Ashley Eastridge named district business director for Bemidji Area Schools
In addition to Eastridge's appointment, the Bemidji school board discussed the district’s cost mitigation strategy at a special meeting on Monday.
BEMIDJI — Ashley Eastridge has transitioned out of her role as accounting services coordinator after being named the new district business director for Bemidji Area Schools.
During a special meeting on Monday, the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education unanimously approved Eastridge’s employment effective Tuesday and authorized her to perform treasurer duties.
Eastridge succeeds Krisi Fenner, who recently started a new role as vice president for finance and administration for Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College.
“We went through a pretty rigorous search process, and we were able to narrow it down from five candidates to two candidates,” Superintendent Jeremy Olson said at Monday’s meeting. “After careful consideration of information from the interview committee and balancing what our needs are in the district … we’ve seen a really strong fiscal background (of Eastridge).
“She has the capacity to develop as a leader and that’s something that I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Olson added.
Prior to Eastridge’s employment in the district, she served as a director with the accounting firm Miller McDonald. She earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting at Augsburg College and is a certified public accountant.
Eastridge’s base annual salary will be $137,752.
Following board approval of Eastridge’s employment, the board entered a closed session to discuss a potential real estate sale, after which it entered a work session.
The board spent considerable time discussing the district’s cost mitigation strategy including recommendations that could be made at an April meeting.
This conversation comes on the heels of the district’s 2021-2022 audit that was approved at its March 20 regular meeting. Olson detailed that a $2.5 million surplus in the district’s general fund that year was achieved through over $3 million in federal funds, showcasing a $500,000 deficit in the budget structurally.
He added that over $2.3 million of the district’s revenue came from the bond issuance for roof repair at Bemidji High School, which the district will need to pay back over the next few years.
Olson provided the board with potential cost mitigation measures including a reduction in positions, purely as a discussion item. He specifically cited low enrollment and projected class sizes for grades K-3 that could facilitate a reduction of three FTEs, or full-time equivalents, of teachers at the elementary level.
FTEs are a measure of an employee’s scheduled hours divided by the employer’s hours for a full-time workweek.
For example, a full-time employee working 40 hours a week would be a 1.0 FTE, while a part-time employee working 20 hours a week is a 0.5 FTE.
Olson noted that cutting three FTEs could save the district $332,500. He also emphasized that his recommendation would not be to reduce people but to reduce positions.
“In some cases, because we have some resignations now, we’re in a position where we can decide to not fill the (vacant) positions and, in essence, that reduces our expenses,” Olson said.
Board member Anna Manecke questioned whether the board could make reductions in administration rather than teaching positions.
“Do we ever look at administration? Do we ever look at those numbers and say ‘how many do we have, how many do we need, how much are we paying,’” Manecke said. “It seems like we’re always looking at cutting teachers and that’s always the focus.”
Olson stated the district is currently operating under a light principal load at the high school level and that this potential reduction could have unintended consequences for teachers.
“We’re trying to keep behaviors under wraps at all building levels and that takes staff. That takes principals to do that,” Olson said. “When we looked at what our needs are, cutting a principal would result in not having support for teachers, so I didn’t feel that was a prudent measure.”
The board did not take action during Monday’s meeting and is expected to review more proposed budget reductions at an April meeting.
Other agenda items
The board discussed other topics concerning the structure of board meetings, committee structure and processes.
The board continued discussion on the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each meeting, a measure proposed by board member Justin Hoover that was voted down in a 3-3 vote in January.
The role of a school board parliamentarian, which district human resources director Jordan Hickman currently fulfills, was also discussed. The parliamentarian assists the board in understanding “Robert’s Rules of Order,” the formal steps of making a motion, attaining a second and voting on agenda items.
The board also debriefed its decision to include the vice chair in the process of setting the agenda, a measure proposed by Manecke in January. The role was previously reserved for the board chair working alongside the superintendent and cabinet members.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 17, in the district board room.