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Rosier financial future ahead for Cloquet School District

Revenues exceed expenditures in the proposed 2014-15 operating budget passed by the Cloquet School Board at its Monday night meeting.

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Expenditures of $34,012,272 are expected to be more than offset by anticipated revenues of $34,089,723, according to figures released by Business Manager Kim Josephson.

The district’s anticipated fund balance as of June 30 is expected to be just over $13.9 million, with the figure expected to rise by $77,000 over the coming year.

Increased enrollment, and the additional state aid it brings, is a key driver in the figures. In past years, the district has approved a large operating deficit at the start of its fiscal year, only to see anticipated gaps mostly closed by the end of the year.

The board also approved the hiring of current Cloquet Middle School social studies teacher Steve Battaglia as the new principal for the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program (CAAEP).

Battaglia, who is the son of board member Dave Battaglia, will succeed current Principal Robbie Mondati, who is headed to spend all her time at Cloquet High School in the fall as assistant principal.

The board voted 6-0 to hire the younger Battaglia, with his father allowed to take part in the vote due to it being unanimous. Under state law, blood relatives are not allowed to be involved in hiring decisions unless the decision is unanimous.

The discussion then focused on Battaglia’s other responsibilities, which include serving as head coach for Cloquet’s boys basketball team.

Middle School Principal Tom Brenner, who also has coached at the high school level, was asked whether doing both jobs was possible.

“I wasn’t coaching high school when I was hired at the middle school but I coached middle school for two hours a night and after Mason (his son) graduates next year I might go back to high school coaching,” he said.  “It’s very doable. And nobody here could stop me from coaching in Carlton or Esko, for example, if I wanted to do it.”

Dave Battaglia agreed.

“I’ve been coaching for 30 years and ran a 6-12 school in Carlton,” he said. “It can be done.”

In the end, the board said Battaglia himself was the best judge as to whether he could perform both tasks and approved his hiring.

In other news, the board approved a 12 percent across the board increase in health insurance premiums for employees effective at the beginning of the next school year.

“Some plans will wind up paying more while others will end up paying less,” Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. “In the end, we decided on a level increase as the best way to ensure fairness for everyone.”

The district is in the second year of a two-year contract with Health Partners for insurance, and is considering rebidding for its health care consultancy as well.

The board also heard a presentation from Scarbrough on summer custodial hours, which two board members questioned during the meeting.

Board Chair Gary Huard has spearheaded a study into summer hours for custodians and the tasks performed. Scarborough reported that hours worked by custodial staff in the summer amount to 7,200 at all facilities, a figure which has held steady in recent years but which has risen due to accounting changes over the last 10 years.

“I’ve listened to Mr. Huard say we needed to track these hours better for years,” board member Jim Crowley said. “We’re going to have maintenance needs especially if we build new facilities and people will want to know that we are spending this money wisely.”

While not suggesting deeper issues, Huard said he wanted greater accountability.

“What I want to know is what is done (with the summer hours) and who does what,” Huard said. “(The number of) hours mean nothing.”