School administration aims to prepare for an influx of students needing emotional support this fall with the addition of three full-time-equivalent positions to the special education staff. The Grand Forks School Board's finance committee approved the positions for the district’s middle schools at a recent meeting.
“We’re seeing an influx of students with emotional disturbances,” Superintendent Terry Brenner said. “Increasing caseloads at each facility are making it very difficult to meet the needs of students.”
More staff members are needed to fulfill legal requirements for Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for these students, Brenner told committee members on Monday.
“There are 41 incoming sixth-graders who need that kind of support,” he said. “We don’t have the staff to meet those needs.”
A total of 96 incoming students in grades 6 through 8 have social or emotional needs, according to Brenner.
The cost of these new positions, including salary and benefits, is expected to be a couple hundred thousand dollars, said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager.
The new positions will be included in the preliminary budget, which the full School Board will review and vote on at its next regular meeting on Aug. 5, he said.
The finance committee also asked Berge to show how the implementation of a special reserve fund, and the use of three mills from that fund as allowed by the state’s Century Code, could affect the district’s preliminary budget, which is due Aug. 10 in the county auditor’s office.
The School Board discussed the possibility of establishing such a fund last year, but decided against it, Berge said.
The decision about whether or not to implement such a fund this year probably would be made by the full School Board membership before Oct. 10, he said.
If approved, this fund would make about $375,000 available for budgeting purposes in each of the next two school years, Berge said.
The mills may or may not be included in the final budget, which is due Oct. 10; the board can make that decision later, said Doug Carpenter, board member.
In budget planning for the next two school years, Berge expects no growth in revenues from federal sources and “no big increase in property taxes,” he said.
“I expect revenues and expenses to increase by several hundred thousand dollars each,” he told board members.
Berge expects there will be “modest growth in property evaluation, about 2.3 percent over where we were in the 2018-19 year,” he said.
Teacher contract, historic schools
At its meeting Monday, which followed the financial committee meeting, the School Board voted to approve the Teacher Negotiated Agreement for the next two school years.
The agreement was ratified by 93 percent of the Grand Forks Education Association members who voted on it, said Board President Bill Palmiscno.
School Board members also were updated on the nomination of five elementary schools and a middle school to the National Register of Historic Places.
Susan Caraher, a coordinator for the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission, expects to deliver a report to the board before its Aug. 5 meeting, Caraher said in an email to district administrators.
The nomination will be discussed at the local historical preservation commission’s Aug. 13 meeting, with a meeting to gather public input planned for late August, she said.
The schools that have been selected for nomination, based on their classic mid-century architectural design, are Ben Franklin, Lake Agassiz, Lewis and Clark, Viking and West Elementary and Valley Middle School.
The final submission of the nomination, if approved by the school board, would be made to the National Register of Historic Places in September.
New special ed leader
The School Board also approved the hiring of Carrie Weippert as assistant director of special education, a new position in the district’s administration office, at a salary of $92,800.
Weippert has more than 22 years of experience in education, including five years as district assessment coordinator, four years as an interventionist/MTSS coordinator at Kelly Elementary and 13 years as a special education teacher at Kelly, Viking and West elementary schools.
Weippert, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UND, was among four internal and two external candidates interviewed for the position.
The board also approved the hiring of a grant writer at a salary estimated at $60,000.
Several board members asserted that external funds are available to support various programs or projects in the district but, for years, the district hasn’t had a person “to explore and go after literally millions of dollars that are available,” Brenner said.
Most of the cost to fund this position would be recouped after the first year, he said.
Officer election, compensation
At Monday’s meeting, the first of this year’s term, School Board members unanimously re-elected Palmiscno as president and Amber Flynn as vice president.
The board considered the question of board-member compensation but took no action. Compensation was raised from $3,500 to $4,000 annually earlier this year, said Berge, who shared a list of compensation data from other large school districts in the state.
School board members here receive the lowest compensation among the state’s five largest districts, the report revealed.
“I don’t think we should change compensation at this time, when the school district is going through a difficult budget time,” said Jacqueline Hoffarth, board member.
But she questioned whether people who might be interested in serving on the board, for example, a single mother, she said, might decline because of the compensation level.
Flynn advocated for an increase “to at least get us closer to Minot, which is comparable to us” in terms of student enrollment.
Minot School Board members earn $7,200 per year and its president receives $8,200 per year, according to information Berge provided. That board consists of five members, while nine members serve on the Grand Forks School Board.
Flynn cited personal expenses, such as time and money spent on daycare, as factors in her stance, noting that the time devoted to board work “isn’t going to get any less,” she said.
“It would be wise to consider a small incremental step," she said.
Palmiscno recommended that the board’s finance committee study the matter.