Northfield Public Schools, School Board Meeting
By Connie Martin, Observer, League of Women Voters
May 8, 2023
1. Call to Order, 6:00 p.m.
2. Agenda Approval/Table File, approved as presented
3. Public Comment – none
4. Announcements and Recognitions
Members of the District Youth Council honored for their work. Two senior committee members appeared and received certificates of recognition.
Dr. Hillmann made several announcements: Two Area Learning Center staff members, Paul Stanton and Jen Toff received awards from the Coalition for Chemical Health for their work. Hundreds of parents & kids celebrated Cinco de Mayo at the middle school. Dr. Hillmann recognized Cinco de Mayo scholarship award winners Ashley Marcial Rodriguez and Daniel de la Torre. Dr. Hillmann also remembered former School Board member Ann Maple who recently passed away. She will be remembered for her work on the School Board.
5. Items for Discussion and Reports
a. District Youth Council (DYC) – Youth Council members Connor Percy and Grace Ryden gave an end-of-year report. Student-led groups meet every two weeks on several focus areas, including communications (forums on school board candidates & budget cuts), equity & inclusion (period products, name change guide for yearbook). They are now planning for next year.
b. iPad Lease Presentation – Director of Technology Nate Knutson and Director of Finance Valori Mertesdorf presented a report; this will be an action item on May 25 board meeting. Mr. Knutson gave a brief overview of technology history within the school district, and presented the 2027 strategic plan for technology. There are two large iPad lease groups. Group “6th generation” consisted of 4200 iPads leased in 2019. These were given to students in grades 1-3 during the pandemic to ensure a 1:1 ratio. Group “7th generation” consisted of 450 iPads which were purchased with Covid 19 funds. These are still working well and will be used by teachers and staff. They are recommending the lease of “9th generation” iPads, which each cost $120 less than “10th generation”, and will meet needs of students. Lease detail: How many iPads will be needed, with declining enrollment, breakage (historically about 4%)? They are suggesting 4000 9th generation iPads (200 less than previous lease), 4000 iPad cases, and 2690 Logitech crayons for middle and high school students. Leases are funded through operating capital budget, which was approved 2/27/2023. 4-year lease, $413,399/year, plus $37,619 interest. At the end of lease the district will own devices.
Questions: Ben Miller asked about security, whether the 9th generation will be supported in 4 years. Mr. Knutson: yes. Ms. Goerwitz: Are they still manufacturing 9th generation? Answer: yes. Ms. Goerwitz: Do we still charge students insurance? Answer: yes, $15/20 depending on their financial situations. Insurance is optional, the student is responsible for the full cost of the device if they don’t have insurance and the device is damaged. Ms. Goerwitz: Will the iPad 7 still be used by staff? Answer: yes, staff doesn’t seem to need as much power, and devices are still adequate. Mr. Coleman: What is the staff commitment when all the new devices come at once? Answer: Setting up elementary devices over the summer, rolling out middle and high school devices in the fall. The goal is to avoid long lines and waits for device pickup.
c. Cooperative Sponsorship Actions – Director Bubba Sullivan & Dr. Hillmann presented a report on two cooperative sponsorships. The Arcadia Charter School cooperative sponsorship for girls’ swimming and diving must be approved each year. Northfield will be dissolving the girls hockey sponsorship with Randolph, so Northfield can remain in AA league (adverse impact on current students). Both school boards must approve a dissolution.
Questions: Mr. Quinnell: How does this work with the league, and how do you explain it to parents? Mr. Sullivan: League has bylaws on eligibility, cooperatives; we must follow their enrollment rules. Each sport has different enrollment caps, and rules for A or AA. Parents with questions can contact Mr. Sullivan directly.
d. Policy Committee Recommendations – Four recommended policy changes, including policies on public comments, criminal actions, and school board member development and travel. (For more detail see board packet at https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2023.05.08-Board-Packet.pdf ).
Questions: Mr. Butler asked about the change of language from “parent/guardian” to “caretaker”. Dr. Hillmann: This change is to be consistent with statute. Ms. Goerwitz: Suggested an additional change of language for clarity.
e. Policy 810 Energy and Building Management & Accompanying Guidelines – Ms. Mertesdorf presented a new policy, which will be approved by board at the next board meeting. In 2022 the board agreed to reduce district energy costs by $50,000. At the same time the district wants to maintain a healthy environment for students and staff, while maintaining wise stewardship of resources. They looked at all energy usage, including room temperature, lighting controls, energy costs for technology, and personal appliances. They have created a tier for personal appliances depending on how much energy they use; appliances that are brought into the classroom will be charged a fee for the energy they use, either $100 or $200/year.
