School budget approved

The Minot Public School Board approved on first reading Thursday a $93 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

Business manager Scott Moum said it will be a balanced budget.

Some 80 to 82 percent of the budget is salaries and benefits for district employees, said Moum. The budget also includes the approximately 6 percent increase in wages and benefits that was negotiated with employee unions last year. That includes about a 3 percent increase in wages, plus additional district contributions to the teacher’s retirement fund and in health insurance increases.

Supt. Mark Vollmer said the district has tried to make its salary schedule competitive. While wages in western North Dakota have increased, so has the cost of housing. Vollmer said that makes it more expensive for a young teacher to accept a job in Minot.

Moum cautioned that the district may find it more challenging to continue the same increases in wages and benefits that it had been offering over the past five or six years. Voters in the district passed a $39.5 million bond issue in April that will pay for construction of a new elementary school in southeast Minot and new classroom additions at Edison and Perkett Elementaries. With new classrooms and more students will come the need to hire more teachers and funding will have to be found for their salaries and benefits.

Moum said he has asked for taxable valuation estimations for this year from the city and from Ward County but has not yet received them for the county. The increase in taxable valuations for property in the city limits is estimated at about a 9 to 10 percent increase. Moum said he isn’t able to calculate what school district residents can expect for an increase in the school mill levy or their school levies without the taxable valuation estimates. For the preliminary budget, he estimated it at about 7 to 7.5 percent.

Moum said the board will review the budget at least twice more and district patrons will have the chance to give the board feedback on the mill levy during a meeting this fall. Moum said he should have the taxable valuation estimates later this summer.

The board also approved the continuation of “Title I look-alike programs” at Bell, North Plains and Memorial Elementaries. These programs offer academic assistance to kids who are struggling academically. The district receives Title I program funding from the federal government to fund those programs at schools where there are a high enough percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price meals. Assistant Supt. Jeff Holm said fewer schools in the district are likely to qualify in the future for the federal grant program, which will likely mean the district will either have to fund more look-alike programs from its general fund or consider reducing those programs. Longfellow Elementary and Erik Ramstad Middle School are unlikely to be eligible for the Title I program next year, said Holm. Vollmer said parents of the children are often earning higher wages that make them ineligible for free and reduced price lunches, but the government does not take into account the higher cost of living in Minot when it decides who is eligible for the programs. Parents are often paying triple the rent they were paying several years ago. Kids also continue to need the extra academic help funded by the Title I programs even when their schools are no longer eligible for the federal Title I program, said Vollmer. That is why the board has been funding the look-alike programs.

The supplemental funds set aside for the look-alike programs are used to provide services to kids who are in danger of failing to meet academic achievement standards. Kids in Title I schools receive more services than the schools with look-alike programs do under the guidelines for such programs.

The board also agreed that Jim Rostad will continue to serve as board president and Roger Kluck will continue to serve as vice president.