Northfield Public Schools, School Board Meeting

By Connie Martin, Observer, League of Women Voters

April 24, 2023

1. Call to Order at 6:00 p.m.

2. Agenda Approval/Table File approved as presented (see ).

3. Public Comment: none

4. Announcements and Recognitions:

            Congratulations to two NHS state champions Kaylee Graber at 100 lbs., Ella Pagel at 165 lbs. Ella’s second state championship. 

            Girls’ volleyball Sidney James, St. Paul Area Athena Award, award for excellence in sports. Will be going to Univ. of Tennessee to continue volleyball.

            Thanks to art teachers & volunteers, who organized Arts a la Carte this past Friday night, an event showcasing student art.

5. Items for Discussion and Reports

a. Proposed 2023-24 Child Nutrition Fund Budget: Director of Child Nutrition Stephany Stromme presented the child nutrition budget, including meal participation data from 2020 through 3/31/2023. Decrease in enrollment, elimination of free breakfast accounted for fewer breakfasts served, lunch decreased by 9%. Snow days also impacted participation. After-school snacks were served for students attending Community School programs. Some issues on food availability, supply chain problems. Successful Farm to School Day, with purchase of several local products, was supported by a $5000 grant. Going forward, revenue/expenses are unpredictable. Gov. Walz signed Free School Meals law, which will begin 9/2023 & provide free meals to FRLP students (USDA program). We are waiting to hear whether these funds will be available to pre-K students. Plan to continue current meal programs, within the new guidelines. Adults must still pay for their own meals, with a proposed increase from $4.95 to $5.00 per meal. Anticipate most food costs will remain fairly stable, but proteins will likely increase by 9%. Proposing budget increase of about $100,000 for next school year. (For more detail see ). Ms. Stromme publicly thanked her staff for their flexibility and positive impact. Questions: Ben Miller asked about projected changes in budgets; Director of Finance Valorie Mertesdorf said that they are not charging individual families (free meals); state government funding will increase. Other revenues come from a la carte meals, and adult meals and catering. Jenny Nelson: Will the after-school snack program continue next year? Ms. Stromme: Yes. Jeff Quinnell: Are there post-pandemic changes to food availability? Ms. Stromme: Changes happen each year, i.e., last year avian flu reduced supply of turkey. Large impact of reduced staffing for manufacturing companies, which cut back on school lunch products; now staffing is coming back and companies are again providing more variety of products. Northfield School District belongs to a multi-district buying group and can bid for products at a reduced rate. Robert Coleman: How have all these changes affected staffing? Ms. Stromme: Staffing has been a challenge. It has been difficult to get all positions filled (i.e., 6 out of 11 positions at high school are filled right now). She hopes that all positions will be fully staffed by next year. Dr. Hillmann: Praised Ms. Stromme on her stewardship of district funds, and participation in cooperative purchasing program, which provides more options for food at a lower cost; participation in farm to school program; commitment to service and staffing.

b. Revised 2022-23 and Proposed 2023-24 Community Education Fund Budgets: Director of Community Education Erin Bailey presented a revised budget, which will be acted upon at the next school board meeting. Community Education registration is going on and classes are filling, including Adult Basic Education. She highlighted Carleton’s food sharing program, which provides some meals in cooperation with schools. Kid Ventures has a higher enrollment than ever before. The Early Childhood indoor play space at former Greenvale School almost completed. Budget revisions for the current fiscal year: When the current budget was adopted it didn’t account for any federal funds because it was unclear if they would be available; revisions reflect some federal funding and high participation in programs. Out of School Time support expanded to Bridgewater and Spring Creek schools, although some programs had to be paused partway through the year because of lack of funding. There was a significant increase in student participation. Snacks are provided for all students, either free for FRLP or at minimal cost for other students. (For more detail see ). Questions: Mr. Coleman asked about the 50% increase projected in enrollment for early childhood education? Ms. Stromme: increase reflects early childhood special education students. Mr. Coleman also asked about staffing. Ms. Stromme said that a grant has allowed them to compensate staff and that leads to stable work force. They are short of staff for summer recreation programs. Ms. Nelson asked for explanation of programming choices from year to year. Ms. Stromme said successful (high enrollment) programs continue, and student and adult surveys add suggestions for new programming. Ms. Nelson asked for the number of students participating who were not enrolled in district; Ms. Stromme did not know and will find information. Ms. Nelson asked about Northfield’s eligibility for full-service community grants we don’t currently have. Mr. Quinnell asked about reduction in federal funding to $0, Ms. Stromme replied that this was federal aid for pandemic and will sunset. Mr. Miller asked about decreasing federal funding, and about enrollment. Ms. Stromme said the increase is for both adults and students; she anticipates that trend will continue into future. At the high school, they are working at increasing independence of secondary students using technology and other means.

