After weeks of discussion and public hearings, the North Branch school board voted 3-2 to approve the four-day school week.

 The school board held a special meeting on March 7, at 7 p.m. in room 126 for purposes of discussing the 2013-14 budget. The school district was presented two recommendations by Randi Johnson, Director of Finance and Human Resources for the North Branch Schools, to address the projected deficit budget; one in a four-day week and another in a five-day week.

“This is one of the most challenging days for us,” Johnson said. “We are bring to you recommendations for budget and staff reductions. The staff that would be affected by these reductions got the news today; it’s a very difficult day for staff in North Branch.”

In the budget presentation, the expected deficit for the next school year is $1.6 million, meaning that the expenses are greater than the incoming revenue. The decrease in enrollments and students has effected the amount of revenue from the state. In the presentation, given the state funding levels and the current lack of an operating levy, the school board will have a deficit of $2.65 million in the 2014-2015 school year, a deficit of $3.9 million in the 2015-2016 school year and a deficit of $5 million in the 2016-2017 school year.

“We do have some hope that this legislature will be discussing increases to school funding,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that in order to create priorities for the budget, the administrative team used the district’s already in place Strategic Plan.

“As always, class size is a priority,” Johnson said. “We always do our best to protect class sizes.”

The budget recommendation included a fund balance drawdown of $1.6 million. The plan would increase revenues through fee increases and attracting new students through expanded programming, and would reduce expenses through staff reduction.

“You will see that there are many retirements this year, which means that we will reduce staff through attrition,” Johnson said, noting that staff position will decrease but the many of the current staff would be reorganized and reassigned within the school district.

In order to return to the five-day week, the school board was presented with the increase of operation costs, including transportation services for 23 more school days, energy, increases to custodial and support staff, that was an estimated $281551 for the next school year. In order to offset these costs, the district would have to make staff cuts and reduce midday transportation for kindergarten.

Using the school board’s Strategic Initiatives, the district plans to integrate more technology into the classroom and transitioning from textbooks to electronic curriculum can save significant funds every year. In the four day week, the program expansion of  Project Lead the Way, an initiative to expand college credit classes focused on engineering at high school beginning in the fall of 2013, would be able to use capital funds to secure equipment and would be able to consider future expansion to the biomedical pathway in years to come. If the five-day week had been approved, the biomedical option would not have be recommend.

The four-day week also recommended the submission of an Air Force JROTC program application at the North Branch High School. The program is economically supported substantially by Air Force, were the expense for instructor is shared. Had the five-day week been decided on, the administrative team would not have recommended pursuing that program.

By enhancing the programming for the school district, the administrative team believes that these programs and curriculum s would entice parents and students to enroll in the district.

The total recommendations for the school board with increased programing and following the strategic plan during the four-day week would cost $670,135, where as the five-day week would cost $658,055. These numbers differ more significantly in the total recommendations for staff reductions; four-day week costing the $399,708 and fewer teacher reductions and the five-day week costing the district $622,022 and greater staff reduction. The five-day week would have also increased class sizes for most grades.

The school board concluded the special meeting by voting to approve the four-day school week, but will be holding a public hearing about the remaining budget recommendations on March 14 from 6–7 p.m.  in the School Board Room with the School board action taking place on March 21.

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