Baraga Schools OK 2014-15 budget

BARAGA – The Baraga Area Schools Board of Education decided the fate of the Pelkie Elementary School – for now at least – and approved a budget for the 2014-2015 school year at its monthly board meeting on Monday.

Despite a budget projected to be nearly $95,000 in the red, the small K-12 Pelkie Elementary will remain open for at least another year while the district further explores the costs, savings and other issues associated with closing the building. The board did approve multi-grade classrooms for next year, however, a strategy that will allow the district to cut one teaching position and save an estimated $49,560.

The board followed Superintendent Jennifer Lynn’s recommendations on both counts. Closing the Pelkie Elementary School may eventually be necessary, but more research on the costs and benefits should be done first, she said. The time has come for multi-grade classes, however.

“It’s inevitable the way our enrollment is going, we’re going to have to equalize our numbers,” she said. “I think we should do it now.”

The board has been forced to consider the cost-cutting measures because of declining enrollment and inconsistent federal funding. Total revenues for the upcoming year are estimated at $4,863,676. Lynn said about $115 more per student in state aid helped boost that figure.

Expenditures are budgeted at $4,958,475, leaving a deficit of $94,799. If all goes as planned, that will leave the district with a fund balance of $1.2 million at the end of next school year.

Currently, the district’s teachers are still operating without a contract. Any new contract could affect those budget figures. A group of teachers met with the board in closed session at the end of Monday’s meeting.

Lynn had estimated the potential savings in closing the Pelkie school at just shy of $60,000 in the first year, and likely more later, but admitted there was a large amount of guesswork in that figure.

“This is a pretty arbitrary number,” she said, noting that savings would mainly come from staff savings, while she was still unsure whether support staff would need to be transferred to Philip LaTendresse Elementary School to support the increased student numbers there.

“There are also costs to shutting it down, but we don’t really know what those are,” she said.

Lynn said surveys of both staff and community members came back with mixed responses and essentially neutral results on both cost-cutting measures.

Board member William Jondreau said community members he talked to liked Pelkie Elementary, but also understood the economic realities.

“The consensus is everybody likes the atmosphere, so don’t close until my kid is out,” he said.

The vote to keep the school open was 6-1. The lone dissenter was Sarah Maki, who argued that all the students could fit in the main district elementary, and that the move could save enough to get the district in the black by the end of the year.

Lynn strongly recommended adopting multi-grade classes, saying research was mostly neutral on the subject, while she’d personally had good experiences with multi-grade classrooms as a student, teacher and parent.

William Jondreau was the lone board member to vote against the multi-grade classrooms, noting that he’d “heard more complaints about the multi-grade than I did on closing Pelkie.”

Also on Monday, Baraga grades 3-12 principal John Young officially tendered his resignation to pursue other opportunities. Lynn said the district has already received a few resumes.

In other business, the board learned that the district has recently placed orders for 42 3-year old computers for teachers and classrooms that will run Windows 7, rather than the unsupported Windows XP platform. The district also placed an order for 50 Chromebook laptops for student use.