Kingsland board considers options in light of referendum defeat

By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Kingsland’s School Board attempted to sort out what’s next during the June board workshop held Monday, June 4, after the failure of a May 8 facility referendum asking voters to approve the construction of an $8.1 million performing arts and gymnasium addition. 

Board members, along with representatives of Baird, Co., and Knutson Construction, perused the possibilities remaining, including how to make the most of its lease levy authority and indoor air quality (IAQ) funding, to garner operating funds, and to update parts of the school building as necessary using long term facility maintenance funding (LTFM), formerly known as the district’s health and safety budget.

Asbestos abatement has been ongoing at the district’s facilities; plans encompass removing asbestos from the Wykoff site even though it was formally decommissioned earlier during the 2017-2018 school year. Conversation included discussion as to whether the district will build a multipurpose shell structure on the Spring Valley building to expand physical education instructional space.   

Also, the district is working toward what operating funding it needs because the current operating levy, which provides $427.82 per pupil unit, ends in 2020.

Building and grounds maintenance director John Dols registered that he has a schedule in mind for the summer cleaning and maintenance projects slated for this summer and the following summer, trying to fit as much into his budget as he can and make way for potential construction at the close of the 2018-2019 school year next May.  The 2018-2019 school year is slated to begin in mid-August so that LTFM work that will be done can be carried out and started earlier the following summer. 

He shared his reaction to the failed performing arts and gymnasium facility referendum, saying, “I’ve heard…that we don’t ask our math teachers to teach without a classroom, so why do we ask our PE teachers to teach without a classroom?” 

Board member Tiffany Mundfrom offered, “I think people were more focused on basketball and sports and not as much on physical education space.” 

Board member Heather Betts cited, “I’ve had people say that we have two gyms and that we need to move the cafeteria.”  However, the board observed that the cost of relocating the kitchen would likely override the benefits of moving the cafeteria.

“The cafeteria is not labeled as instructional space,” said Mike Hoheisel, of Baird.

Deficit spending

The board reviewed its budget with business manager Amber Uhlenhake Herbrand, who informed them that the district is already deficit-spending for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years.

“The last increase we had (in operating levy) was in 2010,” board member Jackie Horsman pointed out.

Chairman Doug Plaehn added that the district, even if it had tried to garner the highest amount available, never realized the goal amount in real dollars because enrollment is declining, and that’s a trend that the district has concluded will likely continue. 

Board members conversed about how much tolerance the public may have for an operating referendum, when it might be best to hold one and what to include with it. 

Kingsland Superintendent and High School Principal Jim Hecimovich expressed his opinion that if the district takes any action, it should focus on making LTFM improvements and aim for an operating budget increase sometime in the near future.    

Wykoff bus garage, equipment

The sale of the Wykoff bus garage was the final facility item discussed during the workshop, as the district hopes to put it up for sale soon.  However, Hecimovich answered Mundfrom’s question regarding whether the district can sell it as is, due to the potential for oil and other chemicals to have been used in the building by saying that he would contact the district’s attorney for details. 

Dols brought up the board’s suggestion to have a yard sale of surplus school equipment at the Wykoff site, listing kitchen, shop and playground equipment as things that could be sold, and wanted to know when the best time would be to put tags on the items and set them out for the public to buy.  At the end of the discussion, the board instructed Dols to get more information on auctioning the surplus instead of holding a yard sale.   

SMEC, MSHSL changes

Dan Armagost, of Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC), came before the board to update the members on the joint powers agreement that governs how the SMEC board operates.  He related that the SMEC board has always been comprised of superintendents from the seven member districts, but it was recently determined that that arrangement could not continue.  Therefore, the new agreement would require a school board member from each district to represent their district, and the superintendents would function as the organization’s cabinet. 

He also spoke about how SMEC is building its own structure near Rose Creek and how if one of the school districts decides to depart from the cooperative, it would leave as a debt-free entity — bearing no financial responsibility for the new building.

“Do the districts seem pretty committed?” Hecimovich inquired. 

Armagost replied there are commitments so far from Grand Meadow, Southland, Glenville-Emmons and Alden-Conger, leaving Kingsland, LeRoy-Ostrander and Lyle to decide.

Kingsland’s Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) membership will be renewed in the coming weeks because membership is essential to operating a school district.  In his role as activities director, Dols reported that Kingsland’s football team will be a nine-man venture starting in 2019-20 instead of an 11-man team, and that the school will no longer be part of the Three Rivers Conference — becoming a part of the Southeast Conference, which has smaller schools more similar in enrollment, next school year.  

Testing change possible

Hecimovich shared about the district’s consideration of transitioning to a different standardized testing curriculum that would cost the district far less than what the NWEA tests cost per pupil.  “We currently use NWEA, but we’re looking at Naiku because NWEA costs us $13 per kid, and at the high school, we could go to Naiku at $5 per kid,” he told the board. “There are 64,000 questions in the Naiku banks, so teachers can design their own test.” 

Kingsland Elementary Principal Scott Klavetter added that at the elementary, the Fastbridge testing program is appealing because of the ability to get results that are then used as predictors for the coming school term. 

Horsman inquired as to how continuity of instruction and testing would factor into kindergarten through 12th grade testing, as she felt that the separate testing platforms would essentially be separate tools. 

Klavetter answered that Fastbridge is only currently available to kindergarten through eighth grade and is adaptable to the elementary and junior high instructors’ test-designing needs. 

“It tells what level you are at,” he said. “If you’re a kid who’s two grades ahead, it asks questions that are two grades ahead, and now that the elementary is on a mostly block schedule, the kids who are flying and need to be pushed are, and the kids who need intervention get the intervention.”

Parental concerns app

Hecimovich told the board members that the district is going to employ a new app that he hopes will help weed out the various issues that parents would like addressed.  The app, StopIt, will allow parents to anonymously report their concerns to the district.  He acknowledged that at the outset, there may be more complaints or frustrations aired than the district can deal with immediately, but that ultimately, at a cost of $300 annually, its platform for parents’ concerns will help students as they navigate their school days.          

Miscellaneous items

Filing for open school board seats will begin July 31 and end Aug. 14, and interested persons should contact the district office to obtain information on filing.  Personnel items on the upcoming regular school board agenda may include the resignation of varsity baseball coach Jamie Fenske and the hire of seventh through ninth grade mathematics instructor Scott Eckelkamp. 

The next regular Kingsland School Board meeting is slated for Monday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school choir room, and the next workshop is set for Monday, July 2, at 6 p.m. in the elementary conference room.  The public is welcome to attend. For more information, log onto the Kingsland website or call 507-346-7276.