Future bright, but levy needed in 2013

Board hears positive state of district message, financial news

Corey Lunn

The future looks bright for Independent School District 834, although the importance of passing a school levy in 2013 was emphasized to the school board Thursday.

ISD 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn said in his state of the district presentation during Thursday’s board meeting that the district is going strong and will continue to do so in the future.

Lunn noted that a variety of district schools have been recognized for excellence, among them Withrow Elementary’s designation as a Blue Ribbon School, a high school that’s been named one of Minnesota’s top 15 schools and improvement in math in science due to STEM for grades K-12.

Most students surpass the state average in math and reading on MCA tests, Lunn said. He acknowledged, however, that junior high students need some work on science with the help of STEM.

Lunn said the makeup of district finances has changed. State aid has decreased which causes greater reliance on property taxes and less money in the general fund balance. He added that five to seven percent of the budget in the general fund is considered healthy.

Currently, the district’s revenue consists of 72 percent state aid, 21 percent from property taxes, 4 percent federal funds and 3 percent from other funding sources.

Meanwhile, expenditures stand at 77 percent for salaries and benefits, 16 percent for purchased services, 3 percent supplies and materials, 2 percent capital expenditures and 2 percent in other expenditures.

Compared to the metro and state averages for costs, Lunn and the district’s auditor, who presented findings of the 2012 fiscal year audit Thursday night’s meeting, said the district costs are below average compared to other districts and 71 percent of the budget is spent in the classrooms.

Lunn noted that some schools, including Wayzata, Edina, Minnetonka and Hopkins, receive more operating levy dollars per pupil. Minnetonka in particular receives $953 more.

Because voters last year rejected three district levy proposals, Lunn said $6.4 million in budget cuts were made that included decreased student contact days, changed school hours, reduced shuttle buses, increased fees, delayed curriculum and technology purchases, increased advertising, reduced staff across the board, hiring freeze and one-time fund balance transfers. Failure of a levy next year would involve an additional $10 million in cuts, he added.

Lunn mentioned the district’s new mission statement and highlighted the advantages of strong schools such as: maintained or increased property values, more jobs and qualified workforce, lower crime rates, sense of community, stable families, more civic involvement, enhanced public services and less demand for social programs.

Along with Lunn’s message, school board members received the 2012 fiscal year audit results from Assistant Superintendent of Business and Administrative Services Ray Queener and Aaron Neilsen from the audit firm of Malloy, Montague, Karnowski, Radosevich and Co. Neilson said the district’s independent auditor gave the district a clean report for FY2012.

Queener reported that district revenue came in at 2.3 percent variance to the good and expenditures were under one percent of the budget. That variance, Queener added, could cover a week of operating costs. There is $1.5 million more than planned in the unassigned fund and the total fund balance decreased $945,165 from the prior year though most of these variances are due to very conservative estimates for the year.

“Overall I think the report shows that the financial health of the district is good as we closed last year,” Queener said. “As the superintendent and Aaron report, a majority of our funding does come from the state, though 20 percent of our budget is funded by property taxes. This is why our local levy has to be renewed next year so we can continue operating as we are now.”

At Thursday’s learning session, the school board discussed a new data usage plan, also known as the data warehouse, which is expected to go live in February.

Executive Director of Secondary Education Mike Redmond and Coordinator of Student Performance and Assessment Chris Balow say the data use plan goal is consolidating collected student and district data in one place to monitor student progress over time and find ways to improve their performance. It will also be used to help the district identify areas where individual students are struggling and doing well so that those issues and areas can be recognized or worked on.

At this point, the plan is in the draft stage and board member George Dierberger suggested implementing a beta-test before going live in February as the best option. He suggested they target the new system at teachers who are ready to embrace new technology and officially launch it next year.

Redmond said they would consider it.  Board member George Hoeppner expressed concerned the proposed data plan would take a lot of teacher’s limited time and that a prep time expansion should be considered.

“We’re very cognizant of that as well and we do share the same concerns,” Balow said “But as we get it into teacher’s hands we feel that the use will grow and we will be there to foster learning as well.”