Greenbush-Middle River elementary teacher Molly Rustad questioned why the board was examining just the expenses for one of the district school building’s– the Middle River one– and not both. Board members and Superintendent Tom Jerome both responded at the January 23, 2017 meeting in Middle River.
Referencing a report in The Tribune from the December board meeting, board member Laurie Stromsodt said that board member Kurt Stenberg said he would like to see the numbers for one building, referring to how he didn’t reference one building or the other.
Board Chairperson Shane Kilen responded, saying The Tribune reports aren’t the official board minutes. Stromsodt responded by stating that she never said they were.
Howard did add that the board did discuss whether all students could fit in one building in Greenbush, but not in Middle River. As she said at the previous board meeting, Stromsodt again stated how she believed the Greenbush site could not hold all the district’s students.
Superintendent Jerome joined the conversation, stating that he, at board directive, was asked to generate a report associated with the costs of operating the Middle River building. Although he didn’t present the expenses at this meeting, the report was provided in the January board meeting agenda as an attachment. As a product of Fiscal Year 2016, this report provided the total expenses, amounting to $415,249.10.
Costs associated to salaries, telephone, electricity, garbage, and water, repairs and maintenance, fuel for buildings, custodial and cafeteria supplies, and building improvements made up this final expense amount. Not including teacher or paraprofessional salaries, the reports showed that custodians, principal, office secretary, and cooks salaries (and costs associated with those salaries, such as health care) amounted to 70.9 percent of that final total.
During a listening session, GMR district resident Verna Flaten expressed concern over transitioning to one building, asking how didn’t the board realize that if it closes one building, it could lose 100 students. Board member Joe Melby said moving to one building could possibly lead to students leaving.
Flaten also questioned whether the district could operate more efficiently within staff and administration and also asked if the district has people on staff capable of having combined duties, such as principal or dean of students and superintendent. Jerome responded by stating how the district always has room to operate more efficiently. He added that operating more efficiently in such areas may lead to class sizes increasing and class offerings possibly decreasing, and it may require staff to travel more between buildings. He added that the district could operate one building with a dean of students and that GMR (Middle River site) Principal Sharon Schultz does have a license to combine as both a superintendent and principal.
Another cost savings question Flaten asked related to whether cutting extracurricular activities that don’t support themselves could save expenses.
Chairperson Kilen responded to this question, stating, “You’re not going to save the district by cutting extracurriculars.”
He added how extracurricular activity costs don’t comprise a “huge” expense for the district. He then said that, yes, the district could save money by cutting such activities, but it could lose students in the process, specifically those part of these activities.
Speaking of students, Rustad also questioned why having small class sizes was a negative thing. Board member Howard responded to this concern.
“I don’t think small class are good,” she said
She added that she arrived at this personal opinion, one, she said, she has a right to, in part by visiting with some teachers, some telling her they didn’t feel comfortable with such sizes. She said the district needed to examine the financial side of this issue more. Based on enrollment figures presented at this meeting, the district currently has four classes with single-digit numbers, including the Middle River kindergarten (9), Middle River first grade (7), Greenbush third grade (9), and Middle River fourth grade (9).
At board request, Jerome will put together the same expense categories that he did for the Middle River building for both buildings over the last fiscal year. He will present them at the next board meeting.
To see more of what was discussed at this board meeting, read the February 3 issue of The Tribune in print or online.