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By Jana Peterson
Pine Knot News 

School district funds better than predicted


November 30, 2018

Although the Cloquet School District ended its fiscal year 2018 with a deficit, the annual audit by WIPFLi CPAs and Consultants brought the somewhat usual “things are better than originally predicted” news.

After predicting a budget shortfall for fiscal year 2018 of $507,095, the actual budget deficit for the district’s unassigned general fund balance was only $116,828, a difference of $390,267. The fiscal year runs July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018.

The $116,828 will be covered by the district’s reserve funds, bringing reserves from $8,483,357 to $8,366,529 out of a total budget of nearly $33 million.

WIPFLi gave the district’s financial statements an “unmodified opinion,” which means the auditor found the statements to be true and correct. They found no deficiencies in the financial reporting or compliance over federal monies as well.

“It couldn’t be any better,” said WIPFLi senior manager Jennifer Smith. “We really have nothing to report.”

Student enrollment remains steady with some growth. Total enrollment for 2018 was 2,752 vs. 2,704 for 2017 and 2,694 for 2016. In 2018, 2,097 students are from the Cloquet School District area, while 655 ware nonresident students.

According to the audit results, the average cost per pupil unit was $11,743 for fiscal year 2018. There is no state average available yet, but in 2017 the average cost to educate a student in Cloquet was $10,941 vs. the state average of $11,548.

“So what you’re saying is education is a bargain in Cloquet,” said board chair Ted Lammi.

Financial statements have to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education by the end of December.

Board considers ‘therapy dog’ policy

In other notes, the school board heard a presentation by Cloquet Middle School teacher Clay Foxx, on therapy dogs. Foxx works with students with specific learning disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder or emotional behavioral disability; he is currently training with his dog, Cruze, to get certification as therapy dog and trainer so they could work in the school with students.

Foxx explained that a therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to members of the public, typically in facility settings like a school or nursing home. They are not the same as a service dog, which is generally trained to work with and for one specific person.

Foxx said he was trying to find a way to reach some of the toughest students, especially those on the autism spectrum.

“Research pointed to therapy dogs,” he said. “Students gravitate toward animals and the animal will gravitate toward students with needs.”

Research over the past 10-15 years has shown that therapy animals can help students achieve better fluency and comprehension, and contribute to emotional and rational development. A student might read to a dog in the classroom, and know that there would be no judgment, therefore decreasing any anxiety.

“Just having an animal in classroom, students release endorphins and it decreases anxiety,” he said.

On the down side, there is at least one student in the middle school who is allergic to dogs, and that would have to be a consideration, Foxx said.

The board did not decide whether or not the district will pursue using therapy dogs, but it did give permission to the middle school and superintendent Michael Cary to continue to research policy options and bring that back to the board in the future. CMS principal Tom Brenner is supportive of the idea of a therapy dog.

The next Cloquet School Board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10 in the Garfield School board room.

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