Updated: Albert Lea school board to consider partnering with another district for online academy

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk talked to the school board about a potential switch to the district’s online academy during Monday’s board meeting. 

According to Funk, the number of students enrolled in the online academy was declining.

“This past year we only had [a few] students in fourth and fifth grade with the online academy,” he said. “So therefore just number-wise we recommend that we go sixth to 12th next year.

“The elementary principals really support that.”

This year, 75 students were enrolled in the fall and 95 in the spring, and there were 40 students interested in enrolling for the upcoming 2022-23 year.

Funk said the current model deployed was not the most effective, and he would like to get the district in Tonka Online, the Minnetonka online school.

“Basically you enter a tuition agreement with Minnetonka Public Schools,” he said. “Their teachers teach it using the Minnetonka curriculum.”

According to Funk, Minnetonka has been using the online academy for “a number of years.”

Under the agreement, Tonka Online would supply materials, while Albert Lea Area Schools would pay $5,000 per year for a student to go to school. The district would also retain their portion of state aid.

If the district decides to run its own online program, it would be responsible for hiring teachers.

“If we’re hiring for 40 kids, we’re looking at a part-time math teacher, part-time English teacher, part-time science teacher, part-time social studies teacher,” he said. “It’s cost-prohibitive to do it that way when we could do it like this.”

Albert Lea schools would also provide local special education teachers and English language learner help. They would also have a part-time counselor. 

Funk recommended a decision on joining Tonka Online be made in July.

In other action:

  • Board members also heard a presentation from Cathy Baumann, the district coordinator as well as a science teacher at Southwest Middle School, about the Alternative Teacher Performance Pay Scale. This is the district’s 18th year of participating in the program.

“This year we had 68% of our teachers meet our (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals based on student achievement,” she said.

By comparison, last year 49% of teachers met SMART goals.

“I think the teachers are really giving themselves high standards when they’re setting their SMART goals,” she said.

SMART goals were determined by the teachers, but they all had to be measurable.

“If I speak from my point of view as a science teacher, you can also not only come up with your own, but myself and the other sixth-grade science teacher, we’ll team together and we use it for the entire sixth grade in terms of our science,” she said. “We share the same goal so that we’re working towards having and just making sure that we’re getting to all of our students and giving them the same instruction and high-quality instruction that we can.”

Goals have to be approved by the building principal. 

  • The board approved a long-term facilities management plan presented by Steve Anderson, director of facilities for the district, after he updated board members on the plan.

“The state comes up every year, and they basically tell us what funds are available,” he said. “And it moves a little bit every year depending on student count.”

According to Anderson, the district was at about $1.39 million, and this year that number increased to $1.4 million. Anderson said over the last five to six years the budget for facilities management has stayed relatively the same.

Anderson said the district typically had $200,000 each year that could be used for different projects that did not fit under the long-term facilities management plan.

This year the district is doing tuck pointing and caulking at Hawthorne Elementary, roof work at Albert Lea High School and the parking lot at Lakeview Elementary.

He said a pool dehumidification unit should also be replaced at the high school, and noted that to replace the unit a wall will have to be removed.

The board approved the 2021-22 final budget after Jennifer Walsh, executive director of finance and operations, updated members of a few changes to this year’s budget.

Walsh said there was an increase in anticipated use of federal COVID funds by $700,293.

“About $300,000 is summer-specific funds that when we did the revised budget we just didn’t have our plan fully in place, and now that we do we’ve budgeted the revenues and the expenditures for that,” she said.

The district will replace some of its technology devices, replacing smartboards at the elementary schools and middle school with NewLine boards, which are large, digital display boards. According to Walsh, half of the purchases will be made during the current fiscal year, and the other half next year.

Board members then approved an original 2022-23 budget Walsh presented.

“Every other year we don’t know what we’re going to get from the Legislature, but fortunately going into next year some questions are answered,” she said. “We are projecting right now a slight decrease in enrollment, and it’s really exactly the difference in projecting 235 kindergarten students, which we’ve had the last two years. That can change.

“We are trending a little bit ahead of where we were the last two years as far as current enrollments.”

Walsh said there was a projection of 36 fewer students than in the 2021-22 12th-grade graduating class.

Walsh also projected a budget under the assumption there would not be any after-school targeted services.

She projected a $373,115 increase in compensatory revenue from the 2021-22 school year.

The district will use $3.18 million in federal relief dollars to fund student support staff, after-school and summer engagement programs, full-time substitutes and instructional technology.

Walsh said the district planned to reduce the high school substitute teacher budget  by about $70,000. The plan is to combine classes in need of substitutes and have them in larger areas.

The utility budget will increase by about $80,000.

  • Members agreed to hire one probation officer for the Albert Lea High School/Southwest Middle School from Aug. 10 through May 24, 2023.
  • The board agreed to pay $11,718 to the Minnesota School Boards Association for help with the superintendent search and $5,271 to the Schools for Equity in Education. 
  • The district received $4,267 in donations for the month of May, and it spent $5.11 million between May 17 and June 20, with over $4.05 million coming from the general fund.
  • Board members agreed to hire Jodie Hofkamp, Tess Douty, Bobbi Gilbertson, Cory Shaffer, Elizabeth Hoefs, Sa Taw, Kaley Grisim, Krytal Paulson, Natasha Clarey, Amanda Montes, Anna Dietrich, Bradford Willis, Lisa Ferns, Amy Stiehl, Abigail Rothstein, Charla DePoppe and Jennifer Schoembauer for a variety of positions.
  • They agreed to leaves of absence for Andrea BigEagle, Jessa Rame, Tyler Johnson and Jane Beighley, and they accepted the retirement of Dyann Baumann, the resignations of Kaley Hedberg, Kayla Chapel, Sarah Swearingen, Lisa Quam, Kelli Trost, Rachel Sims, Qinyun Fan, Jennifer Hanson and Kari McDermott. They also agreed to the terminations of Tina Jacobson and Susan Schlichter. Contracts for Ruth Delano and Ricki Walters were also terminated due to their provisional teaching licenses expiring.
  • Because this was Funk’s last school board meeting, cake was served after the meeting adjourned.
  • Board members approved a resolution relating to election of school board members on Nov. 8. They also approved a resolution transition for the district’s incoming superintendent, Ron Wagner, from Funk, who is scheduled to take over as superintendent at Stillwater Area Public Schools.
  • The next board meeting will be at 5 p.m. at the Brookside Education Center on July 18.