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Morris Area School Board approves levy increase, discusses ongoing building repairs

MORRIS - The Morris Area School Board approved a final tax levy increase of about $53,000, a 1.67 percent increase over 2012 and the maximum amount allowed by the Minnesota Department of Education at their regular meeting on Monday.

On Monday, the board also approved a revision to their 2012 - 2013 school year budget, which currently projects an increase to the budget deficit the district was already expecting.

During the district's Truth in Taxation hearing, Superintendent Scott Monson explained that most of the district's revenue - about 75 percent of the general fund - is linked directly to student enrollment numbers. And in total, 72 percent of the district's revenue comes from the state of Minnesota, while just 11 percent comes directly from local taxes.

For the 2012 - 2013 school year, per pupil funding was increased by $50 per student, or less than one percent. Monson told the board that the district's expenses increase by about two to four percent annually, which means state funding has not kept up with the increasing cost of educating students.

In addition to approving the tax levy, the board also approved a revision to the current budget to reflect some unanticipated expenses that will increase the district's projected deficit for 2012 - 2013 from about $646,000 to around $744,000

Monson told the board that most of the deficit for this year comes from some major projects or "unique" budget items including:

• $425,000 for a roofing project at the high school

• $150,000 in technology investments

• $60,000 for a recommissioning of the building's heating and cooling systems

• $150,000 for newly-discovered building repairs

• $45,000 for substitute teachers.

While these projects do increase the deficit, Monson pointed out that many of the projects are outside the district's regular expenses. Without the listed projects - which total about $830,000 - the district's "'normal' operating budget" projects a surplus of around $86,000, Monson told the board.

The two new major expenses from the original budget include recommended repairs to the high school's heating and ventilation systems (HVAC) and a higher budget for substitute teachers.

Earlier this month, Monson, along with school board member Brent Fuhrman, Director of Buildings and Grounds Scott Rollag met with Jon Grad of NAC Mechanical and Electrical Services to review work that had been done on the HVAC system in district buildings and see what needs to happen next.

Since the district did a recommissioning of the system, NAC has identified a number of problems that will need to be addressed, problems Monson said have been caused by lack of appropriate maintenance and upkeep on the equipment, equipment that hasn't been working properly, and equipment that is getting older.

"The amount of money that it's taken to bring this stuff around is probably more than we originally anticipated," said Fuhrman. But, Fuhrman said the repairs would likely bring cost-savings in the future because the system will be running more efficiently and will help make the equipment safer.

For the time being, however, the district will face a deficit for this year due to these unanticipated expenses.

"While there's no doubt the [district] fund balance will go down if all of our budgets come to fruition, there's also, I think, some wise decisions and good things going on ... that probably are not going to need to happen every year," said Monson.

Other business

• During a discussion about the district's graduation requirements, school board member Lory Lemke said, in the long term, he would like to look at requiring all students to take four years of math and science courses.

"I think that would be a good thing for our students," Lemke said.

Morris Area High School Principal Craig Peterson said the high school would need to expand their course offerings to meet that requirement and it would leave "no room for mishaps" if students had a higher number of required credits.

Currently, students are required to have four credits of language arts and four credits of social studies, but only three credits of math and three credits of science. Students graduating in 2015 and after must complete a chemistry, physics, or career or technical education equivalent as part of their science requirement. In total, students currently have seven elective credits.

Peterson also told the board that the University of Minnesota would be moving to a four year math requirement in 2015.

School board member Brent Fuhrman said he thought it would be a good requirement for college-bound students, but questioned whether it made sense for students looking to move straight into the work force.

"Are we doing the best for them by asking to that load instead of [leaving space] for elective classes that are going to help them?" Fuhrman asked.

• The board accepted the resignation of Larry Anderson, a custodian in the district for the last 24 years.