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BEA Board studies ways to reduce

By Staff | Mar 8, 2020

Michael Hoheisel of the Baird’s School Business Solutions Team addresses the BEA School Board, including members, left to right, Jeff Eckles, Kyle Zierke and Sara Hauskins, who are studying the full report.

The Blue Earth Area School Board held a work session on Wednesday, March 4, to review a report by Baird’s School Business Solutions Team. Baird is the company hired by the School District to provide an objective analysis of the district’s financial situation.

Dr. Ryan Laager and Michael Hoheisel attended the work session on behalf of Baird to present the report.

“This is an Operational Budget Assistance (OBA Model) Overview,” Hoheisel told the board and the crowd of people who attended the meeting.

The first part of the report looked at historical school enrollment data.

“Every district loses kids,” Laager said. “And 65 to 67 percent of the families living in the state of Minnesota do not have kids in school anymore.”

Dr. Ryan Laager, of Baird’s School Business Solutions Team, presented an analysis of the BEA District to the School Board during a work session held last Wednesday night. Board members Jeff Eckles and Kyle Zierke, above, left to right, listen and check the notes while Laager, in the background, speaks.

The Baird representatives gave a summary of the issues many school districts across the state are facing.

“School district budgets are becoming increasingly tighter with increasing costs and multiple factors impacting revenue. Many districts are faced with the challenging and painful process of making reductions,” Hoheisel explained. “Nothing erodes and disrupts culture with staff, parents and community more than constantly being in a mode of reducing. The situation is made worse when people cannot see or understand why the reductions are needed.”

Next, Laager introduced Baird’s plan for helping the district.

“To avoid those negatives, it is important to establish a systemic approach that ‘right sizes’ the district,” Laager stated. “So you do not end up in a cycle of needing to make reductions every year or every other year.”

The duo then presented data which compared Blue Earth Area to five other districts of similar size.

“In our process everyone will be able to see what areas the district is out of alignment, in comparison to other districts,” Laager commented. “This provides evidence of why reductions are needed and the areas in which they are needed.”

Laager and Hoheisel spent the next 90 minutes going through data and answering questions from board members. The board members had not seen the report prior to the meeting.

“This is not a situation where we just rip the band aid off,” Laager said. “It is important not to have a knee-jerk reaction.”

Areas identified where BEA is out of alignment with similar size districts include district office spending, school level administration spending, regular/instructional support spending and operational spending.

“It is important to note some cuts have already been made,” Laager remarked. “It should also be noted four of the six schools used in the comparison study receive extra operating levy dollars in addition to the $724 which is locally approved.”

The study also showed a four-period schedule, which BEA utilizes, is the most expensive model to operate. One recommendation from Baird would be to start reducing staff to a number which is comparable to districts on a seven-period day, and then begin the process of migrating to a seven-period day while maintaining the power hour to support student learning and modernize the direction of teaching and learning. This would take another year to implement because students have already registered for next year’s classes.

It is important to note this was only a work session so there was no public comment and no action was taken by the board on any recommendations in the overview.

“This gives you an additional perspective to help you make difficult decisions,” Hoheisel said.

Superintendent Fletcher expressed her appreciation for the information Baird was providing.

“The time is now to fix this,” she remarked.

Board member Kyle Zierke agreed.

“I do not want to come back here every year and have to deal with the same problems,” Zierke added.