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Wrenshall School District preliminary budget runs a deficit

The first preliminary budget for the Wrenshall School District shows a $385,000 deficit, but the number could be lower if enrollment trends continue to increase.

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Wrenshall School Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — The preliminary budgets presented to the Wrenshall School Board show a deficit of $385,000, school district officials said during the board's regular meeting on Monday, May 16.

Angela Anderson, the district's business manager, said there was good news and bad news when it came to the budget.

The bad news was the deficit to the general fund, however in conversations with Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro about enrollment, Anderson said the deficit could be lowered by an additional $150,000.

"It is an ever changing number," she said. "Since I have come up with that number, enrollment numbers have changed."

The initial budget was based on 347 students enrolled in the district. However the latest numbers are at 362.

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"That is 15 more than what I budgeted for," Anderson said. "I'm hoping the student numbers go up."

The food service portion of the budget will not run a deficit this year, which is something new, according to Anderson. In previous years, Anderson said the district has had to transfer up to $30,000 into the food service fund.

"This year we are about $8,000 to the good," she said.

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The board also discussed the possible hiring of another career and technical education teacher, when the latest phase of construction is completed in the fall. However, with the tough budget, Belcastro said it might be best to hold off on hiring the additional teacher until next year.

The next step for the budget is having a final budget presented at the board's next meeting in June.

Phone policy

Students in the district may have to live without their phones in class come next fall.

Principal Michelle Blanchard brought up the idea of a new phone policy, that would require students to leave their phones in their lockers for the duration of the school day.

Blanchard said this policy was the "last straw" after numerous incidents, including lower engagement and online bullying,

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She referenced a case where a student received a text and decided to throw their phone, broke it, and when they were in the principal's office she found it difficult to calm the student down.

"I am hoping we see an increase in student engagement in the classroom," she said.

Should the policy be implemented, Blanchard would send out an alert to parents in June giving them an advanced notice.

"I want to get back to why we are here, this is not an AT&T store—it's a school," she said.

The board members were in agreement that the policy would be beneficial to the district.

Board member Debra Washenesky asked Blanchard what the consequences would be if students broke the rules.

Blanchard said confiscating the student's phone was an option, but she wanted to confer with neighboring principals to get their input on the issue.

Public forum

The public forum section of the meeting included resident Tony Sheda sharing his thoughts on the petition to remove an appointed board member from office last year.

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Sheda said the nastiness comes from the petition organizers and is the reason he continues to voice his opinion on the matter at board meetings.

"Do what you want—I'm not going away," he said.

Sheda added he has filed a complaint against the superintendent and is looking into filling an Office of Civil Rights Complaint after he alleged a teacher harassed him about his comments during a previous board meeting.

However, he does not want to involve the school, which is something the complaint would do.

Ethan Harvey, a Wrenshall resident, took his time to express his displeasure with the board.

"I'm disgusted," he said. "It upsets the hell out of me."

Harvey said the district was doing everything it could to run itself to the ground.

Board member Cindy Bourn asked Harvey to provide specific instances or policies that made him think this way.

Harvey said to look at the teachers leaving the district as the first example.

Bourn asked Harvey again for specific occurrences from the board, to which he said he didn't have any at the moment but intends to bring them to the board's next meeting.

"There is a group of people in this community that are solely focused on lowering their tax dollars and they feel that by shutting this school down or by not funding things in this district that is going to solve things," he said.

The public forum ended on a positive note with Annie Dugan praising the district's focus and help with her child, who she said has a developmental delay.

"The (strategic) plan makes me feel that my student has a spot here," she said.

Dugan also praised the superintendent and principal saying the leadership they both have makes the welcoming environment for her child.

"I am so thankful to Belcastro, Blanchard, all the teaching staff and the board for developing that vision," she said.

Press policy

The board members also agreed speak to the press only through collaborative statements made by the board. The only exception would be if they were speaking about positive news.

This was also placed on the superintendent as well, who thought the plan was a good idea.

"If the school wants the press to know something, it will make a special statement," Bourn said.

While the board did not formally vote or create a policy, board members in attendance verbally agreed on moving forward with it and have already started following the idea.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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