            c. Special Education Staffing Update: Director of Special Services Cheryl Hall and Assistant Director Sara Pratt presented a report on current staffing. Caseloads and workloads must meet standards of state and federal law. The district must maintain current funding from year to year unless there is an allowable reduction; at this time enrollment is increasing and no reductions in expenditures are available. Staff is flexible and can move between facilities and positions. Projected enrollment in special education programs is variable between schools; they plan for changes to anticipate staffing changes. About 689 students K-12 are anticipated for next year, projecting a need for 1.8 FTE overall increase. Cross Subsidy funding includes state, federal and Medicaid funding for special education reimbursement. The rules for cross subsidy funding have changed, and the state legislature will likely increase funding. Staff is also working on inclusivity of activities through the district. For example, the Best Buddies program has been successful at the high school, so they are considering expanding this program to all grade levels. (For more detail see ). Questions: Mr. Miller asked about one-time tuition billing shift; Ms. Mertesdorf  said that MDE is suggesting that districts move salaries/benefits into expenditures, would break even during the first year ($780,000), and the district will be reimbursed the following year at 55%. This is a way to increase revenue in the long term. ($780,000 is our federal allocation, a stable amount.) Ms. Nelson: Concerned with 55 new kindergarten special needs students, will they be placed in their neighborhood schools? Ms. Pratt: Yes, as long as their needs can be met; we try to balance them between schools evenly. Mr. Coleman: Are the specific needs of students changing for special education? Ms. Pratt: We are seeing increased complexities of student needs, especially their social/emotional mental health. This requires increased special education services. Mr. Coleman: Do we have more students than usual? Ms. Hall: Yes, and we are trying to place them in a school-based setting, not home-based. We should have room for all the students who have been referred. Dr. Hillmann: It is very important for school board to hear how complex and large special education services are. This is complicated, costs money, and the state has not kept up with the need. It is also highly regulated, with limits on class size, so we must add an additional 1.8 FTE. Thanked Ms. Hall for her service, as she is retiring at the end of the year, and for preparing her successor, Sara Pratt.

d. Updated Recommendation on Potential Transportation Service Changes: Ms. Mertesdorf: After listening to community conversations, she is recommending all changes listed last meeting except for fee-based transportation. Concerns with families not being able to afford it, especially with the increase in other fee-based increases, and with parking and traffic at schools. Other changes are operational in nature and will be implemented next year. Dr. Hillmann summarized the operational changes for next year. They were not able to find additional efficiencies;  they had originally budgeted for a $350,000 reduction in transportation estimate, and they cannot find a way to do that. They apologized and are continuing to work on finding that amount. Questions: Mr. Miller: Do you have an estimate of cost efficiencies? Ms. Mertesdorf: It is very difficult to estimate how many students will ride buses. She hopes to have a better sense by July. Ms. Gonzalez-George: How will we know who is riding the bus? Ms. Mertesdorf: The neighborhood across from the middle school has many riders; when construction is done routes can be reduced from that area. They don’t want to burden rural students with longer ride times. 

e. Superintendent Operations & Strategic Plan Update: Dr. Hillmann reported results of the district Employee Experience Survey, with 356 respondents. Most respondents believe their work positively impacts those they serve, and they have a clear understanding of the mission and goals of the organization. Most respondents also believe that resources could be maximized across the organization more efficiently, and that they don’t receive as much feedback regarding their performance as they would like. The parent survey only drew 444 participants, less than half the number of past participants. They are looking at changing method of communication (email). Parents believe they are treated with respect, and that the school is clean and well maintained. They also believe they could more regularly receive feedback from school staff on how well their children are doing. Each school will receive a survey rollout for employee and parent experience by May 26. 264 employees were highlighted in the individual “Shout-out” section. Annual school improvement plans will include action steps to improve growth. Also, the district’s iPad lease is up; renewing that lease will require board approval. Ice Arena dilemma: the administration is working on public-private partnership. The question is, who would be the owner? District will not own the facility, but will commit to a 20-year lease. Planning is still in flux. Assistant Commissioner of Children & Family Services visited & toured NCEC on April 17. Very impressed with Northfield’s programming, facility & logistic planning. Ms. Nelson: Asked about the rate of parents/employees completing surveys. Mr. Hillmann: employees between 50-60%. Parents were asked to fill out one survey per building; the rate of return was 10-15%. He is looking for ways to increase participation. Ms. Nelson: Are any grade levels not taking home iPads? Dr. Hillmann: This year elementary students left iPads at school, and they are still planning to do that. Teachers need the iPads to return to school every day, and the administration wants all elementary schools to use the same approach. Ms. Nelson: Is the lease for the ice arena, is lease annual or only during school year? Dr. Hillmann: The district pays $40,000-50,00 annually, invoiced during the winter months.   

6. Committee Reports – none

7. Consent Agenda  – approved

a. Minutes

b. Gift Agreements

c. Personnel Items

8. Items for Individual Action

a. Policy Recommendations: As presented at last board meeting. Passed unanimously.

b. Resolution Discontinuing and Reducing Educational Programs and Positions: Implementing approved budget, approved by board annually. Roll call vote, passed unanimously.

c. Resolution for Termination and Non-Renewal of Probationary Licensed Staff: Implementing approved budget. Roll call vote, passed unanimously.

9. Items for Information

a. Enrollment Report: Presented annually. Current numbers do not include early childhood or ALC enrollment because they are always in flux; they will be added in at the end of the school year.

b. National Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8–12, 2023

c. Graduation Update: ALC graduation at 6 p.m. Friday June 2, at the Middle School Auditorium; Northfield High School graduation will be at 2 p.m. Sunday June 11, at Memorial Field.

10. Future Meetings

a. Monday, May 1, 2023, 5:15 p.m., Special Closed Board Meeting, Northfield District Offices Boardroom

b. Monday, May 8, 2023, 6:00 p.m., Regular Board Meeting, Northfield District Offices Boardroom

c. Monday, May 22, 2023, 6:00 p.m., Regular Board Meeting, Northfield District Offices Boardroom

11. Adjourned at 8:31 p.m.

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