Linn R-2 anticipates 35 percent fund balance; in-house food service to return next year

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 5/24/23

LINN   — Superintendent Bob James noted that 20% is the fund balance standard. “I believe our community expects us to be a little more conservative than that,” he added.

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Linn R-2 anticipates 35 percent fund balance; in-house food service to return next year


LINN  — Superintendent Bob James noted that 20% is the fund balance standard. “I believe our community expects us to be a little more conservative than that,” he added.

Based on budget projections for the 2023-24 school year, James said the district has a fund balance of 32.53% or a little more than $2.5 million in reserve. After federal funding requests are made, he believes the balance will be closer to 35%.

James added the district should be able to hit that mark of 35% even with adjustments for new staff, a step increase, a 3.5% raise on the classified salary schedule, increasing activity funding and increased transportation costs, administrative salary adjustments, and increasing middle and high school supply budgets.

James kept basic projects at $70,000 in his budget proposal.

In March, James told the board he didn’t think it was likely that an increase to base salary for certified staff was possible. “I wasn’t sure exactly where we’d end up,” he said.

Now, James said the district is in a position to give teachers a $500 to $1,000 increase on the base. “I think that would be a good move for us,” he added, noting it would cost the district between .613% and 1.27% of the fund balance.

He reiterated that with R-2 positioned for a roughly 35% fund balance, James believes that’s a good investment.

Phase one of the athletic schedule would cost another 1.52%. James noted that potentially adding a Special Education secretarial position, adding equipment covers for machinery that sits outside, and other little things are equally good ideas.

Continued facility improvements and commitment to summer maintenance projects would likewise be important.

“All of those things would put us at less than a four percent increase, which would still keep us above 30 percent,” said James. “I’d like to have an extra percent or two in there for things we don’t know are going to happen. That’s why I would like to set a definitive date for a budget workshop.”

James is seeking input from board members regarding priorities for the district. “We have the opportunity and need to do several things next year,” he added. “I want to do what you and the community want to do, but I do think a priority for us is to continue adding to the base so we’re competitive from a salary position.”

“I think we all agree that adding to the base is a priority,” said board President Dr. Shawn Strong, “but we need to go through it in-depth.”

A budget workshop has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 24, at 6 p.m.

In other business, board members approved moving food service back to in-house.

James said he put numbers to the idea after realizing how complicated the bidding process was for school nutrition.

“It would probably carry us into July,” he added. “I started putting pencil to paper, and even if it carried into July, our kids would still have food service in August. I think the better decision is to bring it back in-house.”

The superintendent accounted for bringing food service back to an in-house operation in his budget considerations. “That does include a very aggressive estimate,” said James. “I tried to over-anticipate every expense I could.”

He noted that would mean about a 15% increase in a worst-case scenario over what was spent this year. “There is almost no scenario where we get less than a 15% increase in a bidding process. I think it’s more likely we’d see a 20 to 30 percent increase. Bringing it in-house allows us to control quality and costs, and I think our kids and our community will get a better product.”

He confirmed the district would have a health insurance commitment for two full-time employees. “That was included in my estimates,” said James.

Board member Naomi Klouzek asked if Fresh Ideas employees, now working as food-service contractors, would have the option to work directly for the school.

“Technically, the director has a non-compete clause, but I don’t think that would be a barrier in this case,” said James. “Having said that, I think we need to put it out there, see who we get, and hire the best person.”

In addition to the director, the operation includes a kitchen manager and four part-time cooks/line servers. “I would see us meeting with everyone, but barring an issue with hiring someone, that would be our first go-to,” said James, adding he anticipates having two or three applicants for the director’s position. It would be up to our servers whether they want to come back. If we put that out there, I don’t think we’re going to get swamped with applications, in any case.”

“That’s what I was worried about, whether we’d be able to retain them if they want to stay,” said Klouzek.

“To be real honest, Fresh Ideas weren’t paying those folks very well,” said James. “I was a little more aggressive to make sure that we gave them a decent wage, so I think they’re going to want to work for us.”

Dr. Strong said board members heard a lot of comments from Fresh Ideas early in the company’s tenure. “Philosophically, if we bring it in-house, there will be a different approach,” he added, noting that outside companies are in it to make money, which means minimizing costs. “That probably means you feed students the minimum, I would think. That was kind of the feeling I got early in their tenure, but we didn’t get as many complaints later. I don’t know if that meant people still weren’t happy or things got better.”

“I think it was a combination,” said James. “I would say the lesser complaints came when it looked like we were moving away from Fresh Ideas. That’s the feedback I got. It was better in some ways, but mostly, they knew it was going to change soon, and they’re just riding it out.”

Board VP Hannah Swann said the quality is better from what she’s heard.

“I think we have an opportunity to serve our kids better,” James added.

“That’s important,” Dr. Strong agreed.

• Board members agreed to change the monthly meetings from the third Tuesday to the third Thursday at 6:30 p.m., beginning in July. James explained that payroll checks need to be signed the week before the meeting, which wouldn’t change with a move to Thursday.

However, there were other considerations. One factor board members discussed was that with the meetings held on Tuesday, which is the UD’s press day, stories do not appear until the following Wednesday.

James noted that the information would be presented a little sooner with a Thursday meeting.

R-2 moved to a Tuesday meeting after going to the four-day week, and James said that holding a meeting on Mondays would not be great because everyone is off that day. Many in the district attend church on Wednesdays, and no one was interested in meeting on a Friday night, so Thursday was the most logical choice.

Next month’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on June 20.

• Board members approved a two-day trip to Rolla for the junior high girls’ basketball team, which will be attending camp June 23-24 at Missouri University of Science & Technology.

