School board hears proposal for continued pre-Labor school starts for next 2 years

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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Board approves 4% levy increase

Albert Lea students would continue having a pre-Labor day school start in the coming years under proposed 2023-24 and 2024-25 calendars, according to Superintendent Ron Wagner during a presentation to board members during Monday night’s school board meeting.

The idea to maintain status quo came after he met with the calendar committee at the end of November. He planned to present it to general leadership Tuesday and plans to have professional development input Tuesday through Friday. A business meeting is scheduled for Dec. 19, where it will come before the board for a vote. 

“As we think about our decision-making through proposed calendars, all decisions were centered around students,” he said. “We need to think what is best for our students and staff and community.”

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Wagner spoke with his superintendent cabinet of students, and said members highlighted the importance of ending a semester before winter break.

“There’s a lot of anxiety that often was carried over winter break that they’d have to come back and take finals and things of that nature,” he said.

Students also like the opportunity to have a good start on finding summer employment and that they were ready to return in August. 

Staff also planned for a pre-Labor Day start, Aug. 22 for 2023.

Wagner said in talking with the community consistency, predictability and timeliness were important. The proposed calendars “essentially” mirror the current one with a pre-Labor Day start, classes resuming from winter break on Jan. 3 and commencement on May 17 with classes ending May 22.

For the 2024-25 year, the school year would start Aug. 21, staff would come back from winter break on Jan. 2 and 3, with students returning on Jan. 6. The last day of school would be May 28.

The board also approved 2022 pay for the final 2023 levy, an increase of over 4% from last year that will generate an additional $380,000 for the district. In total, the levy is about $9.438 million. School board member Jill Marin voted against the 2022 pay for the final 2023 levy.

“I will not be supporting it because I do not support levying at the maximum even though I guess property values are growing,” she said. 

Jennifer Walsh, director of finance and operations for the district, originally presented the levy to school board members back in September.

During that presentation, she said most of the increase in the 2022 pay 2023 levy would occur in the general fund after they approved the renewal of the district’s operating referendum.

“They approved that there would be an inflationary factor each year,” she said at that time.

She said the levy is spread out over the tax base of the entire community and that the tax base was increasing at a higher rate than the district’s portion of property taxes, meaning for someone with a $100,000 home their tax rate would decrease because of the larger tax base.

In 2022, school property tax for a $100,000 home was $417, while next year it’s projected to be $366.

During the September meeting, Walsh also noted property owners with minimal increase in property values would see a decrease in their share of school property tax.

The local levy accounts for 11% of the district’s total revenue, while the majority of revenue comes from state aid.

According to Walsh, the majority of expenditures were in salaries and benefits. The second biggest source was purchase services, particularly transportation and utilities.

There are three main areas of the levy: the general fund, community service fund and debt service fund.

Currently, enrollment in the district is higher than Walsh projected for the district’s preliminary budget back in June.

Walsh said the district’s referendum market value was over 20% higher than it was last year.

“What that means is, on average, properties that fall into this category rose by 20.75%,” she said at Monday night’s meeting, though she also noted the increase was “very much aligned” with the rest of Minnesota, and she anticipated another year of referendum market values.  

In total, the subtotal of the general fund levy is $2.59 million.

Walsh noted the community service portion of the fund was changed very little and was based on population. The community service portion of the ley is $238,059. The community service portion includes $175,641 for basic community education, $59,029 for early childhood family education and $1,456 for home visiting. 

The final portion of the levy, debt services, included the sale of bonds worth over $1.01 million. The debt services portion accounts for $2.837 million, almost $1.263 million from bond payments and $1.994 million from long term facilities maintenance..

Walsh also reminded the board all revenue from property taxes was a specific dollar value and didn’t fluctuate.

“What we are seeing … is that as our per pupil — if we take our tax capacity and divide it by the number of pupils, as that dollar amount has gone up our state aid goes down,” she said.

In other action, board members approved the appointments of Sean Gaston and Kristi Kenis as assistant principals at the high school. The position became vacant after Jeff Halverson, the former assistant principal, left to become the district’s executive director of careers, technology and innovation earlier this year. According to Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services, the district was looking to change its model from one principal, one associate principal and two deans to one principal, two assistant principals and one dean.

“This would give us the opportunity to have two deans who have their administrative licensure in the bargaining unit and then can exercise the authority under that administrative licensure,” she said.

The board then went into closed session “to evaluate the performance of an individual who is subject to its authority.”

The next board meeting is at 5 p.m. Dec. 19.