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School moves ahead on plans for new gym and grade school

Construction of a significant addition to the Kenmare School, including a second gym and grade school classrooms, could begin next year if voters approve the plan.

5/22/13 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Construction of a significant addition to the Kenmare School, including a second gym and grade school classrooms, could begin next year if voters approve the plan.

The Kenmare School Board endorsed a plan, by consensus, to forge ahead with a proposed addition to be built in two phases.

Board members met with representatives of Kraus-Anderson Construction Company May 14th, prior to the regular school board meeting, to review options  proposed for the project.

Ted Rozeboom, educational planner with JLG Architects, started with Phase I to add a second gymnasium to the high school, along with a weight room, two locker rooms, a small commons area and a warming kitchen/concessions area.

He listed changes from the previous proposal, including rotating the gym’s orientation, bleachers on the north and south sides of the space for a seating capacity of 500, and a synthetic surface around the court that could be used as an indoor track. The gymnasium and related facilities would add 19,000 square feet to the high school on one level.

Rozeboom then showed Phase II to add classroom and administrative space on the northeast side of the high school to accommodate the district’s elementary students, along with an enlarged and remodeled Ag Lab.

He noted the elementary area, at 22,000 square feet, would have two classrooms available for each of grades kindergarten through four, along with a special education classroom, and a learning commons area that could include an extension of the school library.

“This would achieve the goal of having a free-standing elementary school as much as possible,” he said. “I think if you were to do Phase I and Phase II, you would have everything you need.”

Costs for the project were estimated at $5.75 million for Phase I, at approximately $150 per square foot, and $7.33 million for Phase II, at $200 per square foot.

Business manager Renae Murphy suggested doing the Phase I portion, along with the remodeled Ag Lab, for a cost of about $6 million. “Basically, that’s what you guys said we needed to start with,” she told the board members. “I’m thinking a project of $6 million is more palatable to the voters than a project of $14 million.”

Board president Lars Christensen disagreed, however. “I’m looking at the grade school addition,” he said. “We’ve been complaining about that for as long as I’ve been on the board. We have to think about adding classrooms.”

“It’s not big enough right now,” added Doug Miller. “We’ve got third graders with our high school kids.”

Rozeboom pointed out the $14 million price tag would be reduced to $13 million if the district chose to build both phases and forego the deferred maintenance issues present at the current elementary building. The $13 million would include maintenance needs at the high school building.

“In your circumstance, you have a questionable elementary school,” he said. “You would have to put $1 million into a building you may not want to hang onto.”

Murphy noted the elementary building and property were valued at $800,000 for tax purposes.

Michele Nelson pointed out the district’s total enrollment numbers continued to hover around the 300-student mark and had not yet shown sustained growth.

Superintendent Duane Mueller cited the increases in elementary student numbers, however. “We’re about five kids away, total, from having to split every elementary class,” he said. “It’s pretty safe to say we’ll have a kindergarten enrollment of 25 to 30 again next year.”

“The limiting factor in the community has been housing,” said Craig Ellsworth, “but we have a lot of housing going on right now.”

“I have a hard time justifying $6 million for a gym and a weight room,” Christensen said. “I’d much rather spend $13 million and have a whole new elementary building plus a gym and a weight room.”

The board’s endorsement of the long-range building plan will result in a referendum for district voters later in the fall. In the meantime, the school board continues to study options for the elementary building and will seek input on the Phase I and Phase II proposals from school staff members and the public.

Board members requested to have a display of the Phase I and Phase II site and floor plans available for public viewing at the school board election on June 11th, followed by the first public meeting about the project sometime in July.

If district patrons approve the project, construction could begin during the summer of 2014, with work taking place in both phases simultaneously.

The board agreed with Rozeboom that several details of the proposal, including space for parking, playground equipment, and drop-off points at the elementary school, still had to be discussed. Some board members reported favorable preliminary interest in the project, though.

“Since the last meeting, I’ve had at least six people come up to me, between the ages of 50 and 75, with a positive response to this,” said Jan Kostad. “They’ve asked when this is going to happen.”

“There’s always somebody going back to that Boeing era [of 30 to 40 students per classroom],” added Lenny Rodin, “but the dynamics of education have changed since then. We’re planning for the future. We want to be ahead of the game, and it all takes time.”

Debate over Special Reserve Fund
Two board members remained adamantly opposed to establishing a Special Reserve Fund for the district by levying an additional 3 mills on taxpayers, even though Murphy reported the state encouraged school district business managers to promote the fund in their home districts.

“You have to set up a special account for it, and there’s a 15-mill cap,” she said. “Then, the money is added to the General Fund. But [the Special Reserve Fund] is a fund that can be used for anything you want.”

Rodin and Nelson opposed to the fund. “Why are we doing this right now?” Rodin asked. “We’ve increased our interim balance quite substantially. I can’t support taxing because we have the right to tax.”

He and Nelson preferred to commit money levied for the Special Reserve Fund for a particular project, but other board members objected.

