Declining enrollment, deficit culprits again

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Decreasing enrollment and a growing deficit has led the Yellow Medicine East school board to consider a possible referendum in the 2014 election.
Although no action was taken, Assistant Vice President Stacy Childers of the financial firm Springsted Incorporated spoke to the board about the different options they could pursue.
The board had already approved a deficit budget of $331,000 for the 2014-15 school year, but with a drop in roughly 35 students comparing the exiting senior class to the incoming kindergarten class, the deficit is expected to grow much larger.
“If we can't reduce the deficit budget during this coming school year, and unless we have an influx of students, we are looking at a $736,000 deficit for 2015-16,” Superintendent Al Stoeckman said.
The fund balance, which sits at roughly $1.4 million, would be cut in half with just one school year if no actions are taken.
The two funding options essentially came down to a capital projects levy and an operating referendum, both with their own stipulations.
While both require voter approval, a capital projects levy includes taxing all agricultural land and usually needs to have a specific goal, like new technology or improving buildings.
An operating referendum can be used for more general purposes, but does not tax agricultural land, just the agricultural homesteads, which places more of the burden on residential taxpayers.
YME currently has two operating levies, one that expires in 2017 and another in 2022. At the very least, board members didn’t want to risk losing the current levies, which are deemed essential, trying to put in multiple questions into a referendum vote.
“It might get emotional, since one [plan] would use ag land and the other won’t, but we absolutely need to do something,” Board member Tim Opdahl said. “We have held off for the six years I’ve been on council, and it is coming back to roost. We might see substantial cuts we don’t want to make.”
The board is not only working against budget constraints, but also against the clock. The last day to adopt a resolution calling for a referendum election is August 22, as a 74-day notice is required. On top of that, any plan over $2 million dollars would require a Review and Comment to be submitted with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), a process with a 60 day turnaround.
The board agreed to meet next Monday for a work session to discuss what routes, if any, they would take for a referendum. No actions will be taken until the August meeting.

A host of staffing changes were  unanimously approved by the board. Kindergarten teacher Kristina Blackwelder was approved for maternity leave through November,  and Jim Williams took the leave of absence incentive that was offered last month. Band instructor Nicole Boelter, Community Education Secretary Jean Feldman and custodian Ted Renslow all resigned.
MaryElla Clouse was hired as the new second grade teacher. Clouse previously was the student teacher with Peggy Kvam, and came with high praise.
Dave Schuler and Andrew Baumgartner were accepted as assistant football coaches.
“We still need an assistant girls’ tennis coach and C squad volleyball coach,” Athletic Director Tim Knapper said.

In other news
• The board approved a measure that would raise school lunch prices by 10 cents per meal to offset the deficit in lunch funding. Prices are $2.35, $2.60 and $3.60 for K-5, 6-12 and adults respectively.
• The second reading and adoption of the bullying policy was passed, putting the school district in line with the anti-bullying legislation that passed at the state level earlier this spring.