Monticello School Board reviews future enrollment projections

Slow and steady before it levels off. This is the message Tina Burkholder, business manager for the Monticello school district, gave the board Monday night on the future of school enrollment over the next several years.
Burkholder examined many different scenarios by utilizing enrollment projection models through the web site schoolfinances.com, and these insights may help shape district budgeting and policy decisions in the coming years.
The school district is currently in the midst of a modest yet noticeable rise in student population, going from 3,935 students in the 2008-09 school year to 4,048 this year. She projected another increase for next year of 1.38 percent, or an additional 56 students district-wide. Based on census data and Wright County birth records, Burkholder said she chose one of the more conservative models to estimate a continued small, steady growth through the 2014-15 school year before leveling off or even declining slightly.
Wright County births have been decreasing since their high of 2,183 in 2007, and babies born in that year are either in kindergarten now or will be in the fall of 2012. By comparison, 2011 saw 1,857 babies born in Wright County. Burkholder said historically, 20 to 22 percent of Wright County babies ended up attending Monticello schools, but that number has slipped.
This is a particularly pertinent issue right now for the school district, as school administrators grapple with current and upcoming space shortages at the elementary school level. The idea of utilizing the former Eastview Elementary has come up each time the topic of space shortages emerge, though the district has yet to form any type of concrete plan.
“We’ve never looked at something like this before in my eight years here,” superintendent Jim Johnson said in regards to the longer-range projections Burkholder shared. “Is [this student population growth] a trend or a blip? These are important numbers for us to take a look at.”
In other business, the board:
-Started a conversation about the district’s fund balance and the option of assigning some of that fund balance for particular uses. The current guideline for school districts is to have 6 to 10 percent of their annual operating expenses in their fund balance, and after many years of struggling they finally obtained those numbers last year. The total fund balance is currently $5,907,393, up from $3,021,565 in 2008-2009. This puts the district’s fund balance at about 8.5 percent, and Burkholder presented the idea of assigning some of these monies for certain uses. Talks circled around putting money into the currently underfunded trust to pay for future obligations they have made to their retirees, technology offerings and/or maintenance and restoring certain programming that has been cut over the past few years.
This was the first conversation on the topic of assigning funds, and more information will be forthcoming on this issue. At the board’s request, he will be getting more specific numbers and presenting ideas and suggestions for the board to consider.
-Accepted several donations and grants for the school district, including $7,545 to the varsity boys hockey program from Rink Links Booster Club, $1,200 to the Middle School for the Stand Up program from the Peacemaker Foundation, $1,000 to the Middle School for the raised bed garden project from Minnesota Educational Facilities Management Professionals, $1,200 to Little Mountain for the purchase of three iPads for classroom use from LME PTO and $1,500 to LME for the purchase of projector lamps from LME PTO.
-Heard an overview of the new principal evaluations that the state has mandated to begin next year, following by new teacher evaluations the following year.
-Heard about the SIOP program that the district is implementing to help English learning students.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, followed by the annual truth-in-taxation meeting at 6 p.m. that same night.

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