Tuesday, October 12, 2021

What is the cause of New London-Spicer's Financial Challenges?

I have talked to several people in the community about the challenges facing our school district. Questions that continue to arise are: Can you simplify the challenges you face as a district? What is causing you to need additional revenue? Why is the New London-Spicer School District in this spot financially? The answers to these questions are related and a bit complicated. To simplify the complexities of our situation, I have organized the need into four general categories.

1. Funding from the state of Minnesota has not kept pace with inflation.

If state aid had increased at the rate of inflation, schools would have received $7,461 per student this year. Instead, schools will receive $6,863 per student, a difference of $598 per student. New London-Spicer has about 1,530 students. If state aid kept pace with inflation, that would result in nearly $1 million in additional state funding in one year, and many millions over previous years, eliminating the need for constant budget reductions.

2. The federal government has not kept their funding promises.

In 1975 the federal government passed the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which provides education and support services for students with disabilities. During that time, the federal government promised to provide 40% of the excess costs of providing these services. The federal government has not kept this promise as they have generally provided only 17% of these costs. This lack of promised support from the federal government has caused the district to spend an average of over $1 million annually from its general fund to supplement the rising costs in special education. These are critical services and the federal government must keep their promise.

3. Our school district falls into the "donut hole" as we are considered property rich but tax poor.

The New London-Spicer School District has a unique tax base. Specifically, our tax base is as follows:

Residential: 56.8%

Commercial/Industrial: 5.2%

Agricultural: 14.5%

Seasonal/Recreation: 23.5%

This means that our homeowners carry the greatest tax responsibility as some seasonal/recreation and agricultural land is not taxed based on different tax mechanisms. The New London-Spicer administration and school board work hard in advocacy efforts with legislators to bring equalization funding to schools in Minnesota. Currently, New London-Spicer ranks 230th out of 327 for public schools in revenue received from the state through their current system of financing education. This is not sustainable!

4. Inequities in funding formulas.

Various funding formulas are tied to free and reduced lunch numbers in school districts. A couple of these programs are Title I and compensatory education. The higher a district's free and reduced population is, the more revenue they receive. New London-Spicer has a lower free and reduced lunch population which means we generate less funding than most of our neighbors. 

ACGC - 36.6% Albany - 17.8% BBE - 30.0% KMS - 33.0% Litchfield - 32.6% MACCRAY - 36.1% New London-Spicer - 20.5% Willmar - 56.3%

In summary, New London-Spicer faces unique challenges due to its complex situation that have a major impact on the students, families, and communities within our school district. All of these factors have contributed to our current situation and we are working diligently to turn this ship around and get our financial house in order to be able to continue to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students.



Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Impact of New London-Spicer Budget Reductions

In November of 2020, the New London-Spicer school district asked its constituents to consider a new tiered operating levy with three increases over the next 10 years. This proposal was not supported by voters. NLS does not currently have a voter-approved operating levy. An average Minnesota school district receives $849 per student through voter-approved operating levies.

The 2020 referendum was proposed after a long community engagement process in which the school board and administration worked directly with community members to identify the best option. This new funding would have prevented the school district from making significant cuts which increased class sizes, eliminated bus routes, and reduced program opportunities. 

As a result of the 2020 referendum failing, the school district made nearly $1 million in budget reductions in order to address our financial situation. We also cut our budget by more than a half-million dollars the previous two years. The following reductions were made in 2021 alone:

These reductions have a significant impact on our organization and our students. Losing experienced staff members is always a challenge. Some of those staff members' positions were not filled in an effort to have maximum cost savings. As a result of this and the elimination of 6th-period classes, class sizes have increased across the district and have surpassed the state average class size.

We have been aggressive in making cuts to our budget to address our financial situation, but the situation is worsening. The freezing of salaries has contributed to some staff members choosing to leave the school district and has created a challenge in filling vacancies. The elimination of the bus route has increased bus times, as well as changed and added pick-up locations leading to some challenges for parents and students. Our custodians continue to be spread thin with the restructuring and vacancies in our buildings and grounds department. 

Without an increase in revenue, the school district will once again be faced with making more budget reductions to prevent the district from entering Statutory Operating Debt. This is where the state of Minnesota would get involved with our local operations and we could potentially lose state and federal aid. A preliminary list has been developed based on feedback from our community last winter. That initial list includes these additional reductions which include staffing and programming cuts:

Elimination of Additional 2.5 FTE Teaching Staff - $160,000.00 School Resource Officer - $82,000 Gifted and Talented Program and Teacher - $56,447.00 Communications Department - $31,312.98 Title I Restructure - $17,943.00 *Boys Tennis - $8,000.00 Athletic Trainer - $7,750.00 *Girls Golf - $7,500 *Please recall the last article in the Lakes Area Review or on my Blog (depending on where you’re reading this) regarding the elimination of activities.

