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School board approves transportation contract, hears plans to seek renewal of referendum

The Albert Lea school board Monday night voted to approve a number of resolutions taking effect in the 2021-22 school year, including a transportation contract that incorporated a one-tier system and some slight changes to start/end times. 

In a survey sent out by the district, families, students and staff were asked a number of questions regarding their preferences in the busing system. According to district Superintendent Mike Funk, those surveys came back saying a majority of survey takers preferred the one-tier system as opposed to two-tiers, and a majority wanted a later start time to the school day.

Funk said the new contract tries to offer the best of both worlds. 

Although times could still change slightly, the current system looks like this: 

Elementary: 8:10/8:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.

Southwest Middle School: 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

High school: 8:30 a.m. to 3:05/3:10 p.m. 

The start times come as a part of the entire transportation contract. Individual start times are negotiated by the bus company and the administration as part of the contract. 

Board member Angie Hoffman brought up the idea of examining the start times individually. Board Vice Chairwoman Kim Nelson said she was concerned the board would be overstepping by trying to change the start times. 

“I think we as a board need to be careful that we aren’t nickel and diming operational decisions,” Nelson said. “… To tie the administration’s hands on how that needs to look, we don’t do that in other areas. We’ve been told by the administration that they’re going to work within those parameters of what one-tier can do … I think we want to be careful about getting into the management style. We’re a governance board.”

Another part of the negotiations included a more organized hub system at Southwest Middle School, allowing students to switch buses without as much hassle. 

The transportation contract passed 7-0. 

The board also learned the district will receive about $7 million in federal COVID relief funds that need to be used by the 2025 school year. 

Funk said the district plans to use the funds in a number of different ways, including technology recovery and future investments, maintaining the district fund balance, adding specialist positions focused on assisting with students’ social and emotional needs, helping them get back from the pandemic, hiring teachers for the new science curriculum at the elementary level, providing administrative support to the online learning academy and expanding the permanent substitute teacher pool from four to six. 

By using some of the funds for technology recovery and future investments, the district will no longer be asking voters for an increase in the operating referendum in the 2021 voting season. 

In 2020 the option to increase the existing referendum from $573.74 per pupil to $714.67 was voted down in the Nov. 3 election, with 63% of voters turning down the proposed changes. Now voters will likely be asked to only renew the existing referendum in the November elections. 

“I really like the idea with the technology,” said board member Dennis Dieser. “I think the community will be very receptive of that help, especially with everything going on right now.”

 

In other action, the board: 

  • Voted 7-0 to approve the final 2020-21 budget. 
  • Voted 7-0 to approve the preliminary 2021-22 budget.
  • Voted 7-0 to remain with the Minnesota Insurance Scholastic Trust after exploring other options. 

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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