Chatfield superintendent shares operating fund concerns with board

By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Chatfield News

The Chatfield School Board held its March meeting one week later than the new first-Wednesday date to accommodate the swearing in of interim board member F. Mike Tuohy. On Wednesday, March 13, Tuohy returned to the board to fill a vacancy left by longtime board member Jerry Chase, who resigned last fall to serve as a high school softball coach.

Tuohy had been a board member several years ago when his grandchildren were in upper elementary school, and the board chose to install him as an interim member because he has experience and school board training.

Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris gave his March report, explaining that the district’s operating fund is shrinking and something has to be done to shore it up so compensation can be made for flat enrollment. Previously, projections were made with the assumption that the district’s enrollment would grow, and with it, the state aid that’s afforded to districts would also grow.

“Our current budget expenditures and costs are overtaking our revenues, and enrollment has been quite flat,” Harris said. “We had projected in models in 2015 moderate increases in enrollment that would give us stability in the five- to seven-year range, but without the enrollment growth, our stability window has become three to four years instead. It wasn’t unforeseen . . . kindergarten numbers for 2018-2019 were 49, and we can no longer use projections that calculate enrollment improving. We have to plan for flat enrollment.”

He continued, “A $400,000 deficit is not good news, but it’s lesser than the $500,000 we originally thought we’d have. We need to resize our expenditure budget to find stability. The $400,000 is covered by our fund balance reserves and budget reductions next year, but we’re going to have to discuss what to do next because the increase from the state is modest compared to inflation. It doesn’t keep up. In 2015, the operating levy was tremendous and put our revenues back on top of our expenditures, but now, we need to build communication with the public and get their input on how to proceed.”

Harris asserted, “The general budget and building project have no relation. The building project came in as it should have, and had the high school project never happened, we’d still be in the same boat.”

FlexStar opportunities

FlexStar middle school instructor Lee Becker gave an update on the progress that seventh and eighth graders have made in using their flexible scheduling education opportunities. This programming allows for longer classroom projects such as science labs and affords teachers the chance to share curriculum.

It allows the junior high staff who teach FlexStar classes to take time off or attend professional development courses without having to hire a substitute to fill in — students who are in an absent teacher’s class are absorbed into another teacher’s roll call on those days, and students are learning to travel from one classroom to another to prepare for ninth grade, when they’re scheduled for various different classes.

FlexStar was introduced before the 2017-2018 school year and engaged a select number of students who showed interest in the programming, and following the pilot, the district chose to use it for all seventh and eighth grade students to give them a boost before they transition to ninth grade and beyond.

Principals’ reports

Elementary principal Shane McBroom spoke briefly about how the elementary staff is making its own transition from teacher-led instruction to personalized instruction guided by student choice. One example is the Genius Hour projects taking place in the fifth and sixth grade classrooms that have inspired students to choose community service projects. This past weekend, a basketball tournament was held which was organized by four sixth-graders and it raised funds for families of two area girls undergoing cancer treatment. He noted that he and some staff members had visited other elementary schools in Minnesota and found that Chatfield Elementary is already using some of the same educational practices.

High school principal Randy Paulson updated the board on changes and events in his building, including reports that the senior high Knowledge Bowl team is going to state, the Jared Hammell Memorial Volleyball Tournament is coming up, and the Rube Goldberg team garnered another trip to national competition.

He thanked longtime administrative assistant Sharon Manahan, who submitted her resignation, for her years of service to the high school’s students and staff as she has worked in the front office, and alternative learning program (ALP) instructor Dave Hinck, who has resigned to follow his wife to her new job in the Twin Cities.

The board and Harris also expressed their appreciation to Manahan, Hinck, sixth grade teacher Kathy Hanson — who’s retiring — and veteran business manager Karyl Lyon, who also has chosen to resign. Harris stated the district has “been blessed” to have such loyal staff.

Action items

Action items on the agenda encompassed approving the achievement and integrations budget and renewing the district’s transportation contract with Bernard Bus, Inc. The company has served Chatfield’s students for years and the district’s relationship with Bernard Bus has proven beneficial, according to board member Matt McMahon. He pointed out that while neighboring districts’ fleets were frozen during extreme weather, Chatfield’s buses fired up and were ready to hit the road on days that it was fit for students to be transported.

The consent agenda included approving class trips — the art trip scheduled from May 17-19, the annual Eagle Bluff trip from April 24-26 and the Washington D.C. trip from June 15-21. It also included hiring Zach Slowiak as History Day advisor and junior high baseball coach, Jeff Johnson coaching football and Taylor Salisbury coaching volleyball.

The consent agenda also included accepting the resignations of varsity dance coach Danielle Hampel, Lyon, Hanson, eighth grade volleyball coach Nikki Ostby, Manahan, junior high girls’ basketball coach Katie Goldsmith, and Hinck. Job postings approved on the agenda included eighth grade volleyball coach, high school administrative assistant and varsity dance coach.

The next regular school board meeting is slated for Wednesday, April 3, in the high school Forum room.