will be held in June and August.

n Approved the resignation of kindergarten teacher Alyssa Morlock.

n Approved posting for a fifth kindergarten teacher, enrollment currently at 109 students.

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