December 20 found the R-P School Board conducting their regular monthly board meeting as well as the required Truth in Taxation meeting. Business manager Toni Oian presented a PowerPoint sharing the district’s financial status; Superintendent Jon Thompson then spoke to share his viewpoint on the district’s financial situation.
Oian told the public that the local building referendum was part of the general fund. The current debt service is now at $28,790,000, having been paid down from the original $36 million.
Oian pointed out that food service and community education have both seen increases in revenue as well as expenditures; this was a result of once again having all the students at school again this year as well as presenting more community education classes and sessions.
Of the general revenues, 81.9% comes from state aid. 75% of the budget is spent on people – salaries and benefits for the staff. Oian shared a pie chart of the spending of the school; 43.72% goes to the general fund, 52.65% goes for debt services, and 3.63% goes to community education.
Thompson declared the unrestricted fund balance to be the most important amount to the board and stressed the need to keep the balance healthy. The board had set a goal of 10-12% for the unrestricted balance in previous years. In 2021, the balance dropped to 7.9%; the projected balance for 2022 is 9.15%. Thompson cautioned the board to keep an eye on this fund balance.
The ADM (average daily membership) of the school dropped again this year. During the pandemic, the school lost 41 students; this year 27 students returned to the school, but 37 left the school for online school, homeschooling, open enrollment out of the district, returning to their own school, and moving out of the district. Each student brings in $10,000; with fewer students, the budget takes a hit. Thompson noted that he feels the district is leveling out as a school district. This year’s kindergarten class has eight fewer students than last year’s graduating class. He shared the good news that the elementary had ten new students recently enroll at R-P.
Thompson suggested that the board “keep the possibility of a local operating referendum on the radar,” but didn’t think it was necessary at this time. He did note however, “The enrollment drop really hurt!” The current referendum is in place until 2028.
With no public comment at the Truth in Taxation hearing, the board proceeded to set the levy at $2,011,891.63 and closed the meeting.
Early retirement incentive
The school board discussed whether an early retirement incentive should again be offered this year. The incentive has been offered every year since 2008. Thompson explained that the incentive is intended to save the district money, by encouraging veteran teachers to retire and allow for the hiring of a less expensive new teacher. He noted that the savings might be as high as $25,000 or even more if the teacher is not replaced; he recommended the board repeat the incentive this year with the offer of two years of insurance coverage for the retiring teacher.
Board Chair Chris Grindland asked if the incentive is really an incentive if it’s offered every year. Matt Helgemoe asked if there were any possibilities of the incentive encouraging the retirement of any teachers this year with the intent of not replacing them. Thompson was not sure of that at this time.
Ken Sawle said he felt they wanted to keep the veteran teachers unless “their heart isn’t in it anymore.” Joyce Iverson felt there should be a consistency in what was offered, but that they should leave the offering of the incentive open to be renewed each year. Grindland responded that the decision to offer the incentive should be based on whether the school district needs the savings.
Ultimately, Iverson made a motion to approve an early retirement incentive with two years of insurance coverage. Teachers with 15 years of teaching experience and who are 55 years old or older will be eligible for it.
In other business, the board:
• Approved payment of the general obligation bond of $2,107,250 for the building;
• Discussed whether to video the board meetings; they decided not to video the regular meetings, but broadcast meetings with high interest agendas as they have in the past;
• Continued to wait on the OSHA emergency standard for vaccinations or masking and testing of employees until the Supreme Court makes a decision on the matter;
• Learned a gator had been purchased from former superintendent Ehler to replace the school’s no longer usable one;
• Discussed the potential role of a student representative to the board.
The next school board meeting will be the organizational meeting for the board and will be held on January 10 at 5:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend the meeting in the R-P Forum Room.