District has been good steward of dollarsPublished 12:19pm Friday, October 25, 2013
Guest column: By Mike Funk
As a public official in two different worlds — as a school superintendent and as a colonel in the Army National Guard, I oftentimes am part of discussions on fiscal responsibility.
Too often I have heard that government entities are being wasteful of tax dollars. As Albert Lea Area Schools moves forward on the school district’s local operating referendum, I have been asked the question: Why is the district not seeking an increase in funding from our taxpayers like some other Big Nine Conference districts along the Interstate 35 corridor?
The answer to that question is quite simple: The district has been a strong fiscal steward of our community’s tax dollars, and the board is not going to ask the taxpayers for more than the district needs. Since becoming your superintendent in 2009, and hiring Lori Volz as our director of finance and operations, Albert Lea Area Schools has saved taxpayers millions of dollar in potential costs.
Some examples of savings:
Bus contract: Upon reviewing our bus contract, we chose to enter a competitive bid process. A new two-year contract was sought, and the district was able to reduce the cost of the contract by $250,000 a year, and receive a fleet of 28 new buses.
High school refunding of bonds: The district refinanced the high school bond payment and reduced the impact on local taxpayers by $1.13 million.
Upgrade of heating, venting and air conditioning: When we arrived in the district in 2009, we discovered that with the exception of the high school, all of our heating systems in the district were original to their buildings from when they were built. Some of these systems dated back to the 1950s.
Volz was aware of a program at the Minnesota Department of Education that offered zero interest bonds to districts that qualified. In 2011, the district submitted our request to the MDE, which had $11 million available to schools for the entire state. Albert Lea Area Schools received all $11 million, thus saving millions in interest costs for the project. This has allowed the district to update HVAC systems in older buildings at a minimal impact to our local taxpayers.
Realignment of the district: As the elementary buildings began to face overcrowding from larger class sizes, and the lack of space from the conversion of classrooms to other purposes (labs, special needs classrooms, etc.), the board examined a number of options to reduce the space crunch.
Rather than go to the taxpayers for funding for additional building space, the district moved eighth-grade students to the high school where space was available and fit the programming to meet the needs of our students, at no significant financial cost to the community.
I encourage community members to consider these factors as they determine whether to maintain support for the district.
Mike Funk is the superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools.