Board considers referendum extensionFaced with staggering increases in health insurance premiums and a significant delay in state funding during the year ahead, the Cloquet School Board is keeping a closer-than-ever eye on the ebb and flow of the district’s revenue and expenses.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Faced with staggering increases in health insurance premiums and a significant delay in state funding during the year ahead, the Cloquet School Board is keeping a closer-than-ever eye on the ebb and flow of the district’s revenue and expenses.
To that end, Superintendent Ken Scarbrough asked board members at their Monday night meeting this week to consider whether they want to seek an extension to the district’s current referendum at next November’s general election.
Scarbrough explained that the current referendum, which has been in place for several years, generates some $93 per student through a combination of local property taxes and state aid, for total annual revenue to the district of approximately $250,000. That referendum is slated to expire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
“We’re currently considering if we want to try to extend it beyond this year,” said Scarbrough. “Doing so would mean no increase to the taxpayers over what they’re paying right now,” he clarified.
Scarbrough asked board members to make a final determination on whether to seek a referendum extension at their June 28 meeting.
In other business, Scarbrough informed the board that the district’s Blue Cross Blue Shield rates for 2010-2011 will go up by 14.6 percent. As an example, he said the family plan for a current employee or early retiree, which is split between the policy holder and the district, will increase by $2,808 a year. The cost of a single policy, which is covered entirely by the district, will increase by $1,008. Scarbrough said the total district liability for the increases will amount to $268,483. He explained the increases are based on the district’s experience rating as well as the insurance company’s anticipated cost increases.
The district’s growing health care costs came as especially bad news in the face of the state of Minnesota’s recently passed budget, which will result in payment delays to school districts. Locally, that means the state’s payments of $1.9 to $2 million to the Cloquet district will be significantly delayed in coming months.
Scarbrough said though the delays will initially be gradual, with the district receiving some 70 percent of what the state owes it, he said board members can eventually expect a major cash flow problem which may result in the need for short-term borrowing by next year.
He said the district’s payments from the state are already down $5 million this spring from where they were at this point last year.
Finally, a proposal to transition from written to electronic school board packets was defeated by a vote of 3-3, with board members Jim Crowley, Sandra Crowley and Rose Scheuer voting against it.
During its working session on Monday evening, the board heard an online presentation by Michael Elder of BoardBook, a web-based application that can store meeting minutes, agenda items and other documents electronically. Elder explained the software product would eliminate the need for printing such a high number of packets for both meetings and working sessions and would also provide a public portal to access school district information.
Elder said the application would cost the district about $2,000 a year but would also represent considerable savings in printing, supplies, labor and postage costs.
Some of the features he discussed, however, such as online editing tools, would require the purchase of additional software, and if the district should decide to purchase laptops for board members in order to access the information during meetings, additional costs would be incurred as well.
“With health insurance costs going up by at least 14 percent, and other things going up by 2 percent here and 3 percent there,” reasoned Jim Crowley, “I just don’t think this is something we should spend our money on right now.”