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Morris Area adds part-time counselor, fifth grade teacher for 2014-2015

MORRIS – Despite anticipating fewer students in 2014 – 2015, the Morris Area School District preliminary budget forecast looks good enough to add staff for next year.

On Monday, the Morris Area School Board voted to add a half-time counselor, add fourth section of fifth grade, and increase a technology support position from half to full time.

The preliminary budget also increased time for elementary school music and physical education and maintains the existing half-time dean of students, half-time activities director split in the high school administration.

Superintendent Scott Monson cautioned that the budget is still very preliminary, but said the Finance Committee felt prepared to make these recommendations which need action now to be in place when the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year begins.

“Every month that goes by we have another opportunity to close the books on that month and get a better snapshot of where we’re at from a financial perspective,” said Monson. “That allows us to go into next year’s preliminary budget and make adjustments.”

Although early enrollment projections indicated about 18 fewer students in 2014 – 2015 that this year, Monson said Morris Area benefited from the new funding formula developed by the Minnesota Department of Education. In addition, all districts will receive a 1.5 percent increase in general education dollars from the state.  

The district also has several veteran teachers scheduled to retire at the end of this year.

“As difficult as it is to see all their years of experience go, the financial reality is it typically costs us a lot less to hire someone to replace them,” said Monson.

With all of the additions, the preliminary budget shows a deficit of about $26,000 in the general fund, with total revenues of about $10.41 million and total expenditures of $10.44 million.

The board had some discussion about whether to increase the counseling position to full time, and what duties another counselor might take on.

Board member Brent Fuhrman asked if there were concerns about getting a quality candidate for part-time hours. Monson responded that he was “cautiously optimistic” about finding someone who fit the bill.

“We thought it would be a nice transition into trying to help better address student needs but also offset that fiscal reality,” said Monson.

Although there is not a job description yet, Monson said he anticipated the new counselor would work with older students on career and college readiness.

“You could argue the list of needs however you want to prioritize them, but I see a need in career counseling and an increased emphasis on academics,” said Monson.

At the same time, as half-time dean of students, Mark Ekren will focus on sixth, seventh and eighth grade students during those transitional years.

“Mark would hopefully have an opportunity to focus on those grades but yet continue with many of the things he’s done now in terms of visiting with students who get off track a little bit,” said Monson.

Interim high school principal candidates interviewed

Superintendent Scott Monson told the board that he had several applications from individuals interested in finishing the school year as the interim high school principal.

After reviewing applications and screening the candidates, the district interviewed Dr. Mary Donohue-Stetz for the position on Thursday.