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Waubun Board approves logging contract at school forest

The Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School Board hopefully put the school forest logging issue to rest by accepting a bid at Thursday night's meeting.

Bert Wichern's bid of $7,411 was accepted by the Board. The approved bid comes after the bidding process was delayed at last month's meeting because of concerns by some in the community about the logging.

School forest supporters worried about how extensive the logging would be in such a diverse ecosystem.

"Those red oaks are slow growth and there aren't a lot of them," said Board Member Barb Fabre.

Julie Miller, treasurer of the community school forest committee, said she is supporting the school board's move.

"At this point in getting the bids, we have to be supportive of that," she said.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson said that a walk-through could be scheduled with Department of Natural Resources forest ranger Jeff Straub. Straub helped develop the original forest management plan for Waubun and is looking at updating it.

The current plan is still good to go, Anderson said.

"He (Straub) said he stands by the plan that the red oak is past its prime and needs to be harvested," Anderson said.

Miller said that the school forest committee has been busy. It recently paid for a new snowmobile at the school forest to be used for trail grooming. A recent breakfast raised close to $1,400, she said.

Budget concerns were also on Board members' minds, as no one knows how the state budget debate will shake out. The federal stimulus package will help cushion the blow of any loss of state money.

"It seems to be ever-changing, but we get more information each week," Anderson said.

The district has a rough idea of what it would be getting now that a bill has finally passed. The final stimulus package wasn't as much as originally hoped, though.

Funds for construction were left out of the final bill, with Title I and special education funding left intact.

"We're not fully banking on it, but we have an idea on what we will be getting if everything goes as planned," Anderson said.

There is a fear that per pupil funding could take a drastic hit. Anderson said he has heard rumblings that it could be cut by $1,000 to take it down to $4,200 per pupil.

The per pupil sum isn't a set number because each student is given a different weight depending on grade. Kindergartners are weighted at 0.612, grades 1-3 are at 1.115, grades 4-6 at 1.06 and grades 7-12 are weighted at 1.3.

A first-grade prep grant that goes to helping kindergartners also sunsets. That grant provided over $100,000 in annual funding.

"That affects expenditures in other areas," Anderson said.

The district's reserve balance helps matters. "We are sitting a lot better than other districts in the area that don't have the fund balance that we do," Anderson said.

The current general fund balance is approximately $813,000.

A new school budget needs to be approved by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, but Anderson wants to have it done sooner than that, especially if cuts need to be made. Employees who might lose their jobs should have enough time to have something else lined up, Anderson said.

The calendar for the 2009-10 school year was also approved. With Labor Day falling on Sept. 7 and the House killing a bill to allow districts to start school earlier than the day after Labor Day, Anderson said that he had to squeeze some things so that school finished early in June.

"There aren't a lot of bells and whistles to throw into the calendar when you start Sept. 8 and you try to end before the beginning of June," Anderson said.

Snow days aren't built into the calendar and Christmas break is just a week and a half.