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School's fund balance is improving in Park Rapids

Park Rapids School District business manager Carol Hutchinson reported "slightly improved fund balances in all funds," for the 2010-11 school year at this week's board meeting.

But from an historical perspective, this is an understatement. The projected general fund balance of $1,630,552 as of June 30 is up $430,554 or 36 percent from the previous year.

The numbers won't be final until auditors complete their report later this summer, Hutchinson said, but she anticipates "an improved financial condition" for the district. "The bulk of this is due to reductions in expenditures," she told the board Monday.

In the past decade, the district has moved from statutory operating debt to positive territory.

Hutchinson attributes the turnaround to voters approving the operating levy in 2007 - adding $2 million in revenue annually - and Glenn Chiodo's arrival in 2003.

Hutchinson, who came on board in the fall of 2007, said she is "relieved" by the numbers. "We are in the middle of difficult times."

She is projecting a $1,419,714 general fund balance at the conclusion of the 2011-12 fiscal year, the amount $210,838 less than this year's.

But "over the two years (2010-11 and 2011-12), we still have improved conditions over 2010," Hutchinson said of the $1,199,998 fund balance in July 2010.

Ten years ago, in 2001, the district was in statutory operating debt, facing a negative fund balance of $583,272. By 2002-03, the balance was reduced to minus $148,090.

The district was in positive territory by 2003-04, reporting a meager unreserved general fund balance of $1,030. This increased to $339,698 the following year, but dipping nearly $300,000 in 2005-06 and returning to negative territory -$11,515, in 2006-07.

When the operating referendum came into play in 2007-08, the fund balance increased to $719,942. Although the upsurge was appreciable, Hutchinson noted the amount does not cover a month's bills for the district. Budgeted expenditures in 2010-11, for example, totaled more than $13 million.

The general fund balance dropped to $595,338 in 2008-09, but Hutchinson said this may have been due to lifting a salary freeze that was implemented in 2005-06.

In 2009-10 the general fund balance doubled from the previous year, to $1.2 million.

Hutchinson said "planning parameters" are in place to avoid cuts. But variables are numerous and difficult to gauge, such as fuel and heating costs.

Meanwhile, enrollment is edging up. Incoming kindergarten enrollment is currently at 117 (and expected to increase before the first bell clangs). This compares with this year's graduating class of 89 students.

Hutchinson told the board that the commissioner of education is warning that schools are considered "essential but not critical" in the pending state shutdown. Without a resolution between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton funding will end June 30.

The board approved a resolution providing for the sale of General Obligation Aid Anticipation Certificates of Indebtedness, the schedule bumped up to accommodate the impending political debacle in St. Paul.

In other action, the board:

n Welcomed Joleen DeLaHunt, the new Century School principal. She officially assumes the position in July.

n Learned five sections of kindergarten classes will be needed this fall, a section to be added to the original four. A first grade teaching position is being advertised.

nReported 21 children are enrolled in the summer childcare program, seven full time. The district is partnering with St. Joseph's, Community Education director Jill Dickinson reported.

"I see it growing as it gets established," Dickinson told the board. "Parents like kids being able to walk to activities," she said of staff members accompanying children to various summer doings.

n Approved a five-cent increase to the cost of student breakfasts, 10 cents for lunches next fall.

Food service director Tom Marcussen said increases in food and labor costs drove the decision. The increase will add $8,000 to the food service fund, $400 from breakfasts and $7,600 from lunches.

The district is applying for anther fruit and vegetable snack alternative grant for grades K-4. Marcussen hopes to expand the program to twice a week.

Usage is up for the summer breakfast and lunch program, he said. Breakfast is served from 8 to 9 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Century School. Children under 18 eat free. The program runs until the end of July.

n Approved negotiated contracts for the special education director, Community Education director, business manager, central office personnel and director of technology.

The increases mirror the teaching staff, 2 percent plus steps in 2011-12 and a 1 percent increase plus steps in 2012-13.

n Approved the retirement of cook Norma Hanson, "with regret and thanks for her 24 years of service to the Park Rapids Area Schools."

n Awarded the district-wide copier bid to Marco, who currently serves Park Rapids schools.