Questions: Ms. Goerwitz: Do the proposed fees for using electrical appliances relate to actual costs? Can teachers still make their classrooms welcoming while being good stewards of finances? She doesn’t want to place additional burden on teachers and staff. Ms. Mertesdorf: There is a wide range of cost, depending on how much it’s used, whether it’s used during the summer, age of device, etc. Wanted a simple fee structure, two tiers rather than complex per-device fee. Part of goal is to conserve energy, so they are discouraging personal devices (Keurig etc.), encouraging use of these devices in break rooms. Curriculum-related devices are not charged a fee. Ms. Goerwitz: High school heating/cooling is inconsistent throughout the building; how can this be made better? Ms. Mertesdorf: Space heaters are already prohibited by fire marshal. Fans can be used if the temperature in a room can’t be regulated; they want to avoid “extra” fans. The district will work with teachers to make sure they are comfortable. Dr. Hillmann: This policy removes some convenience for staff, and will anger some people. The district is focusing on reducing non-personnel costs in order to maintain programming and staff. Mr. Miller: What is time frame for replacing energy inefficient light fixtures? Ms. Mertesdorf: The district is working to replace remaining inefficient fixtures. This is a large up-front commitment; many fixtures are at the high school and elementary schools. Jenny Nelson: Will there be additional training for building and grounds staff on new duties for building temperature and energy use? Ms. Mertesdorf: No additional training is needed. Ms. Nelson: Is there concern about remodeling and its effect on our lighting investment, especially at high school? Ms. Mertesdorf: Yes, this is always part of the conversation. All other buildings would be done first. Claudia Gonzalez-George: Will you present actual savings next year? Ms. Mertesdorf: Yes. Ms. Gonzalez-George: Are you tracking energy costs for the whole building or for each wing or classrooms at the high school? VM: Right now it is probably wing to wing because of the layout of the building.
f. Proposed 2023-2024 General Fund Budget – no action required at this meeting. Ms. Mertesdorf presented the proposed 2023-24 General Fund Budget. Revenue: Enrollment drives about 70% of revenue. Northfield has had four years of declining enrollment; they project one year of stable enrollment, then another year of decline. They also project about 4% increase in basic revenue from the state; other sources should be stable. Expenditures: Salaries and benefits comprise most of the budget; they are currently negotiating with NEA. Other anticipated expenditures include utility cost increase, property/liability insurance rate increase. (For more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2023.05.08-Board-Packet.pdf ). If all goes according to plan with cuts and savings, the district should end the 2023-24 year without a deficit.
Questions: Mr. Coleman: Have you any idea how the legislature will impact budget? Ms. Mertesdorf tracks both House and Senate progress and how it will affect the budget. Major impacts could be caused by the proposed family leave package and unemployment package.
g. Head Custodian Agreement Modifications – The district has had great difficulty retaining a head custodian at the high school; the job requirements exceed the compensation offered. There needs to be more differentiation between compensation for positions at different schools, so they are suggesting a new compensation structure, with a tiered approach to head custodian positions at each level. (For more detail see https://northfieldschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2023.05.08-Board-Packet.pdf .)
Questions: Mr. Coleman: Would be there an advantage to expediting approval of this package? Dr. Hillmann: yes. Mr. Coleman proposed adding it as action item tonight, see below.
h. Superintendent Operations & Strategic Plan Update – Northfield’s 4-year graduation rates were just announced. Over 95% graduated on time for the last four years. For the fifth consecutive year, Hispanic graduation rates were over 90%, exceeding the statewide rate by over 20%! Legislative progress: right now 12-18 people contacting legislators every two weeks. Big decisions will be made this week at the legislature.
6. Consent Agenda – approved
b. Gift Agreements
c. District Youth Council Members 2023-2024
d. Authorization to Waive the Ban of Fireworks or Ammunition on School District Property to Permit Fireworks Display on July 4, 2023
e. Personnel Items
7. Items for Individual Action
a. Revised 2022-23 Community Education Budget – approved
b. Special Education Staffing (addition of 1.8 FTE) – approved
c. Modification to Academic Award Parameters to include PSEO students – approved
d. Resolution Proposing to Place Tenured Licensed Staff on Unrequested Leave of Absence, last stage of budget reduction process – roll call vote, approved unanimously
e. Head Custodian agreement modification, as above – approved
8. Items for Information
a. National Honor Society Senior Induction Ceremony, May 23, 8:00 p.m. High School Auditorium
9. Future Meetings
a. Monday, May 22, 2023, 6:00 p.m., Regular Board Meeting, Northfield District Office Boardroom
b. Monday, June 12, 2023, 6:00 p.m., Regular Board Meeting, Northfield District Office Boardroom
10. Meeting adjourned at 8:05 p.m.