By Connie Martin, Observer, League of Women Voters
April 10, 2023
1. The meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m. All members were present.
2. Agenda and table file approved as presented (for more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf).
3. Public comment – none
4. Announcements & recognitions:
Dr. Hillmann congratulated Director Keller and Alternative Learning Center staff, who were selected by the Synergy and Leadership Exchange to receive the MN Promising Practice Award for their Wednesday Schedule, which provides students with experiential learning opportunities. This will be celebrated at the Character Awards Luncheon, May 16 at St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis.
Board chair Claudia Gonzalez-George and Board Amy Goerwitz presented Dr. Hillmann with a plaque in honor of his receiving the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) Minnesota Superintendent of the Year Award, and read the recognition speech by Dr. Deb Henton from MASA. Dr. Hillmann was also one of four finalists for national Superintendent of the Year. There will be a reception celebration 4-6:30 at Middle School on Thursday April 13.
5. Items for discussion and report:
- Proposed 2023-24 Internal Service Fund Budget – The Board will be asked to adopt budget at May board meeting. Director of Finance Valori Mertesdorf presented details: The Internal Service Fund is a separate fund that pays for employee health & dental plans. Revenue listed comes from premiums (district, employees, retirees). Expenditures include claims paid & administration of plan. The dental fund is very stable, rates have not been increased in this fund since 2006. Delta Dental is the carrier.
Health insurance fund has experienced a slight decline in the number of employees insured. Last year health insurance premiums increased by 25%; for next year a 10.5% increase is projected. The School District contributes 80% of premium (Medica is the carrier). Insurance claims have gone up considerably & rapidly, while administrative fees have stayed about the same. Administrative costs will probably increase next year since they haven’t gone up for several years; keeping them the same is not sustainable over time. However, the overall fund is stable.
- Policy Committee Recommendations:
Four policies to update (for more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf)
Policy 209: Board code of ethics, updated list of stakeholders, board attendance at assigned committees, use of school email to accommodate increased online security.
Policy 515.5: New policy, recommended by MN school boards association: The district needs a policy on how to utilize Narcan/Naloxone. Narcan has been in school nurses’ offices for several years, but we have not had a policy on how to use it.
Policy 706: Acceptance of gifts. Minimal changes to this policy. Ensure that giver understands that gifts can be used in any capacity once received by the district.
Policy 809: Naming of school buildings. Update reiterating that the board has final say on renaming buildings.
Questions: Board Vice Chair Corey Butler asked about 209, specifically about using the terms “parent/guardian/caregiver” to include other adults who can act on behalf of child. Dr. Hillmann responded that this change had been adopted earlier.
Mr. Butler asked why the change to wording had been made on board authority; Dr. Hillmann explained that the new wording recognizes that committees are advisory only; the school board maintains final decision-making authority.
- Superintendent Operations & Strategic Plan Update
Dr. Hillmann announced that retired Student Activities Director Tom Graupman has been inducted into the state Activities Hall of Fame. Mr. Graupman spent 30 years with district, and continues to substitute in activities. He is also committed to activities across the state.
Dr. Hillmann announced that because of increased caseloads, the budget for special education will likely increase next year, by about 2-3 FTE. Reasons for this include (1) earlier intervention, including early childhood, preschool; (2) incoming kindergarten class has higher needs, needs increased support; (3) rising 9th grade class has more students with special needs than current graduating class. Details and numbers have not yet been finalized.
Questions: Ms. Goerwitz asked about the timing for hiring new teachers, and whether that will come before the board. Dr. Hillmann said yes, in May.
6. Consent Agenda approved (for more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf) including:
- Minutes from last board meeting
- Gift Agreements
- Financial Reports
- Personnel Items
7. Items for Individual Action
Ms. Gonzalez-George made a statement about the importance of listening to community, and that community input is reflected in changes to the proposed budget. She also recognized support from the community, expressed through passing school levies and bonds. While she understands that these reductions are not easy, she is encouraged that the district will still offer art, music, and early education, professional development, and fair wages.
Dr. Hillmann explained changes in budget items and gave an overview. He will continue to lobby the legislature/governor to use the state budget surplus for education.
- Budget Prioritization Elementary Package Reductions: Discontinue the elementary Portage program, since only 14 students are using it (online remote learning). Reducing 6 elementary sections (declining enrollment).
- Budget Prioritization Secondary Package Reductions: Reducing 3.1 FTE. Discontinue the secondary Portage program; the district will work with several Big 9 schools to provide online programming. Discontinuing Science Olympiad and math programs, no participation last several years. Increase ticket prices for admission to school activities from $1 to $2, which will allow for activity bus & activity programming. Reduction of high school counseling days, reduction of hours for the high school attendance administrator. The agriculture program will be added back in (rather than moved to Randolph). Reducing the administrative assistant at the ALC. Restructuring middle school schedule from a 7- to 6-period day, has been moved out a year to 2024-25, in response to public comment. Middle school activity fees will go up rather than cancelling activities (for more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf).
