San Juan School District approves a $52 million budget for coming year
Members of the San Juan School District approved the annual district budget, discussed the proposed food bank in Monument Valley and heard from Ute Mountain Ute Tribal leadership at their latest meeting.
At their June 22 meeting, members of the San Juan School District approved the fiscal year budget for 2022/2023.
The $52 million budget for expenditures of district general funds is an increase of $500,000 over the FY21/22 revised budget.
Revenues for the budget include $4.7 million in local funds, a decrease of $100,000 from last year, $32.7 million from state funds, an increase of $1.2 million from last year, and $14.5 million from federal funds, a decrease of $1 million from last year.
The capital overlay fund for FY 22/23 was also approved. The district anticipates collecting $5.2 million in capital revenue during the fiscal year, just $10,000 less from last year. The district also budgeted to spend $3.1 million in capital expenditures in the upcoming year, about $300,000 less than last year.
The leftover funds will be added to the existing savings to total $17.3 million in capital savings for future projects in the district.
The budget was approved unanimously, the entire 90-page budget can be found on the district's website at SJSD.org
At their meeting members of the school board also heard again from Ginette Bott the president and CEO of Utah Food Bank regarding a possible purchase of district land in Monument Valley.
The Utah Food Bank is a nearly 120-year-old organization that addresses food insecurity in the state by providing food to partner organizations to distribute for free. The organization has recently taken efforts to expand services in San Juan County.
Utah Food Bank recently purchased a 7-acre parcel in Blanding where they intend to build an 18,000-square-foot warehouse, along with a greenhouse and community garden.
Bott explained the warehouse will allow for easier distribution to two facilities the group has targeted on the Navajo Nation.
One of the 4,000 square food pantries will be in Montezuma Creek, as Utah Food Bank has secured property next to the dollar store. The organization has had troubles however locating land in Monument Valley.
Utah Food Bank previously approached the district about purchasing or leasing district land in November. After meeting with the board the Food Bank was told to look elsewhere in Monument Valley.
Utah Food Bank reported the pantry would provide a job in the area and would need ¾ of an acre in order to build their desired facility.
Bott reported looking at former daycare and health clinics in the area, speaking with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gouldings, and Utah State University and still having no success in finding a place to house the food pantry.
The Utah Food Banks efforts to work with the Navajo Nation have also been unsuccessful. Bott reports while they were shown a 10-acre lot of land, the food bank was told the withdraw process would take five-years, a time frame Bott says doesn’t work.
“The money we have been given by the state of Utah has to be in progress and used on June 30th of next year. We only have 12 months to have this building or function to a process where we are buying, purchasing, paying out for not only the building, but for infrastructure, and things to put these pantries together.”
Bott explained even with that understanding the Navajo Nation could not expedite the process.
The process is in contrast to the Utah Food Banks' purchase of 1.5 acres in Montezuma Creek from The Utah Navajo Trust Fund. That process was completed in a few months time.
Utah Navajo Trust Fund Executive Director Tony Dayish explained why the sale of land in Monument Valley would take so long.
“Navajo land is not owned by the Navajo Tribe, it’s technically owned by the federal government and you have to go through federal procedures so it's going to take a long time. I think the school district owns all its land the only piece of property you do not own is Montezuma Creek Elementary School, that’s on the Navajo Nation and it took eight years for the school district to get approval to build that gymnasium.”
Knowing that difficulty the San Juan School District has been exceptionally cautious about use of their property in Monument Valley.
Current use of district property includes both the Elementary and High Schools, as well as housing for district employees. School District Superintendent Ron Nielson also noted that a push for 1A spring baseball and softball could necessitate a baseball field on campus.
Additional issues could include access onto district roads, and the question of how much traffic would a food bank bring.
“Even with all of that said there’s probably a corner piece or an acre here that we could look at strategically to find.”
With support of the board district staff plan to bring possible areas to consider at their August board meeting.
School Board member Nelson Yellowman who represents voters in the Monument Valley area shared his support of the Utah Food Bank.
“To serve the community of Monument Valley Utah and the families and their children, mainly the students of our schools. These our are feeder schools that need the services of the food bank. I’m in support of that and that’s my position on that. ¾ of an acre, 1 acre that’s not much.”
Members of the school board also heard from district special education and food services programs.
District Special Education Director Paul Murdock explained that the Special Education department is better staffed at the end of the school year than last year, and praised teachers for their work with the 471 students district wide with learning disabilities.
Murdock did note that ACT scores were down among students with learning disabilities, and the drop was more pronounced for American Indian students.
“We haven’t delved a lot into this data where its so fresh but I imagine it has a lot to do with being out of the building for a year and five-six months.”
Murdock also said that the district is working to improve consultation with parents on children’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and that implementation of phone calls and video calls has helped the district work with parents.
Also presenting at the meeting was district Food Support Director Anna Fredericks.
Fredericks reported the district served over 141,000 meals last school year, with an increase in federal and state reimbursements for those meals higher than any point in the past eight years.
Additionally, several district kitchens are getting needed equipment upgrades.
Fredericks reports the department does have some issues with staffing following retirements this year and three retirements scheduled for next year. Of particular concern is the lack of any food staff at the La Sal School. Although there is a contingency plan in place should the district be unable to hire someone.
The food service department will also be implementing an alternative breakfast model at secondary schools. As a result of state legislation starting next spring, the district will be offering breakfast for students who don’t arrive before school starts, likely a grab and go bag.
Members of the school board also heard from Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Councilmember Selwyn Whiteskunk.
Whiteskunk reviewed the district's implementation of the Indian Policy and Procedure Act, sharing his opinion that the district’s implementation meets the necessary criteria to the extent that the district is willing to have open sessions with American Indian families.
Whiteskunk said there’s still work that needs to be done but added he was impressed with the amount of American Indian students he saw at graduation at San Juan High School.
“I commend the district, I also would like to say that we’re going to have some good times and bad times. We’re going to have some discussions that are going to be heavy, but besides the point, we’re going to come to a consensus to meet the needs of our young students.”
Nielson shared his appreciation for the visit pointing out the district's recent efforts in the Ute Mountain Ute community.
“We are establishing a parent committee on White Mesa, we’ve identified parents, willing to step up and serve on the committee. We’ve had educational nights that have been phenomenal. We have all of our Blanding principals working closely with (Ute Mountain Ute Education Director) Griselda Rogers. So we’ve been able to improve the process in the past year.”
During their meeting the board also approved the Over-The-Counter medication standing order policy. The policy, discussed in the last two board meetings, allows school nurses to administer small doses of over-the-counter medication to students with parental permission.