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School Board debates future of Kenmare grade school building

A recommendation to make repairs at Kenmare Elementary School rather than build an addition at the high school to house all students in grades kindergarten through 12 sparked a long discussion at the school board’s regular meeting on July 21st.

7/29/09 (Wed)


Kenmare High School building, July 2009


A recommendation to make repairs at Kenmare Elementary School rather than build an addition at the high school to house all students in grades kindergarten through 12 sparked a long discussion at the school board’s regular meeting on July 21st.


Building Committee chairman Jan Kostad started his report by listing four priorities recommended by the committee. The most important project was to replace the lights in the high school gym at a cost of $20,000, with the new and more efficient system projected to save money on the district’s electric bill.


The second priority was to maintain the current elementary building by replacing the windows at a cost of approximately $125,000, converting the heating system to all-electric at an estimated cost of $140,000, and dealing with roof repairs or replacement in the next five years, at a projected cost of at least $100,000. Kostad also noted Farmers Union Lumber provided a cost estimate of $70,000 for materials to construct a pitched roof on the two main portions of the building, with about the same amount for labor.


Kostad reported the committee’s concern about building the addition at the high school and incurring heavy debt. “At the $1.2 million estimated cost, that would be $75,000 a year for 15 years,” he said. “If you take $75,000 out of the building fund [every year], there are a lot of things in the schools that couldn’t be maintained on a timely basis.”


Board president Roger Johnson, also a member of the Building Committee, agreed. “And we’re looking at another $1 million for another gym or multipurpose room up there,” he said.


Kostad continued, “There is a lot of good use out of [the elementary] building yet. With what we have in the building fund and with the stimulus funds, we could pay cash [for the elementary school repairs] and keep the district out of debt. We could get another 20 years out of that building.”


David King immediately disagreed with the Building Committee’s recommendations for the elementary building. “Back in March, the intentions of the board were not to spend money on windows there,” he said. He suggested reducing the proposed addition to the high school by half. “We could cut the cost of the new part down. To me, to spend a half million dollars [on the elementary building], I can’t go for that.”


He started listing options for utilizing space differently at the high school. “We have a huge business room that can be split into two rooms,” he said, then gestured at the walls in the board meeting room, which is the former home economics classroom. “This room could be two classrooms.”


Meanwhile, Connie Schmit offered a motion to obtain a report on the status of the elementary building from a building inspector, to do a cost comparison of making repairs at the elementary building and constructing a new addition, and to hold public meetings to share the information.


Lenny Rodin suggested having Kenmare Economic Development Corporation director Kari Bies locate a buyer for the present elementary building. “If there was a buyer, don’t you think that would make our decision easier?” he said.


Superintendent Duane Mueller offered his first comments on the matter. “I’m not one bit opposed if the board decides to bring a building inspector in so we can find out what we’re getting into,” he said. “I believe if the wishes of this board are that everybody should be under one roof, we can do that within two years or three years for a lot less than what we’d put into that building down there. We need to look at the whole big picture and consider what areas of this school have been traditionally. We need to think outside the box and see what this area could be.”


Business manager Renae Murphy pointed out the district had two years to spend $249,000 in federal stimulus money. “You have to tell the public what you’re going to spend it on,” she said.


Board members continued the discussion, talking about possible inspection and appraisal of the building and the potential for selling it, until Mueller spoke again. “If we have a quick sale, will we be ready to move up there?” he asked. “In five years, are we a two-building district or a one-building district? We need an answer, so we can make a move.”


Enrollment numbers are one factor in the decision, with 280 students projected to start school in Kenmare this fall. Craig Ellsworth expressed his concern about spending money to maintain a two-building district. “Ten years from now, if enrollment decreases, have we done the right thing?” he asked.


Murphy reviewed Schmit’s motion, with Schmit amending it to include only the building inspection and cost comparison, thus eliminating the public meeting. “If that foundation is shot, there’s no point in spending money to fix that building,” Schmit said.


Board members passed the motion unanimously.


Kostad continued with the Building Committee’s report, listing a third priority to replace the existing carpet in the high school with tile over three years, at a cost of $70,000 per year for a projected total of $210,000. The committee’s final priority was to pave the elementary school parking lot.


Board members acted only to pass a motion to replace the lighting in the high school gymnasium on a 6-1 vote.


The board’s attention returned to classroom use during a report by King as chairman of the Technology and Curriculum Committee. He announced the third grade class would be split between two teachers because of student numbers. He also reported six fifth graders would join the 13 sixth graders in a combination 5th/6th grade classroom to accommodate the large number of fifth grade students.


Superintendent Mueller explained he had already contacted fifth grade parents about moving their children to the sixth grade classroom. “And we’re going to bring the fourth grade up here,” he said, referring to the high school building. “Because we’re going to split the third grade, we don’t have enough classrooms. We sent letters home to parents last week.”


High school science

teacher needed

The board voted to accept the resignation of KHS science teacher Odin Norum, although hiring another science teacher at this date may be difficult. Superintendent Mueller reported that 23 science positions were currently open in North Dakota schools, with the Kenmare district advertising across the state as well as Minnesota and Michigan.


