FOREST LAKE — The April 5, 2018 school board meeting looked and sounded a lot different than this year's April 4 meeting.
In 2018, a glum school board cut $1.7 million from its budget for the 2018-2019 school year in an attempt to balance the district's budget. Those budget cuts followed three years of an additional $5.5 million in budget cuts. Teaching staff, supplies, resources, support services and other areas went to the chopping block.
“It gets harder and harder, year after year, to make these cuts,” Superintendent Steve Massey said at the time.
“No one at this table enjoys the process we're engaged in,” former board member Luke Odegaard said in 2018. “I would love to be sitting here expanding the programs instead of cutting the programs that make this town amazing.”
At the April 4 meeting, that is exactly what Odegaard's successors on the board did.
After a presentation from Massey, the board voted unanimously (Board Member Julie Corcoran absent) to expand the 2019-20 Program Budget and adopt spending priorities for 2019-2020. The success of the $825 per pupil operating levy increase in the November 2018 election allowed the district to adopt several spending priorities to utilize the funds from the eight-year referendum. The expansion of programs and services will add $5.5 million to the budget.
Job one will be to reduce class size averages by adding 12 teaching positions – eight at the elementary level and four at the secondary level. Additional course offerings will bring this subtotal to $616,000.
The second area will focus on instructional resources to create 21st Century learning systems by adding two curriculum coordinators, curriculum review and development and six instructional coaches in literacy, math and secondary. More teacher professional development with conferences and summer training will be included, for a subtotal of $869,500. “We are, in a sense, able to rebuild the engine that drives teaching and learning in our schools,” Massey said.
The third system, 21st Century learning opportunities for students, includes 3.5 full-time equivalent innovation specialists working directly with teachers; instruction resources; a return of Destination Imagination and problem solving; a restoration of the activity bus one day a week; reduction in activity fees and parking fees and expansion in music instruction and resources, for a subtotal of $550,000.
Learning supports for students will include behavior intervention for students with the hiring of a board certified behavioral analyst, two elementary academic support specialists and other mental health supports, for a subtotal of $497,500.
The district will devote funds dedicated to attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and staff through wage increases, for a subtotal of $2 million annually. Through these priorities the district will be bringing in approximately 30 positions, along with resources – all of which will point to the classroom, Massey said.
The district will use some of the levy funds to enhance financial reserves so that it can provide greater financial stability during the eight years of the referendum period by setting aside $967,500 in the first year of the referendum. Each of the areas will have compounding growth over the years, so the district will invest heavily in the fund balance during the first year. “Since we won't put money into the fund balance during years seven and eight, we are putting it in now to respond to the financial times in the future,” Massey said.
“During my six years on the board, last year went down as my low point,” board member Gail Theisen said. “This year will go down as my high. We are a premier school district, so we can continue down that path. It's a wonderful feeling to read this document and be here tonight.”
“This list is not a regressive, we-got-everything-back and now we're the same as five or eight years ago,” board member Kate Luthner said. “Instead, the district will give an honest and fresh look that will serve the children of these times and in the future—not in the 70s, 80s and 90s.”
In other actions, the board:
• Accepted donations totaling $23,612.12 over the past month, including 13 separate contributions totaling $1,245 to Forest Lake Early Childhood Family Education in memory of Carol Ann Lubovich. The Lino Lakes Elementary PTO donated Chrome-books with cart, valued at $7,149 to the Lino Lakes Media Center for student use. The Dugout Club donated $6,788.54 to the Forest Lake baseball team for coaches during the upcoming season. The Forest Lake Track Boosters donated $5,519.14 to both girls' and boys' track teams for half an assistant coach each.
• Approved General Fund adjustments. Every month the Finance Committee reviews the revenue and expenditure budgets and compares them to the prior year's budget for trend analysis and program review. Revenue and expenses have each increased by $600,000 over last year's budget. The proposed adjustments will result in no change to the General Fund anticipated fund balance, Director of Business Services Larry Martini said.
• Adopted a resolution relating to the termination and non-renewal of probationary teachers, following a review of anticipated enrollments, staff leaves of absences, retirements and resignations, performance, class sizes and budget.
• Ratified the 2017-2019 Principal's Agreement, which originally expired on June 30, 2017. Since that date, the district and the Forest Lake Principals' Association have operated under a tentative settlement. Now that the association formally ratified the agreement that has been in place, the administration recommended the board approve it.
• Ratified the 2018-2020 Food Service Bargaining Unit SEIU Local 284 Agreement, which had expired on June 30, 2018. The district and food service employees have been operating under a tentative settlement since that date, and now that the food service employees have formally ratified the present contract, district administration recommended the board approve the contract.
• Changed the name of the Southwest Building to Forest Lake Area Schools Education Center. The name change came about due to changes following the 2015-2020 Reshaping Opportunities for Success bond referendum. The current building will become the future home of the programs currently located at the Central Learning Center. These programs include Forest Lake Alternative Learning Center, Community Education, Aquatics and Pool, Teaching and Learning, Curriculum and Instruction, Q-Comp, Early Childhood, Child Care, Staff Development, Food Service, Family Support and general community use. The building is currently under construction and is expected to be completed during the 2019-20 school year.
• Approved changes to Policy 103A: School Board Member Reimbursement Guidelines. The purpose of this policy is to reimburse board members for expenses incurred in travel as a board member representing the school district.
• Approved changes to Policy 606: Field Trips and Student Travel. The purpose of this policy is to identify the requirements surrounding a school-sponsored trip and outline the general processes to be followed for consideration and approval of trip requests.
• Approved changes to Policy 412: Equal Employment Opportunity. The purpose of this policy is to provide equal employment opportunity for all applicants for school district employment and school district employees.
• Approved changes to Policy 535: Equal Education Opportunity. The purpose of this policy is to ensure equal education opportunity for all students of the school district.
• Approved Policy 544: Use of Peace Officers and Crisis Teams to Remove Students with an Individualized Education Program from School Grounds, with changes.
• Approved a new course: Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles A/B. This course, which will be first offered for grades 9-12 during the 2019-20 school year, is meant to expand opportunities for students to earn college credits through coursework at the high school. Research data has revealed much interest in computer science among the district's high school students.
• Approved a new course: Ranger Connect, which is to be offered during the 2019-20 school year. The work and engagement required of Forest Lake students increased to the point that the administration believed the college readiness course should be a credit-bearing course. District students spend approximately 17 hours per year dedicated to college and career readiness through Ranger Connect. Other courses on which students spend 17 hours per year are worth half credit. A student taking this course would earn .25 credit each year for a total of one credit over four years.
• Gave the administration permission to bid out for the 2019-2020 milk contract, in compliance with bid law to solicit sealed bids for milk products. The bid announcement will be published on April 18 and 25, with the bid opening to occur on May 22 at 10 a.m. in the district board room. After analysis, a bid award will be presented to the board for approval on June 6.
• Conducted the first reading of Discipline Policy 515, with changes. This policy is reviewed annually before the codes of conduct are printed.
• Conducted the first reading of Veteran's Preference Policy 441, with changes. The purpose of this policy is to comply with the Minnesota Veterans Preference Act (VPA) that provides preference points for vets applying for employment with political subdivisions such as school districts, as well as discharge process rights.
• Recognized top fall and winter athletes from Forest Lake High School.
• Heard a presentation on Forest Lake Area Schools Community Education and its core values, goals and offerings by Corey McKinnon and Adult Lifelong Learning Coordinator Laurie Drolson.
The board next meets at 7 p.m., May 2 in the district office board room, 6100 N. 210th St.