With glowing praise for Wadena-Deer Creek School’s business office staff, the district received a “clean” audit report from Eide Bailly.

Brian Stavenger, Eide Bailly partner, presented the district’s draft audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. The “clean” audit shows the district follows the set accounting rules and does not have material misstatements. The district had one audit finding of a lack of segregation of duties, which is common with smaller business offices, and there were no findings for the federal awards and Minnesota legal compliance.

The final audit is approved at the December school board meeting along with the Truth in Taxation discussion on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. There is a presentation and time for public comments at the meeting.

From student enrollment to the general fund balance, Stavenger said the district has seen good consistency over the past five years. The district has a budget of about $14 million. The school board approves a preliminary budget in June the previous year, a final budget during the year and then compares it to the actual revenues and expenditures at the end of the year. The district’s business staff came with an estimation of $33,000 for the revenue budget. Stavenger said the goal is to come within 5% of the actual budget, and the district came within 0.2%.

“For all intents and purposes you nailed your revenue budget,” Stavenger shared with the school board on Nov. 22. “Very, very good job on revenues.”

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“Our business office, I commend them on the good job that they do,” said Superintendent Lee Westrum. “Brian (Jacobson) and his staff have done a really good job of estimating our expenses and our revenues and getting those budgets submitted. It was my hope that we’d get close, I never thought we’d probably get that close.”

Though the difference between the final and actual budget shows a negative percentage, it’s because student activities did not have a full return in the 2020-21 school year, as Stavenger said. Overall, the district estimated a $148,850 deficit and ended with a $63,029 decrease in the general fund.

Wadena-Deer Creek Schools has maintained a consistent general fund balance over the last five years.
Contributed / Eide Bailly
Wadena-Deer Creek Schools has maintained a consistent general fund balance over the last five years. Contributed / Eide Bailly

The district has a general fund balance of about $3.5 million, which is split into non-spendable, restricted, assigned, committed and unassigned categories. State aid, for example, must go in the restricted category and can only be used for certain costs. The district might also choose to commit certain amounts for aspects like new buses or the tornado recovery effort, which can be changed and moved as different decisions are made. The district has about $1 million in the unassigned category.

In the community service fund, there is about $200,000 and the food service fund has over $350,000. The district yearly, since 2018, has transferred funds from the general to the community service fund to offset operating deficits. The food service fund is high with federal funds paying for student meals due to the pandemic.

The audit also included a federal funds audit, which is required for districts who received and spent over $750,000 in federal funds. WDC, much like districts across the country, received pandemic related funds with expenditures totaling about $2.4 million.

TCHC tax abatement application hearing

As discussions are continuing about Tri-County Health Care's tax abatement application, WDC held a public hearing during their regular meeting. Tri-County is seeking 100% abatement for 15 years.

Tri-County president and CEO Joel Beiswenger said the hospital is following the tax abatement process instead of a tax increment financing district after an application was disqualified due to debris being removed from the site.

Of the property taxes eligible for WDC district taxpayers, Westrum said the general levy is the one eligible for abatement, not the special levy. The district tax portion of the new clinic is projected at $45,591 yearly, or $683,865 over the 15 years. In an email following the meeting, Beiswenger said they are discussing changing the abatement amount to the net projected increase in taxes, which would be $37,277 yearly, or $559,155 over the 15 years.

The district plans to match their levy to the abatement amount and it would be a “wash” for taxpayers, according to Westrum. The change would be a $6 decrease for a $100,000 house and then a $6 increase. The change would start with the 2024 taxes.

“We certainly are willing and interested to go through this and negotiate the amount … so that it doesn’t harm any of the existing taxpayers but still brings the benefit to Tri-County to help us spur the additional program growth, staffing growth and really the economic development that goes with that,” Beiswenger said.

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No members of the public shared during WDC’s tax abatement hearing. The city of Wadena also had a public hearing where community members expressed the hospital’s importance to the community and how the new clinic should not be an increased cost for taxpayers. Otter Tail County will also review the abatement application.

The school board will vote on the application in December.

Board members congratulated:

  • Senior Madison Packer for her wins at the Section 8A tennis championship and the state consolation championship. Westrum said these wins were an “extraordinary feat.”

  • Tennis coach Jordan Cresap for his Section 8A tennis coach of the year award. He has worked to grow the girls’ tennis team to about 30 participants.

  • Junior Bjorn Brunsberg, junior Lane Hoefs and freshman Amber Collins on their state cross country runs where they placed among the top 100 runners. “We have a good thing going and think they’re not only a testament for quality running but also quality teammates and we take a lot of pride in working together and having strong chemistry,” Coach Mike Brunsberg said.

  • The FFA horse judging team for their bronze and silver awards as a team and individuals at the national competition. The team included seniors Destiny Berg, Lily Roemmich and Codey Wolff and sophomore Faith Koning, and junior Jade Benning served as an alternate. Assistant FFA advisor Heidi Wolff served as coach.

The board also approved:

  • The hires of Tasha Steffens (Elementary Paraprofessional), Kendra Burger (Food Service) and Julie Verdugt (Food Service).

  • The retirement/resignation of Renae Kircher (Elementary Paraprofessional).

  • Paying the district’s bills totaling $580,488.61.

  • Donations to the district totaling $1,838.

  • A Minnesota State High School League foundation grant application. Gallant said the district waives a lot of fees and the grant helps supplement these costs. The district usually receives about $2,500.

  • A resolution for special school elections to be at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center. A special election is not planned for this year; the resolution is an annual Minnesota law requirement.

  • A contract with the administrative assistant, bookkeeper, custodian union.

  • A contract with the administrator’s union.

  • An elementary holiday music festival of kindergarten to fourth grade students on Dec. 17 will have online viewing available.

At a special meeting on Oct. 26, the board approved:

  • A two year contract with the teacher's union.

  • A three year lease with the Wadena Hockey Association for ice rental for the JV and varsity boys' hockey teams.