If the November 2021 referendum is approved, New London-Spicer would see an improvement to our financial situation, allowing us to reverse some of the cuts implemented in recent years that have negatively impacted students. The referendum would also allow the district to maintain and increase our academic programming; increase mental health services for all students in PreK through grade 12; increase curriculum, instruction, assessment, and oversight to further improve teaching and learning opportunities; maintain technology infrastructure and a 1:1 platform; as well as, return to smaller class sizes allowing our students more individualized learning.

As a district, we value stakeholder feedback so it remains important to continue discussions on future elimination of programming.. Knowing the priorities of the community is an important part of our decision-making process, we kindly ask that you consider completing a survey to provide feedback on future budget reductions. To do so, please visit the following link: https://bit.ly/2021nlsreductionsurvey

In closing, please feel free to reach out to me directly with any specific questions you may have. Thank you to those that have already done so. You can reach me via email at AdamsW@nls.k12.mn.us or by calling the school at 320.354.1401. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Can cuts to activities solve the New London-Spicer School District finance challenges?

Over the past several years the New London-Spicer School District has been engaged in  significant budget reduction conversations. Between 2019 and this school year, we have reduced our budget by $1.5 million by providing early retirement incentives, increasing class sizes, extending bus route times, reducing staffing, negotiating pay freezes, and other actions. Without additional revenue, we anticipate an additional $935,000 in budget reductions for next school year, and more in future years.

We have solicited feedback about our current situation through surveys, staff and parent meetings, task force meetings, and several community meetings. On occasion, it has been  suggested that the school district eliminate athletics or other extracurricular activities.

At first blush, that recommendation seems to make sense. However, when you dive into the outcomes of those decisions, second thoughts emerge. There is much to consider when eliminating student opportunities  and the impact they can have on the budget.

During the 2021-2022 school year, districts throughout the state of Minnesota will receive $6,728 per student in state aid. While this may seem like a substantial amount of money, it doesn’t quite balance the budget. Beyond that, when we are faced with balancing a budget, we often look at areas that may not have a huge impact on students.  But when an activity is eliminated, there is great risk that a student may choose to attend another school district that continues to offer the activity. 

For example, if budget reductions forced the school district to eliminate a sport like football (don’t worry, we’re not proposing that, and we won’t), students who want to continue playing the sport would have to choose between staying in the district or attending another district that offers the sport. If the student chooses to leave so they can continue playing the sport, the $6,728 would follow that student to the new district.

Football is an expensive program to operate. We budget just over $80,000 for it annually, and after factoring in the $36,000 of revenue generated by the program, by cutting it, we would save $46,000. However, if seven students left our school district to play football in another district, we would lose $47,000. It’s not hard to imagine many more than seven students leaving to play football elsewhere. Which would generate an even larger loss of student funding which would necessitate additional budget reductions.

Whether it’s football or another sport or activity, there are other factors to consider. These activities are educational. They help students learn teamwork, leadership, social skills, sportsmanship, and more. They also help build community, both among students as well as the broader community. 

Finally, the impact of activities on our budget is not that great. We have nearly a $1 million hole in next year's budget. Yes, every little bit helps, and some extracurricular activities will likely be cut. This will not solve our problem alone - more cuts will be necessary unless more revenue is generated. So, can cuts to activities solve the New London-Spicer School District's finance challenges? The short and simplified answer to that question is, no.




Thursday, July 15, 2021

Being Fiscal Stewards

Public Schools are an essential part of our country. School boards throughout the United States have a great responsibility to be excellent stewards of the taxpayer dollar and to provide an excellent education to students. The New London-Spicer School Board takes that job very seriously and they reaffirm their commitment to fiscal accountability and excellent education formally every year.


Every January, by formal resolution, the school board directs school district administration to provide them with a list of options for reductions in programs and positions along with explanations of why the cuts should be made. In pursuit of an effective, efficient, and meaningful budget, the administration meets and solicits feedback from staff to identify areas in which expenditures could be reduced while minimizing the impact on educational opportunities.


Those areas are identified through the review of programming, enrollment, class sizes, interest in course offerings, efficiency in operations, and all other expenditure areas. This process is followed annually regardless of the financial situation of a school district and is an important step in addressing the overall state of the district while managing taxpayer dollars wisely. In simple terms, the district is not going to spend money if the spending isn’t necessary for the improvement of educational outcomes for our learners. We want as much of our budget as possible to directly impact our students.


Since the 2005-2006 school year, the New London-Spicer School District has made more than $3.5 million in expenditure reductions. These reductions were made out of necessity due to past declining enrollment, the financial condition of the school district, and several other factors. Of the $3.5 million, more than a half-million dollars in budget reductions were made over the last two years, and nearly $1 million in reductions were made for the upcoming school year in order to maintain a balanced budget. These reductions were made even with increasing enrollment over the past five years.  In essence, the school board has worked diligently to run the district efficiently with the overall goal of keeping our taxes low. 


Just like with personal, family, or business budgets, the School District is constantly looking into our financial situation and finding ways to make adjustments as needed. We adjust when necessary to avoid spending on programs and other things that are no longer part of our plans and keep the focus on our students by providing meaningful educational opportunities for them. While the latest round of cuts will increase class sizes, reduce programming, and lengthen bus times, our school board, district administration, and the entire staff take the mandate given to efficiently utilize tax dollars very seriously. 


