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Grand Forks schools hope to fill 19 positions by fall

Several Grand Forks Public School employees departing the district this year leave 19 positions that should be filled by fall, according to the district finance committee on Thursday.

An estimated 26 employees are taking advantage of early retirement this year. Early retirements are a financial benefit to districts because the salaries for replacements are lower.

Another dozen Grand Forks teachers and specialists have resigned or will retire, though this isn't a comprehensive total, said Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson. Three teachers have also announced they're taking maternity leave.

This leaves 19 positions, several at elementary schools, that should be top priority for hiring when the district posts job advertisements, Thompson said. Several additional positions should also be filled or created, including an administrative intern position for Wilder Elementary School, he said.

Administrative intern

The committee discussion mostly revolved around the idea of a full-time administrative intern. 

Thompson suggested the idea to provide more administrative support at the school, which currently shares Principal Travis Thorvilson with Winship Elementary School.

If an administrative intern were hired, Thorvilson would work full time at one of the schools, he said.

"(Thorvilson) is stretched a little thin," Thompson said. "With the increase in enrollment, Wilder has grown significantly, to the point where we project the enrollment to be around 170 at the start of the 2015-2016 school year."

The job could be filled by a district teacher who is interested in transitioning to an administrative role, said Thompson. It's less costly for the district—there's about a $40,000 difference between an administrative intern and a principal—and it's also an easier position to hire for, as the pool of qualified principal candidates is traditionally shallow, he said.

"This gives someone experience, whether it's one year, two years, three years, managing a building with the support of an experienced principal," he said. "It gives us a chance to see how they do in that setting."

Committee members—and a few School Board members sitting in the audience—considered the idea, with some saying the title would create questions about the position and not be that well received. Some students might wonder why other schools have a principal but they have an administrative intern, said committee member Meggen Sande.

"I know what it comes down to is the title, but we spend a lot of time talking about equity," she said.

Thompson said it's ultimately the School Board's decision to make.

Members also discussed the open positions left by the teachers, counselors, administrators and specialists who are leaving the district.

Several positions were identified as priority because of the need, said Thompson. Enrollment increases in the elementary schools, changes to expected boundary lines at schools, the opening of the new southside elementary school, and a desire to keep classroom sizes comparable to previous years has contributed to it, Thompson said.

Committee members considered this information along with an early budget forecast for the 2015-2016 school year, which anticipates $93.9 million in total revenue compared to $90.8 million last year. Business Manager Ed Gerhardt said they should expect a 7 to 7.5 percent increase in Grand Forks' total taxable property value compared to last year. 

Members will have a clearer idea of the budget after the current legislative session ends and per-pupil funding is decided, they said.

Last year, the board approved reducing property taxes and lowered the tax levy from 89.78 to 82 mills. The district was able to afford this for several reasons, including enrollment growth, which led to higher funding from the state, and Grand Forks' increased total taxable property value, said Gerhardt.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit