The Kingsland School Board met February 22 in regular session with all members present: Doug Plaehn, Deb Larson, Ann Oeltjen, Jackie Horsman, Tiffany Mundfrom, and Heather Betts, along with Superintendent John McDonald. The board approved the consent agenda items, including one resignation (Speech Pathologist Rachel Werges) and two hirings (Jacob Vetter as B squad baseball coach, and Dakota Rostad as JH baseball coach).
Superintendent McDonald gave public thanks to the following donors: Kingsland School Parents for providing dinner for staff during conferences, Casey’s for donating pizzas to KES, Julee Warren and Matt Jordan for volunteering to coach youth basketball, Jackie Horsman for volunteering to coach youth cheer squad, Midway USA Foundation for a $202 trap team grant, and Marilyn Erdman for outside decorations at the intermediate school. The board then opened the floor for public comments to the board, but there were none.
SMEC Director Dan Armagost gave a report on his recent audit. He said the ALC (Alternative Learning Center) is going well, and he invites board members to come see for themselves. Business Manager Amber Uhlenhake gave the board a budgetary update, summarizing that through January, revenues are roughly $2.7 million (about $45,000 behind this time last year, partly due to lower enrollment) and expenses are roughly $3.1 million (about $45,000 more than at this point last year, partly due to an increase in benefits). She also shared projections for the Kingsland budget for the next several years, but she cautioned that to make such projections, she must make a number of assumptions. She explained that the further out she tries to project, the less reliable the projections are. She summarized that with current assumptions, Kingsland will continue to deficit spend every year.
The board discussed options for balancing the budget longterm. Doug Plaehn said, “When we look at cutting expenses, especially when we’re looking at cutting $300,000, $400,000, half a million dollars, 72% of our expenses is all related to people. The only way you’re going to get that magnitude is you’re going to have to start reducing staff, and if you start reducing staff, you start impacting students.”
The board discussed “needs versus wants” and the challenge in finding anything to cut. Ann Oeltjen stated, “I feel we have looked at it and looked at it, and the can keeps getting kicked down the road…we need the money, yes. Where are we going to get it? Our taxpayers.” Plaehn shared a ratio that he feels is universally true when a school referendum goes to the voters. He said about 40% of voters will vote against any referendum, about 10% will vote for any referendum, and the remaining 50% is the “Yes, if…” voters. He said school boards are often striving to find out what the “if” is for a particular school district. Because there are three new board members, the board discussed the need to look back at data that’s been previously collected on the options for balancing Kingsland’s budget. The previous numbers will be “tweaked” to bring them current, and the board will schedule “study sessions” to begin looking at options anew.
The board heard a presentation from four staff members regarding the Flexible Learning Day program, which had its first full trial in January. Staff pointed out that overall, 63% of students participated, and the system worked, but with a few glitches. The main improvement targeted is better communication, since staff found out that some students and parents were unaware that the FLD program was actually in use, and that it is graded like any other schoolwork. Jim Hecimovich pointed out that, “It’s evolving, it’s going to morph. Every time you do it, somebody’s going to have another light bulb go on in their head…we want it to be kind of a moving target for students and teachers.”
There was discussion that FLD helps learning continue, as well as helping to fulfill teaching contract expectations. Deb Larson added, “What I like about it is that there have been years where we’ve had three and four inservice days at the end of the year, and this way (FLD) we get the best that the teachers have to offer.” Oeltjen added, “Well, and like Doug pointed out, the Legislature is looking at it, and if we can continue to do it and show them it’s working, then they may push it that it will count toward the days sooner or later.” After discussion, the board voted to continue with the FLD program for any “weather days” for the remainder of the school year.
Becky Bicknese presented info on the preschool program. She summarized that Kingsland’s pay rates and tuition are below the averages in the area. She feels that low wages are a main reason that the preschool teachers tend to stay only a year or two. She suggested raising the pay rates for licensed staff and tuition to rates more in line with area averages, and not replacing the recently vacated .5 teacher position (due to declining enrollment). She showed how these changes would make the preschool financially viable over a three-year projection. The board voted change the preschool structure as proposed.