School board gives nod to tax decrease

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Albert Lea school board approved a proposed tax levy for the upcoming November election. It is predicted to be a 9 percent decrease for taxpayers.

Director of Finance and Operations Lori Volz told the school board there are still corrections to be made to the 2013 levy, but staff will complete that by Sept. 30. The levy is voted on this year and goes into effect for 2014. She also reported that the overall levy for 2013 will drop about 9 percent compared to the 2012 levy.

“The main reason is property tax relief from the Legislature,” Volz said. “So that’s really good news.”

Lori Volz

Lori Volz

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The school board also approved election judges and set a date of Nov. 12 to canvass the votes after the election.


Comparing test scores

At the school board’s last meeting, Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Williams presented recent Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test scores. The scores are below the district’s goal of meeting state averages. Members of the board asked Williams to provide them some context of the scores by comparing them to area schools.

Williams presented Albert Lea’s data and compared it to schools in the Big Nine Conference. In certain areas, like students in special education and students on free and reduced lunch plans, Albert Lea fared better than Owatonna and Winona.

“We’re seeing some pretty consistent successes across comparable schools,” member Jeshua Erickson said. “You really get a sense that there’s a lot of work being done to reach those kids.”

Superintendent Mike Funk said he is seeing success when looking at the scores of special education students, English language learners and students on free and reduced lunch plans.

Williams also shared that the district struggles to keep up with state averages, but Albert Lea has higher numbers of special groups than other districts. Albert Lea has about 9 percent of its students who are English language learners; the state average is 7.8 percent. In special education, Albert Lea has 20.6 percent of its students in special education; the state average is 14.9 percent. And most strikingly, in Albert Lea 50.1 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch plans, while the state average is 38.3 percent.

“We definitely have need in our community,” Williams said.

More test scores come out this week. They are the multiple measurement ratings that give scores to individual scores and measure growth. Look to the Tribune for more on this as it becomes available.

In other action the board:

• Reviewed the district’s bullying policy. Director of Human Resources Jim Quiram said the policy is given to district staff who said it’s helpful to be able to read it. Student school board member Jacob Jensen asked whether there could be anything given to students so they know bullying is not acceptable. Funk said he would talk with high school Principal Jim Wagner and let him know that bullying might be a good topic to discuss during advisory periods. Bullying could also be a topic of discussion for Link Crew.

• Heard from Sarah Veldman, member of the parent-teacher organization at Halverson Elementary School, and Karen Erickson, special services supervisor, about the playground at Halverson. Since 2010, volunteers have been working to build a playground that would be inclusive to children with disabilities. Veldman said they’re just $6,000 away from paying for the project in full. Much of the playground will be built today, and a ribbon cutting ceremony will be at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The ribbon cutting will follow the annual walk that has helped raise funds for the new playground.

• Heard from Funk about a site visit to the Red Wing School District. A representative from the Albert Lea teachers union the Albert Lea Education Association attended, as well as a representative from the custodial bargaining unit. Funk said it was interesting to see how Red Wing had implemented an on-site medical clinic for employees of the district.

He said he saw it as a win-win for employees and the district. The Albert Lea district is researching the idea of having its own on-site clinic.

• Canceled an Oct. 7 workshop. The next school board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Oct. 21 at Brookside Education Center.