Representatives from Smith, Schafer and Associates and the district's financial advisor presented updates and an audit on the Mabel-Canton School District budget during the annual Truth in Taxation hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

For 2014, the district will levy $824,490.81 in property taxes on the district. The 2014 levy is a 2.7 percent decrease from 2013.

In the budget update/review portion of the hearing, the board and public were informed that the district went a total of $199,766 over budget in 2013.

Todd Netzke, the school district business manager, explained the reason for the district going over budget was a case of revenues being flat and expenses going up.

A big cause for the budget variance was formula aid being down due to declining enrollment, special education aid and aid for free and reduced lunches also being down.

School expenditure variances also contributed, including an increase in areas such as severance benefits, transportation, substitute teachers, high utility costs due to a colder winter, health insurance, custodial costs, textbook and other supply costs.

"Overall, the (2013) budget called for us to (have a revenue) decline $88,674 (from 2012) - the actual was $288,440...that's a difference of roughly $200,000 worse than we thought (for 2013)," said Netzke.

"We're going to clean it up," said District Superintendent Jennifer Backer. "We want everybody on board with us and creatively thinking and believing in that collective intelligence concept that all of us can come to the table with something to provide a quality education to our kids but in a pretty darn fiscally responsible way. But right now we are in cleanup mode."

"Some of these things, just a lot of things happen...not necessarily things you can plan for like the maternity leaves, the winters..." Netzke added regarding the shortfall.

Principal's report

Principal Jeff Nolte reported on numerous items regarding student activities in the district. Nolte started by congratulating the school's music department on the recent winter concerts. "Our new elementary vocal music teacher (Heidi Myhre) and Mrs. (Katie) Larson...just want to commend them on their preparation and I want to congratulate the students on an excellent performance. They represented our school well and showed their learning at a very high level," Nolte said.

Nolte added that he and the staff are at the point where they are doing some winter benchmark testing in the school to measure academic progress. Nolte reported the results look to be satisfactory at this point.

Nolte is also working with teaching staff on a teacher evaluation policy for the district. "We are further defining the plan according to statute from the State of Minnesota...putting a good solid model of teacher evaluations in place for our teaching staff," he said.

Curriculum is something that is constantly evolving in the district and continues to do so, Nolte reported. "In my time here, over the past seven years, we basically adopted new curriculum in almost every area at this point. The district's curriculum has been very well updated and improved," he added. "We are looking at just a few tiny little loose ends this year."

Nolte went on to say that next year the staff will likely start the updating process over again; and one of the first needed purchases will be that of mathematics textbooks, which are in need of updating.

Nolte was also recently able to look at benchmark data and progress so far this year with special education students. "As a district, over the past few years, we have been real concerned about increasing our reading achievement because our scores have not been as high as we would have liked," he explained. "We are continuing to look at that closely...district wide. That is an area of focus in our curriculum that we want to improve, because reading permeates almost every area of learning."

Nolte also mentioned the school staff will be working with a couple January Term (J-Term) Luther College students in January. "It is always nice to have young, new students from local area colleges come and share a little bit of excitement and some of their new teaching strategies," he said.

Finally, Nolte reported that he and Barb Eiken are working on the renewal application for the Minnesota Reading Corps. The program is a one-on-one teacher-to-student program that does reading intervention in grades kindergarten through third grade. "It is a very positive thing," Nolte commented.

Superintendent's report

Backer reported that enrollment numbers are remaining steady in the 256 to 258 range each month. Backer commented on the importance of maintaining enrollment, "It is part of our responsibility to start recruiting our kids back again...and also maintain those folks that we do have here."

Backer also commented on the current budget situation. "We will do everything we can to keep you in the loop and ask you questions and see where you think we need to tighten our belts a little bit," Backer told the board.

Various items

After hearing the Truth In Taxation presentations, approving the district's financial audit and paying the bills, the board also accepted a donation of $150 from Dave Zimmer for the purchase of basketball uniforms.

The board presented a gift of two Minnesota Vikings mugs to former board member Dave Swenson. Swenson resigned from the board in October.