High school principal Scott Faul said two inquiries had been made about the job, with no applications returned. “Our schedule pretty much hinges on [hiring a science teacher],” he said, adding that the class schedule he initially planned offered courses by two science instructors. “Our juniors and seniors may only have chemistry as a science elective this year.”


Mike Zimmer asked about increasing the salary as a way to attract a science teacher to the district. King said state law provided such an option, with approval from the Department of Public Instruction, provided the teacher came from out of state.


Mueller noted that while the district was advertising in other states, he had concerns about hiring someone from outside North Dakota. “If their [teaching credentials] don’t match North Dakota’s highly qualified standards, they have to do extra coursework,” he said.


Johnson asked about the possibility of sharing a science teacher with another district, such as Bowbells. “Right now, we’re trying to check every solution possible,” Mueller said. “We’ll continue to advertise, even after school starts.”


In Other Business:

*Board members approved minutes for the June meeting and the district’s bills for payment as presented.


*Murphy said the district’s year-end balance stood at $962,507.53. “We try to keep it around $950,000 because that’s what we need to operate,” she said. She also reported that some of the carryover had been used to pay for technology and textbook purchases in the 2009-2010 budget. The year-end building fund balance was $206,846.51.


*Following a report from Policy Committee chair Schmit, the board voted to eliminate the Early Retirement Plan and the Request for Release of Contract Policy.


*King’s summary from the Technology and Curriculum Committee included the announcement that 30 portable computers would be purchased for classroom use at a cost of $18,000, with another $4,000 needed to update the server and purchase the necessary cards, ports and four hard drives. Installation would be an additional cost. He also reported an unused SmartBoard had been sold to the Powers Lake school district and that the committee had discussed purchasing laptop computers for all students in a specific grade to be used through their remaining school years. “We have no recommendation about that, but it’s something we’ve got to start thinking about,” he said, adding that the Stanley school district is following that practice now.


*Board members supported a motion to pass the new extra-duty salary schedule on first reading, which determines coaches’ and other extra-curricular advisors’ pay on a percentage of the base salary for certified staff, with that percentage increasing based on years of experience. Current base salary is $30,000 annually. The schedule also includes payments of $2000 to instructors teaching an ITV course, with a portion paid by the technology consortium.


*The board approved the first reading of revised policies regarding the compensation of educational classes for teachers and retirement payment for unused sick leave at a rate of $10 per day to retiring employees with at least 10 years of full-time service in the Kenmare district.


*Johnson thanked outgoing board member Connie Schmit for her years of service to the school board. “You know, it’s been fun usually,” Schmit replied, with a smile.


*Board members unanimously re-elected Johnson to serve as the 2009-2010 president of the Kenmare School Board, with Kostad re-elected as vice-president. Board member Mike Zimmer started his three-year term of service, after winning the election in June.


*Board members voted to approve contracts for 24 teachers, two administrators and 10 coaching positions for the 2009-2010 school year. Activities director Scott Faul reported coaches were still needed for 5th and 6th grade boys basketball and C-squad volleyball, with Faul taking the 7th and 8th grade football job.


*The board approved the consolidated grant application in federal funds for the district, including $82,000 for Title I, $44,000 for Title II, $1,500 in additional Title II funds, and $2,585 in Drug-Free Schools money.


*Board members appointed Superintendent Mueller as the Federal Programs/Title Coordinator for the district.


*The board approved revisions made to the employee handbook on first reading, as presented by Superintendent Mueller, including changes to the length of the school day for teachers and the addition of policies related to head lice, bullying and tornado drills.


*Murphy reviewed the uncollected taxes statement for the district with board members, with $102,381.56 applied to the General Fund, an increase of over $2,000 from last year. The amount of uncollected taxes applied to the Building Fund was $5,587.77, an increase of just over $100 from the previous year.


*Superintendent Mueller announced an inservice for CPR and first aid training would be held for staff members on August 13th. New staff members will meet the morning of August 17th, followed by a full staff session at 1 pm and an open house for the public at both buildings from 7 to 8:30 pm. All teachers will work in their rooms on August 18th, with the first full day of school on August 19th.


*Mueller expressed concern about reports the elementary school playground was being used as a dog park. “This is a health issue,” he said, adding he would contact the city hall and police department about the situation. “If it continues, we’ll have to take action on it.”


*Board members asked about the status of the high school football field, which was reseeded in the spring. “It looks good from the road,” Faul said, “but it hasn’t germinated well.” He said the field had been fertilized twice with gypsum used to neutralize the effects of city water, and topsoil and sand also added. “The field has only been [mowed] two or three times all summer.” He suggested that while the field could be used this year, next season’s home games might have to be played at Lignite or Bowbells while the Kenmare field recovers.


*Board members submitted their requests for committee assignments for the coming year, with Johnson and Mueller to make the appointments.


*The next regular meeting of the Kenmare School Board will be held Monday, August 17th, at 7:30 am at the high school.