School board decides to transfer capital funds

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some capital projects will be put on hold this year as the Albert Lea school board decided Monday to transfer $75,000 from the capital budget to the general fund for the 2008-09 school year. The vote was 4 to 2, with Vice Chairman Bill Villarreal and board member Bill Leland voting against it.

“I would hate to see districts all over the state take advantage of this and send a message to the state that this would cure minor issues,” Leland said. “This is bigger than this $51.”

Villarreal called the opportunity a “Band-Aid.”

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“I’m not totally convinced,” he said. “I need more convincing than what we’ve gone through these last couple of meetings. I struggle with this one.”

During the 2008 session, the Minnesota Legislature voted to allow school districts across the state to transfer up to $51 per pupil unit — how a student is weighted in the funding system based on grade level — from the capital fund into the general fund just for the 2008-09 school year.

For Albert Lea, that means the district could have transferred up to $190,000 for general use. The school board Monday decided to transfer only $20 per pupil unit, adding up to roughly $75,000.

There are 3,200 students in the Albert Lea School District and 3,800 pupil units, according to Director of Finance and Operations Larry Kellogg.

This one-time transfer could go to pay for the school district’s half of a school liaison officer, adding more time for a Southwest Middle School math teacher, assisting grant funds to create a position at Lakeview Elementary School that would be dedicated to reading and math goals for the school and upcoming paraeducator needs across the district.

“When you look at this bottom line, in my mind I feel this is a Band-Aid that the legislation is trying to get us more funds instead of giving us funds to get the job done,” said Chairman Ken Petersen, who voted for the transfer. “I think that is kind of frustrating.

“We do have a need at Southwest. We do have the needs at Lakeview, they’re never going to go away. I feel we need to help those kids as best we can,” Petersen continued. “There’s no right answer because we are not properly funded.”

School board member Jolinda Schreiber said, through talks between the school board and the community, voters in the district have asked the board to make a choice between capital projects and cutting operating funds. The board, she said, then had to tell the community that their hands were tied.

“This is a one-time shot where the state says, ‘Now we’re going to give you that choice,’” said Schreiber, who voted for the transfer. “I wish I didn’t have to choose.”

The funding of a school liaison officer was approved at a previous meeting after an agreement with the Albert Lea City Council that the district pay for part of a school resource officer. That unbudgeted expense will cost $19,100.

There are going to be 21 more students at Southwest in the 2008-09 school year, which necessitates more math classes. The board approved Monday adding two-tenths of a full-time position to the math department, which will cost roughly $8,700.

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.

“I think that it’s important to have the full-time math teacher at Southwest and the school resource officers at Southwest and the high school,” said board member Sally Ehrhardt. “We need to pay for those and this is one way to do it.”

Director of Facilities and Transportation Bruce Olson has a five-year capital facilities plan that goes out to the 2011-12 school year. The 2008-09 school year has $614,000 budgeted for various projects, but Olson said at a June school board meeting 11 projects could be postponed and free up $75,000.

Funds would be taken from projects at all but two school buildings. This will postpone some projects until future funds are available. Such project that could be postponed include the replacement of windows to become more energy efficient, track maintenance at Hammer Field, work on the Southwest wrestling room ventilation system, replacement of exterior doors at Albert Lea High School and other energy efficiency projects.

Olson said at a June meeting that the projects will eventually get done, just not in the coming school year. The school board did not specify which projects would be cut, but Olson had previously presented the board with options.

Leland, who voted against the money transfer, said the capital budget and projects are important.

“I just believe that the projects we have in place right now are much needed. A lot of the projects are continually delayed over the years,” he said. “We need to stay ahead of our capital projects.”

Kellogg said in future years, if needed, money can be transferred from the operating fund back to the capital budget.

“We’ll continue to spend capital dollars as wisely as possible to ensure a good learning environment for the students,” Olson said. “We’ll make it work.”

In other business, the school board:

– Approved an agreement with Albert Lea for the seventh- and eighth-grade sports agreement. There is no change in the amount that each of three partners are paying, $13,000. The third partner is Community Education.

– Approved the Albert Lea High School student handbook for 2008-09. Items changed included the attendance policy, cell phones and electronic devices policy, weighted grades policy, commencement participation policies and the extra credit policy. Important parts of the student handbook will also be translated into Spanish. The handbook will be completely electronic, with a few hard copies for parents without the Internet.

– Approved donations from community members: $6,500 from the Minnesota Community Foundation for the Americorp Program, $5,000 from the Jeffers Foundation for after-school enrichment, $500 from Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric for Albert Lea High School graduates, $2,200 and $1,900 worth of instruments from VEGA Productions for the Albert Lea Elementary Instrumental Program and $2,000 from the United Methodist Church for the Southwest Middle School After-school program.

– Approved a 2 percent salary increase for the Adult Basic Education coordinator contract.

– Approved contracts for the administrative assistant and energy manager for the coming school year, including a 2 percent increase for the administrative assistant and no increase to the salary of the energy manager.

– Approved a request for a resignation. The request by the speech pathologist was for a leave of absence to spend more time with family, but Superintendent David Prescott said it is difficult to find a temporary replacement for the position because of a shortage of speech pathologists in the Midwest. There is a candidate who will work on a full-time basis.

Designated the Albert Lea Tribune as the official district legal newspaper.

– Approved the Area Learning Center student handbook for 2008-09. There are no dramatic changes from the previous handbook.

– Approved the renewal of annual membership in Schools for Equity in Education, Southeast Service Cooperative and Minnesota School Boards Association.