Administrator’s Corner: Despite challenges, the Albert Lea school district remains dedicated

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 26, 2021

Administrator’s Corner by Jennifer Walsh

Fourth quarter begins in only two weeks; this will signal the final push to the end of arguably the most challenging year in education. Other administrators have shared the challenges unique to their role, and they have described examples of great ingenuity, compassion, and flexibility.

Jennifer Walsh

As the director of finance and operations, my team has also experienced a year like no other! Our food service partners have risen to numerous challenges.  They have served meals in schools, packed meals to take home, prepared “heat and eat” options to distribute on school buses, and orchestrated large distribution events before Thanksgiving and winter break. Every request has been cheerfully executed. Our transportation partner, Albert Lea Bus Co., has also been amazing. I know from experience that making even minor changes to routes is difficult. Still, they transitioned to a two-tier route system with apparent ease so that we were in compliance with Minnesota Department of Education orders. They also provided the staff and vehicles for meal distribution at 13 sites throughout the district.

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The custodial staff has altered their schedules and routines to ensure sanitized schools for our students and staff. These extra duties were added without complaint, knowing that everyone needs to do their part to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.

Budget work has been more time-consuming than most years. Fortunately, the district has received significant federal funding to help cover new COVID-related expenditures: registered nurse, health aids, PPE, thermal scanner for each building, student technology devices, hot spots for internet connectivity, Distance Learning Academy supports, second tier of busing, etc. We did lose some enrollment this year, but the larger impact to the budget has been the absence of after-school learning opportunities.

Moving forward, the district faces financial challenges. The enrollment is projected to remain stagnant or even slightly decline. Minnesota’s budget outlook does not bode well for school district funding increases, and a final decision probably won’t be available until late May or June. We were not successful in passing an operating referendum increase last November, which increases the uncertainty significantly.

We remain dedicated, however, to providing a comprehensive educational experience in a safe environment for our students while remaining fiscally responsible.

Jennifer Walsh is the executive director of finance and operations at Albert Lea Area Schools.