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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely School District adjusts to ever-changing budget in COVID era

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/15/20

ELY – For most businesses, households, families and individuals, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with incomes and expenses this year, and blew up any semblance of a balanced …

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Ely School District adjusts to ever-changing budget in COVID era


ELY – For most businesses, households, families and individuals, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with incomes and expenses this year, and blew up any semblance of a balanced budget.
Imagine trying to run a school district these days.
Since last March, ISD 696 school administrators have continually been adjusting maintaining an education system while juggling abrupt changes to learning plans, evolving enrollment numbers, technology needs, meals and transportation, maintaining adequate staffing and supplies to keep buildings sanitized, keeping athletes safe, and all while keeping the budget from spiraling out of control.
School board members were updated Monday night by administrative staff on how COVID-19 adaptations are impacting the district’s financial picture.
Right off the bat, Superintendent Erik Erie told school board members that the number of families in the district opting to home school their children for the 2020-2021 school increased from 17 last year to 31 students this year. Most, if not all, of the home-schooled students are being kept out of the school buildings this year out of an abundance of caution.
With that decrease in the number of students in the Ely educational system comes a decrease in state funding.
”Just that basic formula aid, per pupil, is $6,567,” school board chair Ray Marsnik said. “Multiply that by the 14 additional students (lost to home schooling this year), and you can see that is quite a sum of money. And that isn’t all. That is just the basic formula. There is quite a bit more to it than that.”
In total, the 31 students in the Ely school district, at $6,567 per pupil, means $233,577 in lost state aid.
Erie noted that a few families that just moved into the district this year chose to home-school their children.
“Ideally, we would like to see them here. Potentially, there are some students that maybe will join us later on,” he said.
“Our home school numbers have been going down until this year,” Marsnik said.
Later in the meeting, Erie provided a COVID-related budget report. Federal CARES Act funds for ISD 696 total $94,503. Another pot of money, Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), amounts to $142,054.
“We still must accept those funds and provide a budget for those,” Erie said. CRF funds must be spent by the end of the calendar year.
The district is purchasing new Chromebooks for all students with the CRF to facilitate distance learning, according to Erie. The new computers, quoted at $145,800, have not yet arrived.
“An earlier reserve-fund budget transfer of $300,000, originally earmarked for use on the 1:1 initiative, can now be spent for other COVID-related expenses,” he said.
In addition to the known funds coming from the federal Department of Education, $236,557, the school district also applied for a grant of $76,000 from St. Louis County.
“We just applied for that last week and don’t know yet if we are going to get it,” Erie said.
The total funds earmarked by the school district for response to the coronavirus stands at $613,257.
On the expense side of the ledger to date, $424,948 has been spent responding to the pandemic. Expenses include COVID-response supplies for 2019-2020 of $12,172 and $42,697 so far for the 2020-21school year, 1:1 initiative devices, $145,800, WiFi access points, $81,468, and additional personnel costs, IT hours, $8,057, nurse hours, $47,420, custodian hours, $47,333 and supervision hours, $40,000.
Remaining funds available, assuming the St. Louis County grant is awarded, is about $188,000. The addition of a third-grade teacher to maintain social distancing requirements, totaling $64,000 for salary and benefits, is not accounted for in the budget report.
“Subtract out the (possible) county grant and add the (additional) teacher, our remaining funds are closer to $47,500,” Erie said. “We will continue to incur more expenses.”
Outgoing school board member James Pointer expressed his continuing disappointment and frustration with the administration’s murky budget picture for the school district. He maintained that the lost state aid from the increase in home-schooled students should be included in the budget report. He also took issue with the number of custodian hours reported.
Erie noted that necessary custodian hours are unknown.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if our facilities director will ask for more help now that we are having spectators in for (sports) events,” he said. “We are also projecting using the arena for (elementary student) recess, and that has never been part of our responsibility before as the arena manager was responsible for that.”
Pointer pressed his point.
“This is why I get frustrated with your budget. You put in things that you want in but you leave out things that you don’t want in there,” he said. “You are counting on a county grant. I don’t see any training for the 1:1 initiative training.”
Pointer demanded a full-blown budget from the superintendent.
“It seems to me that the school is spend, spend, spend, but where is the fiscal responsibility. I don’t see it. I am very disappointed,” he said.
Later on the agenda, the Ely school board agreed to support the Minnesota School Boards Association in proposed legislation to hold school boards harmless as a result of busted budgets due to reduced pupil enrollment leading to reduced revenue and unanticipated layoffs because of the pandemic.

Other business
In other business, the board:
• Approved the summary of the superintendent’s performance evaluation that praised Erie who “jumped into a role new to him, with huge responsibilities,” and for leading the passage of the bonding referendum that “was a major accomplishment.” In addition, the evaluation noted “leadership and communication with future facility planning and promoting appropriate financial control are potential challenges for Erik as we move forward.”
• Approved Autumn Boedeker’s medical leave request for Jan. 4 to Feb. 19, 2021.
• Accepted the resignation of Kris Winkelman as cafeteria aide.
• Accepted the resignation of Jayne Dusich as girls track coach.
• Hired Sarah Spate and Erika Peterson as paraprofessionals, and Nick Jones and Caleb Cowden as temporary paraprofessionals.
• Hired Jessica Stott as noon supervisor.
• Approved the following assistant coaching positions: Corey Musel, junior high football, Matthew Koch and Tim Singleton, volunteer football assistants, and Kalley Fischer and Randi Walker, junior high volleyball.
• Ratified a master agreement with the district’s Confidential Supervisory Employees Association.
• Approved coaching compensation and purchasing clerk memorandums of understanding.
• Agreed to a project labor agreement with the Iron Range Building and Trade Construction Trade Council.


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