For a list of budget reductions for our school district, please visit the following link: https://bit.ly/nlsreductionshistory



Monday, July 12, 2021

What is ALICE?

What is ALICE?

The safety of our students and staff at New London-Spicer Community Schools is our number one priority. Since 2010 there have been numerous school shootings across our country. Research of these events has assisted in developing a more tactical approach to ensuring our students are safe. This research has led to the development of the ALICE Training Institute, which New London-Spicer has pursued to improve our safety efforts.

The ALICE Training Institute recognized that in 98% of school shootings, there is a single perpetrator. The research also indicated that a one-size-fits-all approach to facing this tragedy of locking down was ineffective. Therefore, the following practices are endorsed through the ALICE Training Institute for maximum safety.


Alert - Get the word out! An armed intruder is in the building as opposed to the use of code words. Use clear, concise language to convey the type and specific location of the event.


Lockdown - Good starting point. We will continue to lock down students in secure areas when appropriate and use an enhanced version of our existing lockdown process, which will call for additional steps to secure and protect.


Inform - Continuation of using clear, concise language to convey the type and specific location of the event. Communication keeps the perpetrator off balance and allows for sound decision-making.


Counter - Apply skills to distract, confuse and gain control. (Only used at the Middle/High School level.)


Evacuate - Leaving the area to reduce the number of potential victims.


The philosophy of ALICE is to use technology and information so that staff and students can make informed decisions in a crisis, remove as many people as possible from the danger zone, and provide realistic training so that those involved have a better chance of survival.


Mr. Juhl, Mrs. Akerson, Mrs. Illies, and Deputy Holmquist, School Resource Officer, have recently been certified as ALICE Trainers. Many of our staff have received initial training on ALICE. Over the next year, our students will receive age-appropriate training to utilize ALICE should a crisis arise here at New London-Spicer. Each year, we work to train our students on responding in case of a fire, severe weather, or emergency situations. ALICE is a way to be better prepared in an active shooter situation. If you have any specific questions regarding ALICE, please contact Deputy Holmquist at 320.354.2252 ext 2613.





Sunday, June 27, 2021

Opportunities Abound!

As a school district we're often asked why we no longer offer vocational courses for our school students. Our enthusiastic response is always the same, "We do!" The implementation of accountability tests such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments over the past several years has put an emphasis on math, reading, and science. Although those subjects are important, so are the vocational courses. This article will be focused on the vocational offerings we provide here at New London-Spicer.

The New London-Spicer School District provides the following course offerings for our students which provide exposure to life-long skills.

Agribusiness Education
Wildlife/Natural Resources
Vet Science
Exploring Agriculture
Landscaping
Welding I
Welding II
Mechanical Physics
Agriculture Structures (Yearly construction of a house)
Advanced Metals
Agriculture Coop (Real-life work experiences with local businesses)
Leadership in Future Farmers of America (FFA)
Animal Science
Plant Science

Business Education
Personal Finance Management
Accounting
Computer Science
Desktop Publishing

Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS - Formerly Known as Home Economics)
FACS for Life
Child Development and Parenting
Culinary Arts I
Culinary Arts II
Housing and Interior Design

Industrial Technology (Formerly Known as Shop Class)
Industrial Technology
Woodworking I
Woodworking II/III
Introduction to Robotics
Robotics

As you can see, the New London-Spicer offers a variety of vocational course for our students. Some of the courses offered count as concurrent enrollment courses. In those cases, students remain here in our school district and simultaneously earn high school and college credits. Those opportunities are mutually beneficial to both our school district and students.

Our school district offers the traditional courses in mathematics, language arts, sciences, physical education, social studies, art, music, and band as well. In all, we are extremely proud of the variety of offerings that we have for our students and the well-rounded education we are able to provide. With our district's current financial situation, we are hopeful we are able to continue to provide these course offerings and opportunities for our students.





Friday, September 4, 2020

Welcome Back!

What a wonderful week it has been! Educators choose this wonderful profession to have a positive and lasting impact on student learning and development. We value the opportunity to interact with students and so appreciate the opportunity to welcome many of them back to school in person. Thank you for allowing us an opportunity to provide a safe return to school!

 

This week has been a blur with a flurry of activities while balancing the three learning models. Our staff has an unswerving commitment to providing a high-quality learning experience for all learners. They will seek to make continuous improvements throughout the year and appreciate, more than you can imagine, your grace and understanding. 

 

Welcoming students back is always a wonderful experience. This year’s welcome back was like no other. My favorite story is of a young learner at Prairie Woods. When this learner approached me I greeted him with a “Good Morning” as I asked him to wait at the crosswalk while the buses passed. The learner then asked me, “Is morning recess over already?” I replied, “It is not, are you excited to get over there?” The learner replied, “Yes, I haven’t my friend in a really long time.” That was an emotional experience, one I’ll never forget. I think that sums up the importance of school and social experience.

 

We’ll be in touch.