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Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz announces retirement, budget solutions discussed

Monday’s Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education meeting focused primarily on COVID case updates, proposed high school schedule changes and a review of the district’s ESSER funding.

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz
During a Jan. 24 school board meeting, Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz announced his plans to retire, effective June 30, 2022.
(Pioneer file photo)
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BEMIDJI — Monday’s Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education meeting focused primarily on COVID case updates, proposed high school schedule changes and a review of the district’s ESSER funding.

However, the “Once Around the Table” portion of the meeting provided an additional twist with another resignation since November – this time from Superintendent Tim Lutz announcing his retirement.

“After a rewarding career of 18 years in public school administration and after much careful reflection and conversation with my family, I’ve decided that it is time for me to retire,” Lutz said in his closing remarks.

Effective June 30, 2022, the district will now be on the lookout for an upcoming superintendent along with filling the vacant sixth seat on the school board left by Jeff Haack following his Nov. 15 resignation.

Lutz expressed his appreciation for the school board, stating, “I’ve greatly appreciated working with a supportive school board and would like to thank you all for the opportunity to serve as a leader of such a dynamic and excellent school district.”

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He also credited cabinet members, faculty and the community for supporting education throughout his four years at Bemidji Area Schools, leading him to help make a difference for the district.

“I’m extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to make a difference in the work of this school district from cutting-edge initiatives to school safety, emergency management to improvements in school climate, culture and equity,” he continued.

Though met with mixed public reactions, the district’s mitigation measures during the coronavirus pandemic is a source of pride Lutz continues to have from his time as superintendent.

“In light of nearly two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m proud of the excellent work of Bemidji Area Schools to remain open while keeping students and employees healthy,” he added. “It has been a distinct honor to serve a school district and a community that supports education.”

Looking to the future, Lutz ended his turn around the table by crediting the numerous partnerships and relationships the district has forged over the years with the overarching goal of supporting students and their families, and hopes for those relationships to continue.

“I will always be thankful for our partnership with the many organizations that have supported Bemidji Area Schools. I’m excited to witness what this high-quality school district and its excellent community partners will continue to achieve and do for families and students in the future,” Lutz ended.

Following Lutz’s remarks, newly-named board chair Carol L. Johnson told Lutz a quote keeping in theme with looking ahead to the future, “And remember, retirement is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of the open highway,” she said before the meeting adjourned.

Fenner on finances

District Business Director Krisi Fenner provided a detailed summary of the district’s three rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER funding.

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Three federal acts allowed the district to receive funding to address learning loss and other issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act, or CARES Act, was passed by congress in March 2020, which granted a first round of $2.5 million -- divided between three funding streams -- for the district to use for relief purposes.

“Uses of these funds included purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies, addressing air quality, upgrading to touchless fountains and faucets, purchasing technology and other supplies and funding staffing costs related to distance learning,” Fenner detailed. “These federal awards have been fully spent.”

The second act of federal relief -- the Coronavirus Relief and Recovery Supplemental Appropriations Act -- was passed in December 2020. A large portion of this funding was spent throughout the 2020-2021 school year to maintain continuity of services and retain staff in the face of lost enrollment-driven revenue.

Focusing on recovery, ESSER II provided the district with $5.1 million to address revenue shortfalls related to enrollment-driven state funding, registration and participation fees and food service revenue.

“We are projecting to use the remaining ESSER II funds in the current year for the same purposes,” Fenner said. “This funding has filled the gap between that lost revenue and the further reductions needed to offset it.”

The American Recovery Plan Act was most recently passed in March 2021 and allocated the district $11.6 million.

“Twenty percent of this funding is required to be set aside for learning recovery and the remaining 80% to address other needs including but not limited to longstanding health needs, strengthening connections to school, addressing the needs of our students, and making long-term changes to curriculum and instruction based on lessons learned during the pandemic,” Fenner added.

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All funds are available to be spent over a three-year period with the district identifying other priorities as the pandemic continues.

These include addressing class sizes at the elementary level, providing additional mental health support, recognizing the needs of homebound students and expanding summer school and after-school learning opportunities.

Fenner left off with a routine reminder that the federal relief dollars, “are not the answer to our budgetary imbalance. This funding will not replace state education funding or the support of our local community. We must continue to strive to balance our budget or we will find ourselves on the edge of a fiscal cliff once the federal relief funding is gone.”

Shifting schedules

Following a Dec. 15 work session and the December board meeting, High School Principal Jason Stanoch once again spoke to the board about potential changes from the high school’s four-period block schedule to a five-period day.

Emphasizing the shift as a long-term investment in order to save district money, Stanoch noted the cost savings resulting from discontinued staff overloads when classes exceed recommended enrollment limits.

In these situations, additional part-time staff members are hired or a full-time teacher will teach during their prep period.

Stanoch spoke in terms of full-time equivalents, or FTE’s, which 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.

One full-time equivalent costs the district around $80,000 a year. By shifting to a five-period day, Stanoch argued that four full-time equivalents required to continue the current four-period day could be saved, potentially saving the district $320,000 a year.

Recognizing that inflation and salary increases could offset some of those savings, Stanoch mentioned initial costs and complexities associated with implementing the new schedule.

“We’d still need to get teachers involved in professional development. How we shift from 90-minute instruction to 75-minute instruction,” Stanoch detailed. “There would be some one-time textbook costs and other costs that we could use some professional development funds and ESSER funds to help offset those costs.”

Any schedule changes would be made starting with the 2023-2024 school year, meaning the current block schedule will remain through at least the 2022-2023 year.

If a change is approved, next school year would be reserved for training and updating instructional materials and curriculum guides to reflect the change.

No action was taken on this, though a special meeting is expected to take place within the next couple of weeks where a formal decision will be made.

Housekeeping items

The organization of the board kicked off the meeting to determine board members’ respective roles for the upcoming year.

Johnson became the new board chair, while Sarah Young was approved to be vice-chair. Jeff Lind became clerk, and Gabriel Warren became the new treasurer along with Fenner sharing treasurer duties.

Young also shared the board member vacancy notice stating the legal requirements, time commitment and application process to fill the sixth spot on the board.

A completed application, resume and cover letter are requested for submission at the district office by Friday, Feb. 18.

The application form and notice can be downloaded from the district website or picked up at the district office.

The chosen candidate would take a seat on the board temporarily until November when the next national election takes place.

The full meeting can be viewed on the Bemidji Area Schools YouTube channel .

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28, in the district board room.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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