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2014-15 budget closer to finalization

Metrics for measuring strategic roadmap also discussed

A tighter version of the 2014-15 preliminary budget was presented at the Pequot Lakes School Board’s work session Monday, June 2.

Superintendent Chris Lindholm said the board has spent the last month meeting with budget managers from every department to determine needs and review budget details from the previous year.

“The preliminary budget given to the board last night is much tighter and closer to what will be recommended (at the school board meeting) in two weeks,” Lindholm said by email Tuesday, June 3.

The new version differs from the numbers school board chair Kim Bolz-Andolshek presented at last month’s school board meeting. Estimates based on that early draft indicated a deficit of $880,288 for fiscal year (FY) 2014 and an additional $996,666 for 2015. This would have left the unreserved fund balance, where the excess expenditures would be drawn from, at 13 percent of the annual budget by the end of FY 2015, or $1.82 million.

The updated version presented this month accounts for additional expenditures and revenues not yet booked for this year, an adjustment that more than halves the initial projected deficit to $432,101. Additional expenditures include $1.32 million for June, July and August teacher salaries and an estimated $240,000 for retroactive teacher salaries, which is yet to be determined given there has not been an agreement reached on teacher contracts.

Combined with a decrease in the estimated deficit for FY 2015 by $118,000, the new projections for the unreserved fund balance stand at $2.46 million by the end of the fiscal year, or 17.2 percent of the annual budget.

According to Bolz-Andolshek’s presentation last month, the school board’s goal for the fund balance is to maintain at least 17 percent. The new budget projections exceed the board’s goal by $81,709.

The official policy of the school district is to “strive to maintain” a minimum balance equal to 12 percent of the budget. Based upon an estimated budget of $14,000,000, this would equal $1.68 million in the unreserved fund balance. Preliminary projections for FY 2015 exceed district policy by more than $780,000.

The main drivers of next year’s deficit are expenditures related to updating technology, the aging school bus fleet and the addition of 3.0 full-time equivalent positions.

Lindholm said he is currently considering a proposal to purchase three new buses next year, as opposed to the original proposal of two.

“With nine of them (buses) at 15 years of age, we may not have the luxury of purchasing two per year,” he said. “We may need to purchase three each year for three years to begin making a dent in upgrading our fleet.”

This would additionally reduce the unreserved fund balance by approximately $94,000 for FY 2015, assuming no other adjustments were made to other areas of the budget.

The board also heard from Lindholm regarding metrics to measure the success of initiatives developed as part of the strategic roadmap. The metrics would help to show stakeholders progress on the overall vision and the three strategic directions outlined in the roadmap: personalized learning, effective operations and partnerships and communications.

The metrics, which are in the early stages, are modeled after the Rockwood School District in Eureka, Missouri. Lindholm is working with department heads to fill out “vision cards,” which would help to determine what markers would represent success or failure at a given goal.

Rockwood, for example, has a goal of greater than 90 percent student proficiency in communication arts. The district website tracks student performance each year, illustrating trends toward achieving the goal. There are five levels of measures: if students are performing below 61 percent, it’s considered level one, requiring intervention; 61-70 percent is level two, “concern”; 71-80 percent, level three, “midpoint”; 81-90 percent, level four, “progress”; and finally, level five, “vision,” which indicates the goal has been achieved.

If all goes according to plans, Pequot Lakes will have a very similar layout to share progress or lack thereof.

Bolz-Andolshek said that these metrics would make it easier to maintain a “consistent vantage point” through future administration and school board changes.

The school board will hear a third reading of the strategic roadmap at its June 16 meeting.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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