There are priorities, and then there are priorities within priorities when it comes to preparing a school district budget. And how to arrange those priorities is never an easy task.

As the Faribault school district prepares its priority-based budget for academic year 2020-21, School Board members on Monday discussed a number of priorities administrators in the district's seven buildings have pulled together.

The district is preparing its upcoming budget in a new way, determining priorities and spending based on those rankings. The change came late last year at the suggestion of Finance Director Andrew Adams, who reasoned that spending according to what's most important and what meets the district goals "will root out costs that lack sufficient justification," he said late last year. 

“For a number of these items, a tiebreaker for me is staff support,” said Board member Jason Engbrecht. “… I would support whatever staff are passionate about bringing to fruition.”

Dividing building priority bullet points into four main categories, Director of Teaching and Learning Ryan Krominga presented the compiled list of priorities to the board at its Monday, Jan. 13 meeting. The building administrators came up with 70 priorities, but some were duplicates.

The four main categories for the priorities are as follows:

• Faribault Public Schools will improve academic achievement for all students by focusing on creative educational options (year-round school, STEM school, pathways to excellence, seven period days, etc.), individual student performance and ensuring instructional practices that recognize and address a range of abilities and learning styles in order to enhance and promote excellence.

• Faribault Public Schools will improve Falcon Pride for all students by focusing on school safety, individual student emotional well-being and ensuring our facilities demonstrate our commitment to empower, energize and engage all students.

• Faribault Public Schools will improve communication for all of our stakeholders by focusing on creating avenues for dialogue between school professionals, families, and students; building partnerships between local businesses and community assets; and fostering positive engagement with the community at large.

• Faribault Public Schools will support academic achievement, Falcon Pride, and positive communication by maintaining the infrastructure, staff development, and human resources entrusted to us.

Superintendent Todd Sesker said the next step is to gather the board’s input and number the bullet items within each priority. The list will get its final stamp of approval at the Jan. 27 board meeting, after the board members re-examine the list and deliver their final feedback. The full list of priorities is available to view on the BoardBook agenda: bit.ly/383IVg0.

While creating a budget for 2020-21, the board will then utilize the final priorities list to consider reductions for that academic year. According to Sesker, there likely will be budget reductions.

Strategic planning

Before talking more in depth about the future budget, the school board plans to work with either the Minnesota School Boards Association or Big River Group, LLC to implement at new strategic plan.

“We haven’t had a new strategic plan in over 10 years, and a lot of things have changed,” said Sesker. “It will be the compass for the school district and guide us into the future.”

The selected strategic planning service, to be determined at the Jan. 27 meeting, would work with the School Board to identify goals, roles and responsibilities and facilitate surveys, sessions and meetings to gather internal and external input.

A timeline for implementing the plan has not yet been determined, but Sesker said, “The board would like to get going as soon as possible.”

Common Planning Time

Another discussion at the board meeting centered around Common Planning Time (CPT), a period during the day in which teachers and other staff members, like paraprofessionals, meet in groups according to grade level or department. These meetings give staff an opportunity to work together to create innovative programming and speak with interventionists about the particular needs of students.

CPT looks different across the district. Faribault High School staff has one hour of CPT per week, and the Faribault Middle School model allows for about 45 minutes of CPT per day. At the elementary schools in particular, there isn’t a designated period for CPT.

Board member Carolyn Treadway advocated strongly for prioritizing common planning time across the district.

“We owe it to staff to provide the same kinds of opportunities to provide high quality experiences for students,” said Treadway.

According to Sesker, the district has been investigating ways to implement CPT at the elementary schools since a discussion began five to six years ago. However, he said he doesn’t know of any identified issues.

Board Chair Chad Wolff asked if changing start times is the only solution to filling the CPT void at the elementary schools.

Roosevelt Elementary Principal Terry Ronayne said CPT would have some effect on the number of district instruction hours.

Jefferson Elementary Principal Yesica Louis offered a suggestion for how her building implements CPT. Every Tuesday from 7:15 to 8:15 a.m., paraprofessionals and specialists supervise the classrooms while teachers meet for CPT. Students don’t lose class time, she said, and it offers children an opportunity to connect with another adult in the classroom. Louis said she hasn’t heard any complaints from staff about the arrangement.

No final decision was made in regard to handling CPT, but Engbrecht said, “Obviously this item deserves examination.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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