After having two months of virtual meetings, the Big Lake School Board members met in a 2.5-hour meeting on June 18th, seated at individual tables and wearing masks. Staff presented their reports virtually.
Following their mission statement to challenge, educate, & inspire all students to reach their highest level of achievement in academics, athletics, & the art, the board heard reports from the high school and middle school on academic accomplishments.
High School Principal Bob Dockendorf reported that with distance learning the last trimester, some of the testing was not able to be done. However, increased teacher collaboration between departments benefited students. Students at risk of not learning were offered homework help and math center. Students were able to participate in ACT Online.
Middle School Principal Mark Ernst noted that they had “8 days to change 100+ years of teaching” as they moved to distance learning in March. Chromebooks given to their students was a critical advantage to keep students learning. Teachers were flexible, often calling parents in the evenings and weekends. “We learned you didn’t need to lecture as much to be effective but good communication was essential.”
Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. David Bernard summarized the first year of STAR testing conducted on students in grades 2-10. While testing couldn’t be conducted during distance learning, grades 3-4 showed the highest increase in reading and math proficiency in Independence Elementary September-February.
The board approved the 2020-21 general fund budget of $36.3 million in revenues, $37.5 million in expenditures for a $1.15 million deficit in the general fund, assuming a traditional return to school model. Projected general fund balance will be $6 million on June 30, 2021. Director of Business Services Angie Manuel noted this assumes a 2% increase in funding from the state and $250,000 from the federal CARES Act. Five teachers and 1 special education peer coach will be added. Community Service Fund will have a $234,000 deficit with less projected revenue.
Board member Dan Nygaard asked about enrollment projections. Manuel responded that she budgeted an increase of 15 students. The district is on track to enroll 240 kindergarten students this fall compared to 205 graduates this spring. Manuel concluded, “we are in a good healthy financial position. We can absorb this deficit if students return to school.”
Depending on MN Dept of Education guidelines in late July, a hybrid model of learning with both distance learning and students returning to school could increase transportation costs if buses need to limit the number of students they carry.
Board member Amber Sixberry complimented retiring Superintendent Steve Westerberg at the conclusion of the meeting saying, “You’ve made Big Lake Schools better. You’ve hired good staff.” Nygaard added, “And you’ve decreased the average age of the board and increased our IQ with the addition of student representative Kayla Scheer.”
In other school board news:
• Board members thanked three retiring teachers: Claudia Forsberg for 39 years of teaching; Mark Boeckman for 33 years and Deb Campbell for 28 years.
• Hornet Pride awards were given to Larry Byrne for volunteering 3 afternoons/week at Liberty Elementary, Chris Leeseberg for spending a week taking photos of 170 graduates and Deb Terlinden and Trista Rusher for writing and obtaining a two-year grant to meet the emotional needs of students.
• Candidates for three school board member positions can file between July 28-August 11 at the district office. One current board member has indicated he will not run again.
• Board approved principals’ work agreements at a 1.5% increase in 2020 and 2% increase in 2021. Costs do not exceed budget.
• Human Resource Manager Sue Schmidt presented consistency updates to the non-union handbooks and employee handbook, which the board approved.
• Big Lake Youth Basketball donated $3800 to boys basketball, $2,000 to girls basketball and $640.00 to the HS Musical