- Budget Prioritization District Services Package Reductions (for more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf)
- Policy Recommendations (for specific changes and cuts, see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf)
Question: Ms. Goerwitz asked whether Spanish will change to every other day this school year. Greg Gelineau (who was present in the audience) said it will continue to be every day for this school year, then move to every other day.
Item A, Elementary Reduction package: Ms. Gonzalez-George asked if there were any line items to be removed for consideration, there were none. Motion was made to approve elementary reduction package. Discussion: none. Vote: passed unanimously.
Item B, Secondary Reduction package: Ms. Gonzalez-George asked if there were any line items to be removed for separate consideration. Board Treasurer Jeff Quinnell asked to discuss line M21. Ms. Goerwitz asked to discuss line M24 (see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/Regular-Meeting-Table-File-04.10.2023.pdf). Discussion: Mr. Butler: Thanked district stakeholders for their feedback; he recognizes the difficulty of these cuts. Ben Miller thanked district preparers for their work, and the community for feedback. Jenny Nelson thanked Ms. Mertesdorf for her work in preparing and explaining budgets. Ms. Nelson believes that since the board oversees the budget and provides governance, board members should be looking at each line item, not just the budget summary. Also, since the community highly values activities & sports, she suggested that the district find opportunities for parents, students, and staff to bring in extra money by finding opportunities for volunteering (i.e., at Twins games etc.). Mr. Quinnell thanked parents, staff, administration, and felt it was a good discussion & debate. Ms. Goerwitz thanked the administration for their process and its encouragement of stakeholders to participate, and stakeholders themselves for their participation. Mr. Coleman also thanked stakeholders for participating, which helped the board understand impacts of budget cuts. He also acknowledged that the budget will be hard to implement after passage, but that it is important to remain careful financial stewards so we don’t have to face more drastic cuts in the future. Vote: passed unanimously with the exception of Lines M21 & M24.
Discussion Line M21: Mr. Quinnell asked to clarify the motion concerning the 7-period day at the middle school. Dr. Hillmann said the vote would be “as presented”, meaning a 6-period day beginning in 2024-2025. Ms. Goerwitz said that the change from 7 to 6 periods is a major paradigm shift, and needs more discussion. She would vote no at this point. M24 is intertwined with M21; one cannot be approved without the other. Ms. Nelson: The 6-period day would allow for longer class periods, which would be beneficial. But she also had concerns, and receiving so much feedback from the community amplified her concerns. The 7-period day worked well; she feels the change would be disruptive. She would also vote no. Mr. Quinnell: Has received lots of positive feedback from parents on 7-period day, none for 6. Other than budgetary advantages, is there any advantage to kids? Study halls and electives are important to stakeholders. He also thanked the Northfield Education Association for their letter of April 6, advocating for remaining with 7-period day, and suggesting some other possible cuts. Mr. Butler: Will vote yes, he feels that option allows the most choice. He believes that the administration can execute 6-period days, and trusts Mr. Gelineau’s presentation at the last meeting. Mr. Coleman: Agrees with Mr. Butler that it would be good to take an extra year to implement a 6-period day. He would like to reframe discussion to see positive opportunities for 6-period day. Ms. Gonzalez-George: Appreciates all comments made, and is glad the administration will be given more time to think through logistics of this change.
Motion: Item Line M21, to approve as presented. Roll call vote, motion passed 4-3 (Aye: Butler, Coleman, Gonzalez-George, Miller; Nay: Goerwitz, Nelson, Quinnell)
Line item M24 (change in Amistades program) needs to be updated to reflect the one-year wait in implementing 6-period day (to match Line M21). Motion to amend line item M24 to say it will be implemented in school year 2024-25. Motion passed unanimously.
Item C, Budget District Services Reduction: Discussion: none. Motion to approve, passed unanimously.
Item C, Policy recommendations: Discussion: none. Motion to approve changes to policies 203 & 902. Passed unanimously.
8. Items for Information
Transportation Reduction Options, will not be voted on tonight, this is for information for future vote. Ms. Mertesdorf summarized proposed changes made in response to board and community discussions. No transportation charges for students on Free & Reduced Lunch Plan. Did not recommend changing bus service boundary, because it would have too much negative impact on students. Discussion: Ms. Goerwitz brought up safety issues until road and sidewalk construction is complete (southeastern area of town). Mr. Miller asked about a fee and ridership. How many students register but don’t ride? How many administrative hours would it take to administer a fee? Ms. Mertesdorf said it probably wouldn’t require a new position; the district will work with Benjamin Bus Co. to set up an option for fees. Administrators will reconcile who is actually riding, and whether they have paid fee. They should know by the third week of school. Work load will be heavy in fall but less the rest of the year. Mr. Miller: If the board acts on this at a future meeting, is it feasible to set up by this fall? Ms. Mertesdorf: Yes. Mr. Hillman emphasized that he was hearing from enough constituents on transportation changes that he pulled it out of the budget for discussion this evening. The vote will probably be in May.
9. Future meetings as listed, 6 p.m., April 24, May 8, May 22.
Meeting adjourned at 7:39 p.m.