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Pine River-Backus School Board discusses levy options, balanced scorecard

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The Pine River-Backus (PR-B) School Board on Monday, July 21, discussed results of the school's balanced scorecard and introduced this year's discussion on a possible increase in the tax levy through Local Option Revenue (LOR).

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Business Manager Jolene Bengtson said the district qualified for an additional $424 per pupil unit to the local tax levy because of a law Gov. Mark Dayton signed to close funding gaps. Like the $300 per pupil unit levy increase the school board approved last December, this increase would not require voter approval.

It is for that reason that Bengtson and Superintendent Cathy Bettino said the board should begin discussion now to decide if the levy should be increased again.

Board member Jim Coffland asked how much money the district would gain from the increase. Bengtson said the district would gain approximately $400,000. She said that amount is not tied to one specific budget category, which makes it useful for paying for anything the school needs.

Coffland asked if an increase could put an end to employee cuts at PR-B or even put the district in the position where it could begin hiring staff for important positions. Bettino said she had rose-tinted glasses, but she thinks an increase could put the district in a position where it could stop cutting and, rather, hire a few positions.

"We went through five years of flat funding and that was pretty rough on the district," Bettino said.

Board member Chris Cunningham reminded the board that it has cut funding from bus replacement in the past, and if the levy was raised, board members could consider purchasing newer and safer buses.

School Board Chair Sandra Poferl suggested seriously looking at bus upgrades.

Cunningham also said the board should be ready to answer questions from residents who ask how the funds would be spent if increased. Bettino agreed and said specific numbers would be needed and that beginning discussion of the LOR was important so that all board members and residents can have informed discussions before the board approves its preliminary levy in September.

The board also discussed results of the school's balanced scorecard, a document assessing strengths and weaknesses at PR-B through test results, teacher surveys, publications, enrollment in certain programs and many other methods.

PR-B School scored well in some categories, such as school and community pride, student readiness in kindergarten, STAR test scores (with more than 55 percent of students meeting or exceeding expected growth), PSAT/ASVAB/PLAN/ACT test participation, College in Schools enrollment, and a graduation rate higher than 95 percent in the high school.

The district did have some weak categories, such as student achievement in some other tests, Alternative Learning Center graduation rates, and parent-teacher conferences at the high school level.

Bettino said the balanced scorecard was an important tool for the school's participation in the Minnesota Department of Education's "World's Best Workforce" legislation. The scorecard is an evaluation of how well the school meets strategic directives outlined with the school's former strategic plan, which aligned closely with the World's Best Workforce legislation.

In other business Monday, the PR-B School Board:

• Heard Bettino say the district is looking for applicants for two open Americorps Promise Fellows positions.

• Accepted the resignations of band teacher Nicholas Bunio, Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) teacher Nancy Huckstead and paraprofessional Sonya Crimmins. The board authorized posting for replacements for Bunio and Huckstead. Cunningham offered his thanks to Bunio for his work.

• Terminated paraprofessionals Nathan Kottschade, Caila Bryant, Kendra King, Joyce Wynn and Theresa Richards.

• Hired April Hulke as elementary teacher, Nicole Hirschey as assistant volleyball coach and Robbi Gregory as ECFE teacher.

• Authorized mileage reimbursement to be paid for early childhood home visits at the Internal Revenue Service standard mileage rate.

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