For the second year in a row, the Mabel-Canton School Board approved the maximum tax levy for the upcoming year.

The Truth in Taxation meeting was held on Tuesday, Dec. 15, before the regularly scheduled board meeting, with the budget details presented by Business Manager Aimee Lake.

Following the presentation, public questions were posed regarding busing costs, food service costs and also the budgeted increase in salary costs.

Superintendent Jennifer Backer stated the bus contract was bid and cost savings options discussed with the company. There are currently steps in place to share services with Spring Grove and Caledonia schools in an effort to reduce costs to the district. It was noted, due to the small enrollment options, routes have been reviewed and minimized to also save expenses, although not much can be done additionally to cut the expense.

A question had also been posed as to whether the busing company passes along its savings due to the reduced fuel prices now. Backer stated she would check the contract to see if that was a possibility.

Board members stated the food service costs were also reviewed and bid, with a two-year contract in place.

The increase in salary costs are incurred as a result of the teachers’ existing contract.

Following the question and answer period, approval of the maximum levy allowed was given and the Truth in Taxation meeting was closed.

Audit report

As a part of the regular meeting, Jason Boynton from the accounting firm Smith Schafer presented the Mabel-Canton financial summary.

The risk-based audit conducted by the firm yielded no issues or concerns.

Boynton covered the basics of the financial statement, stating the district has made improvements to reduce the budget deficit over previous years, which continues to be difficult in such a small district, with a reported current student enrollment of 256 students.

In summary, the district is not in Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) as of June 30, 2015.

Schools in SOD must create and implement a special operating plan by Jan. 31 of the following year which is formally approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.

It was noted that expenses will need to be reviewed and further cuts made in the upcoming months to trim the budget and reduce the deficit.

Good things happening

Chairperson’s announcements included extending holidays greetings to staff and students and appreciation to Jessica Ingvalson and Katie Larson, as well as the students for a wonderful winter concert series.

Dean of Students Michelle Weidemann echoed her congratulations for the successful concerts at both the elementary and high school levels.

Appreciation was also given to the community for supporting the fund raising efforts at the school.

The book fair realized over $1,500 in profit to be used for library materials, Turkey Bingo resulted in $1,900 to be shared between the sixth grade trip to Eagle Bluff and the middle school ski trip and the FFA fruit sales resulted in a $5,000 profit.

At the elementary level, students are participating in the Great Kindness Challenge, starting with a week of participation, but aiming at no end to the effort.

Students are sending messages to teachers, with first graders setting personal goals as well.

Also noted was the upcoming Art Fair at Lanesboro School from Jan. 9-31, with multiple schools exhibiting student work.

Staff development

Backer reported that the school calendar committee is making an effort to coordinate with other districts when planning staff development sessions and share speakers and training to share and reduce costs.

The upcoming January staff development is focusing on keeping kids safe, going beyond the accepted lock down process.

SAC

The SAC program was discussed as well. Weidemann noted with regret, that Kay Poole, the SAC coordinator, has resigned, effective Dec. 23. Weidemann said she has been approached by someone interested in the position. The vacancy will be advertised and she is optimistic the position will be filled.

Board members expressed their concern regarding reported behavioral problems with some students utilizing the SAC program.

Weidemann said the parents of the students involved had been contacted and the matter is being handled.

She stated the program is operating in the black, with about a $100-200 profit realized and all parents were reported to be current on their charges.

Board members stated the intent is to break even rather than make a large profit.

Weidemann noted if there are additional funds, they can be used to purchase supplies for the program.

There was also discussion as to how to have more things for the student participants to do; games, toys and additional items to make the environment seem less class-like.

The ideas of utilizing the computer lab and library as a part of the SAC schedule were also mentioned.

It was noted that if anyone is interested in donating items to the SAC program, they should contact the Mabel-Canton school office as to need and appropriateness for the program.

Other business

Staff issues included approval of unpaid leave for Trisha Soiney, for Feb. 10 to 12.

The change in the January meeting date to Monday, Jan. 4, at 6 p.m. was approved to complete the annual reorganization of the board. It will be decided at that meeting if an additional meeting in January will be needed.

Budget cuts are to be discussed at the February and March meetings, with Backer noting if it is determined necessary to ask for a referendum, the decision should be made by the April meeting.