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PR enrollment drop concerns PR school business manager

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BY JEAN RUZICKA

A drop in enrollment during the past year continues to cause consternation on the part of Park Rapids Area Schools business manager Carol Hutchinson, who introduced the preliminary budget for 2013-14 at this week’s meeting.

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The district enrollment dropped by 44 students from September to May. “This causes me great concern,” she told the board.

The revised budget for 2012-13 reflects a deficit of $203,816.

But “this is a significantly improved financial position over the $700,245 deficit budget in the general fund from December,” she pointed out.

Hutchinson said the budget was under constant review to find “cost containments,” “curtailing costs where I could.

“A culmination of many things got us from the $700,245 deficit to the current projected deficit of $203,816,” she told the board.

“It’s a decrease in fund balance, but I think it is fine,” she assured the board. “We accomplished many things,” she reminded the board of the purchase of iPads for staff and students, funded from curriculum dollars, special ed funds, Title One and secondary education dollars. Wireless infrastructure was completed as were repairs.

Community Education director Jill Dickinson received a round of applause for bringing her department into positive territory, ending the year with a $47,000 fund balance. Community Ed has traditionally been in the red.

During the 2011-12 school year, enrollment dropped by 16 students, from 1,497 to 1,481. This year’s numbers fell from 1,500 to 1,456.

Next year’s budget reflects a projected deficit of $384,821. But Hutchinson emphasized the numbers are preliminary. The figures do not include the new general ed formula allowance, new pupil unit weighting or literacy incentive aid.

“Until Minnesota Department of Education comes out with better district-wide projections for us to work with to project more accurate budget numbers,” next year’s budget will be “preliminary” in nature. “I feel there is way too much risk to factor partial information at this time,” she wrote.

In other action, the board:

n Learned through College in the High School classes, students earned 805 semester credits at a “phenomenal savings” of $271,354.

PRAHS offered 11 CIHS classes through University of Minnesota-Crookston ($385.77 per credit, 507 credits earned totaling $230,364.69), Bemidji State University ($249.85 per credit, 80 earned, $19,988) and Northland Community Technical College ($165 per credit, 128 earned, $21,120).

Forty-seven seniors took at least one class (47 percent) and 28 juniors took at least one class (26 percent) for a total of 75 students participating.

The cost for all the classes is $22,155, guidance counselor Susan Rassier reported. State reimbursement at $150 per student gains the district $11,250, for a total cost to the district of $10,905.

The variety of CIHS classes reduces the number of students who chose the Post- Secondary Education Option, Rassier pointed out. “They are able to complete college courses, finish their diploma, easily participate in extracurricular activities, save gas and spend time with friends. This is an excellent and worthwhile program for the students and the school district.”

Former principal and current school board member Gary Gauldin expressed frustration with private colleges’ refusal to accept the credits.

“This is cheating the kids,” he said.

Principal Jeff Johnson pointed out some of the colleges accept the credits as electives.

Board member Dave Otterness suggested the district offer online classes.

But Johnson pointed out this would affect staff. “We need to walk carefully. We are doing good things so kids don’t go PSEO.”

n Reported Targeted Services are now being offered to 112 students in grades 1-8 this summer with 10 staff members on board.

“We are digging into a retention policy for middle school students who are not doing well in core classes,” Century principal Joleen DeLaHunt said.

The district now has options for students via the Alternative Learning Center and Targeted Services. “We want to feel they will be a success in ninth grade,” DeLaHunt told the board.

n Reported the summer breakfast and lunch programs are drawing about 120 for breakfast, 230-plus for lunch.

“This is a building that does not sleep,” Century assistant principal Shawn Andress said.

n Learned the number of English as a Second Language students has nearly doubled, from 14 to 25, many of them “book smart, with college degrees,” Dickinson reported.

She reported GED testing will no longer be conducted in Wadena but will be offered in Brainerd.

Summer classes for kids are going well. “Kids are as busy as they want to be,” she said.

The “Super Heroes” class was a grand success, with 32 kids donning capes and masks and thwarting villains.

Eighty-two kids are enrolled in school-age care with an average of 40 per day. Speakers come to share info on a variety of topics. The classes are in the process of making raised vegetable beds with a butterfly habitat.

“And you’re working wonders on budget numbers too,” board chair Sherry Safratowich told Dickinson, referring to this year’s positive fund balance.

n Approved hiring of teachers Kathryn DeBlieck and Abigail Sellnow, kindergarten; Shannon Hogan, third grade, and Erin Foley, fourth grade.

n Approved non-renewal of Carol Nelson, 8th Hour coordinator.

n Approved the resignations of Matthew Katzenmeyer, sixth grade teacher, and special ed teacher Jamie Katzenmeyer.

n Read a letter from Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon who toured the school during the Governor’s Fishing Opener.

She commended the art work and shop class house, stating, “It is clear that this school is a source of pride and innovation for the entire community.”

n Learned from superintendent Lance Bagstad that negotiations with staff are moving forward.

He reported Molly Aukes is working on the fitness trail around the school, to bring wellness into family routines.

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