School board still talking money transfers

Published 9:40 am Monday, June 30, 2008

The Albert Lea school board is still deciding whether it wants to transfer money from the capital budget to the operating budget — something it couldn’t do prior to the 2008 legislative session — but Wednesday morning it made clear the few items on which the money could be spent.

“I think one of our goals has been student achievement,” said school board Chairman Ken Petersen. “One of our internal goals as school board members is to do what’s best for kids.”

One-time money made available to the district by the Legislature would go to pay for a school resource officer, increasing time of a Southwest Middle School math teacher, to help fund a position at Lakeview Elementary School and paraeducator needs.

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In the 2008 legislative session, legislators gave school districts the option to transfer up to $51 per pupil unit — potentially $190,000 total for the Albert Lea school district — from the capital budget to the operating budget to help out with costs. This opportunity is only available for the 2008-09 budget. There are about 3,800 pupil units in the Albert Lea district.

The school board is expected to make a decision at the next school board meeting July 21.

The school board discussed using the potential funds to pay for the school resource officer, which wasn’t expected when the district made up its budget. This is going to cost the district $19,100.

The money would also pay for an increase to full-time status for a seventh-grade math teacher, which would cost roughly $8,700, and a full-time teacher at Lakeview who would spend extra time on math with at-risk students.

The position at Lakeview is dependent on a grant, for which Principal Jean Jordan applied. The grant would cover half of the position’s salary. According to the requirements, the school district would then chip in around $22,000. Lakeview does not receive Title I funding, which would help pay for this position.

The extra time for the Southwest math teacher comes because the student population is expected to increase there next year, said Superintendent David Prescott.

He said transferring $51 per pupil unit would more than pay for the four expenses considered. The total for three positions — minus the paraeducator expenses — would be $50,000, roughly $13 per pupil unit.

One unexpected expense could come for the school district: an extra need for paraeducators. With all four expenses, the school board suggested taking $70,000 from the capital budget for the general fund.

Director of Facilities and Transportation Bruce Olson brought to the school board workshop Wednesday 11 projects that could be postponed, all of which total $75,000.

Projects include various maintenance around the district, specifically to five buildings and Hammer Field. Prescott said the projects could be done eventually.

At Hammer Field, painting the light poles and track maintenance would be postponed, saving $27,500. Brookside Education Center would not see repairs done to window covers or roof drain splash blocks, totaling $5,000.

Halverson Elementary School could have its courtyard window replacements postponed, saving $15,000. This is a project that could reduce energy costs.

Postponing maintenance projects at Hawthorne Elementary School could save $18,000. A few projects, such as updating the energy management system, could reduce energy costs.

The Southwest wrestling room ventilation system needs to be worked on, but postponing that project could save $4,000.

At the high school, the district could hold replacements of a few exterior doors and save $5,500. However, Olson said he could use that money instead to repair concrete near the building’s front door that is posing a safety hazard.

School board member Sally Ehrhardt said she doesn’t feel comfortable cutting energy-saving projects.

Vice Chairman Bill Villarreal said he doesn’t like the idea of postponing any projects.

“I don’t like taking from Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

Board member Jolinda Schreiber suggested taking $70,000 from the capital budget and putting it into the operating budget to cover the personnel expenses. That would leave $5,000 for the high school concrete repair.

The 2008-09 preliminary capital budget is $1.3 million. After total expenditures, there will be roughly $64,500 as a remaining balance.

The school board discussed cutting projects as opposed to dipping into the reserve. However, Director of Finance and Operations Larry Kellogg said the decision could be to use some of the reserve, which is usually held for projects that come up that aren’t known when the budget it set.

Levy goes into effect Tuesday

The operating levy referendum approved Nov. 6, 2007, goes into effect Tuesday. Taxpayers last year voted yes, yes — approving both levy referendum questions. Coming in the 2008-09 school year, the per pupil funding from taxpayers within the Albert Lea School district will increase from $489 to $958.

The levy will last seven years and give the district a total of $1.8 million, which is roughly 10 percent of the school district’s budget. The rest comes from state and federal aid.

The average taxpayer, on a home valued at $100,000, will see an increase of $10.41 a month — or $125 a year — on his property tax statement.

Taxpayers will see the increase on their property tax statements in March 2009. There will be no change to payable 2008 taxes, according to county figures.