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BEA Board discusses possible additions

Also reviews Fletcher’s mid-year achievements

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Jan 30, 2021

The Blue Earth Area School Board held a work session on Monday, Jan. 25, with two main topics to discuss, the possible addition of staff positions for the next school year and how it would affect the school financially and a mid-year review of superintendent Mandy Fletcher’s goals.

“After the reduction of staff last year, one of the goals was to make sure we are not deficit spending, which we have done,” Fletcher stated. “Another goal was to pass the operating levy, which was also accomplished. We also reached out to the community to see what district residents wanted to see happen going forward.”

Fletcher than laid out some of the options which had been discussed.

“One of the options talked about was hiring a principal so I could focus on my superintendent role. The principal would then be the leader in the high school building,” Fletcher explained. “Another position we have talked about is a curriculum instruction director.”

Fletcher also addressed staffing issues in the district’s music programs.

“When we reduced our music staff last year we added orchestra duties to Mr. Koenig’s band duties and we lost the ability to provide the same level of individual instruction, which is how you grow a program,” Fletcher commented. “We would like to keep the orchestra program and see it grow which we feel requires hiring a musical instructor.”

Fletcher noted eight of the 10 Big South Conference schools she was in contact with have curriculum instructor directors.

“Many of the schools in our area, but not in our conference, do not have a director of curriculum instruction but offer other areas of support.” Fletcher explained. “Some of the districts are heavier in principals, some are heavier in counselors or other forms of support staff.”

She explained what she would like to see happen going forward.

“I would like to see us do things which help us improve student achievement because that is why we are here,” Fletcher said. “Now that we have some of the problems fixed we are able to focus more on student achievement and improving curriculum, instruction and test scores. But we have to be concerned and conscious of the budget as we go forward.”

Fletcher then gave the board her recommendations.

“My preference would be to hire a director of curriculum and instruction with an administrative degree, a dean of students and a musical instructor,” she shared. “I would like to see us reinvest in the orchestra program and if the numbers drop off we will have the discretion to make a change down the road.”

The cost of funding these three positions could range from $240,000 on the low end to $305,000 on the high end, according to the superintendent.

“I realize filling three positions requires a lot of funds, especially coming off of budget reductions,” Fletcher said. “But the good news is a lot of districts I talked to use their staff development dollars to fund the director of curriculum and instruction position. It is a restricted budget. We get about $150,000 per year which goes into that bucket and we historically have not come close to spending those dollars. I believe we could easily pay for half of this position out of there.”

Fletcher also highlighted some of the other factors in the district’s financial position.

“Some of the other goals we had were to replace our technology and invest in our transportation and we already have a good start on those things with some of the money coming from COVID Relief Funds,” Fletcher explained. “We also have money available to spend from the Esser One funds which we have not spent which could potentially be used on technology. We have until September of 2022 to use those funds. Additionally, it is looking like we could receive another $800,000 in Esser Two funds to use by fiscal year 2023.”

Board member Stacy Beyer began the discussion.

“Knowing the COVID funds and the Esser funds are not a long-term part of our revenue, do you feel we will be able to sustain these new positions?” Beyer asked.

“I am going to say yes because in order to afford them we need to maintain or improve our offerings to keep our student enrollment steady or growing,” Fletcher replied. “And we do that by having good programs and good academics and helping students improve in the classroom.”

Board chair Rosenau asked if Fletcher would still consider the district ‘right sized’ if these three positions were added.

“I think when you look at our budget the goal was to no longer deficit spend and we have accomplished that,” Fletcher said. “Another goal was to pass the levy and we did that. The COVID dollars have allowed us to get two years ahead on two big capital purchases so to me we have an opportunity to reinvest in some of those educational program areas sooner. So, yes, long-term I think we are still right-sized.”

Rosenau also led the mid-year review of the superintendent’s goals.

“(Board member) Sara Hauskins and I have compiled the data from the board members input and completed a summary to present to the board,” Rosenau explained

The first item for review was social and emotional learning.

“This year had a great start with special speakers who were brought in by superintendent Fletcher,” Rosenau told the board. “The ‘lunch-hour-leap” has progressed well and Mandy has maintained professional leadership with all this year has brought.”

The next goal under review was communication and engagement.

“We believe superintendent Fletcher has provided excellent leadership in this area especially in dealing with the referendum and COVID,” Rosenau explained. “She keeps staff, students and the community informed utilizing radio, print media, emails and social media.”

The culture of cooperation was next on the list.

“We find she has improved the level of cooperation by holding meetings with staff and the education association,” Rosenau said. “She has also utilized surveys of staff, students and parents as a tool to improve cooperation.”