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School Board Leader Asks For Mill Levy Support; State Settlement Assists School District
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School Board Leader Asks For Mill Levy Support; State Settlement Assists School District

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A recent settlement of a lawsuit against the state regarding school funding will benefit Wolf Point schools, school officials reported at Monday night’s school board meeting.

Co-superintendent Joe Paine said the $4 million settlement resulting from the lawsuit filed in November by the Montana Quality Education Coalition regarding inflationary increases in state aid general fund budgets will result in an 0.83 percent increase in the combined elementary and high school budgets at Wolf Point Schools.

The lawsuit sued the state for not providing the correct mandatory inflationary increase for the 2013 fiscal year. The $4 million settlement was announced earlier this month.

Wolf Point’s elementary budget will experience a 2.43 percent increase in state aid funding for the 2012-13 school year.

The 2.43 percent increase equates to an increase of $58,161.40 in state aid funding from the current 2011-12 school year.

The state funding increase is based on school enrollment at the elementary schools. The ANB for the 2011-12 year was 609 in kindergarten through eighth grade, while the school district has averaged 618 students in kindergarten through eighth grade over the last three years, which is what the district will use for their 2012-13 budget.

Paine said the increase in the elementary budget would have been 1.6 percent if there had been no settlement.

With the new numbers, the school district could have requested a elementary budget mill levy increase of up to $723,774.

“We are choosing to leave that at $300,000,” Paine said.

Wolf Point’s high school budget will experience a decrease in state aid of $14,652.84 for the 2012-13 school year, due to declining enrollment.

The high school had a decrease in ANB from 249 students for the 2011-12 school year to an average of 239 students over the past three years, which is what will be used for 2012-13.

Paine said the maximum levy increase that could have been requested for the high school budget was about $26,000 before the settlement and $23,558.80 after the settlement.

The school district opted not to seek a mill levy increase in the high school budget due to the limited amount that could have been requested.

The school board instead is seeking a $150,000 building reserve mill levy to partially fund the construction of a new gym floor and replacing the bleachers at the Wolf Point Junior/Senior High School gym.

“The settlement comes as good news in that it would increase our budget by $58,161.40 in the elementary, even though there is a decrease in the high school of $14,652.84,” Paine said. “Without the settlement, the deficit in the high school would have been $26,486.40. That’s what we would have been behind without the settlement.”

In other business Monday night, the school board unanimously approved rehiring its administrative staff for the 2012-13 school year.

Paine was rehired as principal of the high school, Kim Hanks was rehired as principal of the junior high school, Eileen Karge was rehired as principal of Southside Elementary School, and Hannah Nieskens was re-hired as principal of Northside Elementary School.

Their salaries are contingent on contract negotiations with the school district’s two unions.

The school board also unanimously approved re-hiring 75 certified staffers for the 2012-13 school year.

School board chairman Martin DeWitt said offering contracts to the 75 certified staffers would not preclude the school district from implementing a reduction in force.

In March, the school board unanimously approved notifying its unions there may be a reduction in force.

Paine and Karge said at the time the RIF notifications were a necessary legal step in the event the school district reduces staffing levels across the board.

Karge has said she hopes staff cuts will not be necessary to address the school district’s financial crisis. She has said favorable contract negotiations with the Wolf Point Education Association and the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association, a successful $300,000 elementary budget mill levy election and reductions in staff due to attrition could make a reduction in force unnecessary.

Karge said Monday the goal of contract negotiations with certified staffers is to keep the school distinct’s health insurance contribution at $1,356 per month, per policy.

Patricia Toavs, president of the WPEA, has said in her 20-plus years at Wolf Point Schools there has never been a notification of a potential district-wide reduction in force sent by administrators to the union representing teachers.

Contract negotiations between school board representatives and the unions representing certified and classified staffers are set to resume at 5:15 p.m. April 23.

The school board on Monday also approved hiring Jamie Gibson as a substitute teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school board also approved the resignations of Northside Elementary School teacher Linda Stoll effective the end of the school year and the resignation of Patrice MacDonald as an after-school tutor, effective immediately.

“I wish both of these individuals all the best,” DeWitt said.

The school board also approved a sixth-grade incentive field trip to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, N.D. The field trip is sponsored by the JOM committee.

In the work session following the school board’s regular monthly meeting, Paine reported that 69 students qualified for the “Triple Crown,” achieving the honor roll for the first three quarters.

The Triple Crown students earned lunch at the Sherman Inn and an afternoon movie trip.

Paine said 37 students made the honor roll the first three quarters of the 2010-11 school year.

March 22 marked the end of the third quarter.

Hanks reported that 16 seventh-graders and 12 eighth-graders made the honor roll. She said 54 seventh- and eighth-graders made Upward Bound.

Nieskens reported there has been a 40 percent increase is meals served since the school resumed serving hot meals.

Nieskens also reported attendance to date at Northside has been nearly 93 percent, with 190 enrolled students.

The Indian Education Committee announced that Ruth Jackson of Wolf Point has been elected to the board of directors of the Montana Indian Education Association.

“I’m really excited about doing this,” Jackson said. “I want to help my community and, specifically, northeast Montana.”

In an executive session, the school board unanimously approved expelling a junior high student for the remainder of the school year for undisclosed reasons.

DeWitt closed the work session encouraging voters to support the school district’s two mill levies.

“Your vote is your representation of your needs and wants,” DeWitt said. “Academically, we’re there and getting there. Financially, we need help.”

DeWitt asked those that wished to see the school district continue its educational services to support the $300,000 elementary budget mill levy election.