District 728 eyes two initiatives

by Rachel Minske
Contributing Writer
During a work session meeting April 24, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jana Hennen-Burr introduced two proposed initiatives to the Elk River Area School Board that would expand upon existing services.

The first proposal for the upcoming 2017-18 budget includes the expansion of the district’s career and college readiness program. The initiative would help develop and expand career pathways, offer job shadowing and career mentorship opportunities, internships and apprenticeships.

The initiative would require the addition of a workforce development coordinator who is licensed as a teacher and work experience coordinator. The employee would partner with Tricia Sanford, coordinator for career and college readiness with the district.

The projected cost of this proposal is about $96,580.

The second proposal would expand intervention support for all grade levels.

According to district documents, District 728 currently provides K-12 buildings with an intervention specialist who works directly with students who struggle in reading, math and behavior. Under this initiative, nine full-time-equivalent employees would be added to expand intervention time.

The point of the intervention is to reduce the number of special education referrals and move students in a positive direction before they ever reach the referral stage, said Joe Stangler, who deals with curriculum, testing and Title 1 for the district.

The estimated cost for the second proposal is $701,363.

School Board Member Holly Thompson said she wants to ensure students’ needs are met but also wants to ensure the district is not in a position where it has to “cut a million dollars” next year. She added it’s possible she is dealing with “the scar of cutting $6 million from the budget” in a previous budget cycle.

However, interim Superintendent Bruce Watkins said the request would not have been presented unless the circumstances were right.

“We didn’t come forward unless we had a balanced budget and a minimum 8 percent fund balance,” he said.

The board has upcoming work sessions scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 8 and 6 p.m. May 22, both at Elk River City Hall.

The School Board must have an approved budget in place by July 1, the beginning of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

For the 2016-2017 school year, the Elk River Area School District had a budget of about $145.4 million.

This budget season poses some unique challenges, Director of Business Services Greg Hein has said. The district will open Prairie View Elementary and Middle School in Otsego for the 2017-2018 academic year, posing significant questions about enrollment numbers and building needs. Further, district officials are closely watching bills traveling down the legislative pipeline while also looking ahead to negotiating contracts with 14 different bargaining groups – something that happens every couple of years.