• Bills were approved for payment in the amount of $563,720.87. The school has a checking and investment balance of $4,344,941.45, including investments of $484,133.88 through Mid America Bank.


High School Principal Erin Sassmann thanked the school board and James for the opportunity to serve in this position. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year as an administrator and am very glad I was able to experience this year at Linn,” she said. “I absolutely love the school, students, and community. I am thankful for all the support the board has given me and our school this year. I hope that in the years to come, I can make the school board and community proud by my leadership and dedication to this great district.”

Coming into the year, Sassmann planned to sit back and observe. “Unless it was a dumpster fire, I wanted to see how the high school and middle school worked,” she said. “I can tell you that from my observations, we have amazing teachers and students in our district. I want to highlight the great things that have been accomplished this school year and the plans to come.”

— Sassmann said that any time the school needed to create a committee or volunteers for anything, teachers were willing to step up. “I never had to beg anyone to help when needed,” she added. “They know it takes an army to educate our students and will do what is best for them every day.”

— Teachers are in their classrooms early in the morning, giving students extra help. “You will also find them using their plan time or Wildcat time helping students any time they need it,” said Sassmann. “That shows me the dedication to their students.”

— Teachers have also been working hard this year on creating and updating the curriculum. “They have completed their scope and sequence and have started their pacing guides,” Sassmann noted. “We will continue this work next year.”

— Increasing test scores have been a focus this year. Teachers have been creating lessons, bell-ringers, and other review activities to make sure students are constantly going over concepts they will need for the test. “I am very excited to see what the results of this extra effort will be,” said Sassmann.

— The leadership team of teachers representing each content area has been working hard on the handbook and other items to get them ready for next year. “The conversations they have had to make decisions that will better educate our students have been wonderful,” said Sassmann.

Students have also worked hard this year, with a final enrollment of 332 students. Of 58 graduating on May 14, 30 earned the A+ Scholarship, and 19 received other scholarships. All told, seniors were awarded $631.072 in scholarships. “What an accomplishment,” said Sassmann, noting the average GPA for our graduating class was 3.34.

— Student leadership is very impressive, Sassmann noted. “The quality of our student-led assemblies, planning for homecoming and prom, and the leadership of students within their clubs definitely makes our school stand out,” she added.

— FFA, FCCLA, and FBLA members competed at the state level.

Sassmann is looking ahead to the 2023-24 school year. “Each year, I plan to ask teachers and students to raise the bar — not by a foot, but just by a hair each year,” she said.

— The leadership team has created 3 goals for next year.

• Culture: Creates a positive learning environment

• Instruction: Teachers will use instructional strategies to lead students to problem-solve and use critical thinking in a cooperative learning environment.

• Process: Teachers will use effective, valid, and reliable assessments.

— Sassmann said staff would continue working on updating the curriculum and adding ACT-type questions and content to the curriculum to help boost student test scores.

— Linn R-2 will add a structured Response to Intervention (RTI) time to give students time to get extra remediation when needed.

“I look forward to working with each of you again next year and can’t wait to see where it takes us,” said Sassmann.

Elementary Principal Tracy Kingsley reported tremendous growth through the Evaluate program, with the following benchmark achievements:

— Kindergarten - 73% of students scored proficient in ELA, and 74% were proficient in Math.

— First grade - 75% of students scored advanced in ELA, and 78% were proficient in Math.

• Dr. Jill Brown visited the school on May 8 as part of the year-end reading analysis. “We reviewed our progress and discussed any changes in our approach for next year,” said Kingsley. “Grade levels noted starting points for each class according to their end-of-year data.”

Next year, the school will start intervention groups immediately and then do benchmarking, data meetings, and follow-up with school-wide intervention with the adjusted groups by the end of September.

• The list of choices for reading assessments was shared by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in late April. There are only four available choices. From the list provided, Kingsley suggested using STAR or NWEA for the required benchmarks, then continuing with Evaluate and DIBELS to guide instruction “as we’ve been doing since teachers have a solid understanding of how to analyze that data and it follows the science of reading.”

— A pre-K to kindergarten transition meeting was held to discuss the students in Miss Sue’s class coming into kindergarten as teachers work to create a smooth transition and prepare for success.

— In May, Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) testing wrapped up, birthdays were celebrated, and presentations were provided on bicycle safety and vaping (grades 4-5). “Thank you to PTO for their support of several field trips this spring, OC-ADCAT for coordinating the vaping presentation, and MoDOT and the Coalition for Roadway Safety for the bicycle safety course,” said Kingsley.

— Teacher Appreciation Week. “Thank you to the many area businesses, individuals, and organizations who showed their wonderful support for our staff,” Kingsley said. “Most of all, thank you to our staff for the work they do every day with our community’s children.”

Student Council reps Lily Strope and Reid Baker presented an update on activities since March.

— Spring sports are winding down, with a lot of positives and growth within sports. The golf team finished fourth at the state meet in Columbia, and a “Powder Puff” football was held for the first time since 2019.

— Blaine Winslow was selected as the March Osage County Anti Drug Community Action Team (OC-ADCAT) student of the month.

— Several FFA contest teams competed at state in Columbia: floriculture, livestock, soils, and forestry. Boone Roberts competed in the Star Farmer competition. FFA earned several state awards, including member growth and superior chapter.

— The National Junior Honor Society inducted new members on April 5.

— FCCLA held its princess tea party and had a great turnout.

— The band’s concert and BBQ at the City Park was well-attended and offered a great day of music.

— FBLA members attended the state convention in Springfield.

— The HS National Honor Society and Tri-M held their induction ceremonies.

— The Junior/Senior prom was held at the community center and was a beautiful night.

— The drama club presented the play “Salem’s Daughter” to the entire student body and then to the community over two days.

Remaining business will be presented next week