“We have a whole wish list of things we need to keep improving on,” said Jan Kostad. “One example would be if we have to split another one of the elementary classes and hire a teacher. The Reserve Fund would help with the cash flow of the district.”

As board members listed projects and expenses that could be paid by the Special Reserve Fund, Murphy explained the district’s mill levy had been reduced to 60 mills by the state legislature, with school districts receiving more money from the state and less from property taxes.

“We thought we were going to get 82 mills,” she said. “We took a hit, and we can never levy more than 112 percent of what we’ve been getting. It’s an unfair way of looking at districts who aren’t already at the top.”

“It’s called a reserve fund because it’s money you’ll have when you need it,” said Ellsworth. “We also need to consider that we would have money available for a matching grant if one comes along.”

Miller said the state was all but telling the districts to create the fund. “That way if something comes up, then we have the money to take care of it,” he said.

A motion to establish the Special Reserve Fund passed on a 5-2 vote of the board.

2013-14 budget
shows $83,000 deficit
Board members approved the 2013-2014 school district budget on a 6-1 vote following an extended discussion.

Murphy referred to a revised budget, following action taken by the North Dakota state legislature and the school board. “I had to change some numbers from the previous copy,” she said, noting an increase in teachers’ salaries based on the negotiations, removal of the line item for coal purchases from the Operation and Maintenance section, and adjusted figures for revenue received from the state.

She also reported the taxable valuation for the district was estimated at $12 million.

The revised budget showed total projected revenue of $4,320,188 and expenses of $4,403,315, for an estimated deficit of $83,127. At the April 16th board meeting, the proposed district budget estimated deficit spending at $13,297.

Nelson expressed concern about the deficit and the fact that the elementary principal’s salary reflected an 11-month contract, which was approved at an earlier meeting. “My understanding was that we approved an 11-month contract for the current year, not for subsequent years,” she said.

Minutes reviewed from that meeting did not specify a year for the elementary principal’s 11-month contract.

Murphy said some line items showed an expected increase, including salaries and related benefits along with prices for gasoline and electricity.

Board member Jan Kostad noted the revenue had decreased about $70,000, but he called the budget an estimate of the district’s revenue and expenses. “We want to maintain a high quality school system,” he said. “To do that, you have to have the money there.”

Kenmare students
will use Read 180
Board members revisited purchase of the Read 180 program with elementary principal Janis Gerding. Gerding noted the program is listed as a “best practice” for reading interventions with students who read below grade level.

“It’s what everybody’s using,” she said. “It has to be done with diligence, and it has to be implemented by someone who believes in it.”

Board members asked her about purchasing the program with Title I funds, but Gerding said Title I regulations would restrict use of the program. “If we buy this as a district, we have more discretion about how we can use it,” she said, adding that a trainer would come to Kenmare to instruct teachers in the program’s implementation.

She also described use of Read 180 for summer school classes and the after-school enrichment program. “This can be used year-round,” she said. “It will impact a variety of teachers and students.”

Equipment already owned by the district will support the program, including netbook computers, Mac computers and iPads.

The board approved purchase of the Read 180 program in a unanimous vote.

In other business:
•Board member approved minutes of the regular and special meetings held in April, along with the district’s bills for payment as presented.

•Murphy reported a Building Fund balance of $161,000, with $50,000 of that designated for a payment on the high school renovation project. She suggested the board consider paying for the upcoming ceiling tile project with some of the remaining balance.

•Murphy said the General Fund was expected to have a balance of about $740,000 as the year ended, after the new furnace and related expenses were paid later this summer. “I’m going to suggest you pay both buses out of this year,” she told the board, adding that cost would be about $230,000. She noted changes in the state funding for transportation that made it advantageous for Kenmare to purchase a new bus every year.

•Board members approved a motion to table any action to revise the district’s Compensation of Educational Classes Policy. The current policy states the district will not compensate teachers for completing credits required for license renewal. However, teachers that have completed the renewal requirements and surpassed the BS+32 or MS+8 educational lanes receive $300 per college credit, up to $900 in one school year, for additional credits taken.

•The board approved contracts for Laura Johnson to teach science at Kenmare High School, and Alexandria Hennix to teach at Kenmare Elementary School. Superintendent Mueller said a third contract was offered to fill the elementary music position, but the contract was not returned before the board meeting.

•Board members approved an increase in the Building Fund expenses for the 2012-2013 school year to $200,000 in order to include the high school ceiling tile replacement project.

•Principal Gerding reported the IXL math program would be available for student use during the summer. “I’m happy with the program for the year,” she said. “It was definitely worth the money.”

•High school principal Robert Thom reported progress on the student schedules for the 2013-2014 school year, with the only study hall available during seventh period. He noted that he ran a test on the schedule during a PowerSchool workshop he attended in late April. “We saw that 94 percent of the student requests [for classes] were met,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s working pretty well.”

•The next regular meeting of the Kenmare School Board will be Tuesday, June 11th, at 7 pm. The school board election will be held that day, with polls open at Kenmare High School between 7 am and 7 pm.