School board sells high school and elementary buildings, adopts budget, says goodbye to Ehler

By : 
Scott Bestul

The R-P school board voted to sell the district’s high school and elementary buildings at its June 17 meeting. The board also approved a budget for the 2019-20 school year, and convened its last meeting with Supt. Chuck Ehler, who will retire in July.

 

School sale

 

Well House Ministry, a group that plans to renovate the R-P high school and elementary school buildings for use as a therapy/healing center for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), cancer survivors, and victims of sexual abuse/trafficking, bought the buildings in Rushford for $100.

Sherryl Brunner spoke for Well House Ministry during the “public comments” portion of the meeting. Brunner briefly outlined the group’s plans and estimated the final cost of the project will be between 17.5 and 20 million dollars. The plans include major renovation/restoration of the site, which will include therapy centers, residential space, and offices. The present playground site would be converted into a “prayer park.” Brunner said the group would be willing to work with the city or another developer to repurpose areas of the building not used by Well House Ministry. As many as 30 jobs could be created by the center, according to Brunner.  

 

The board considered three offers for the site during the Old Business portion of the agenda. The City of Rushford had offered $1.00 and planned to demolish the school buildings and redevelop the site for residential housing. The Maplewood Group, which had already reneged on two purchase agreements for the middle school building in Peterson, had offered the district $400,000 for the buildings, but had asked for a week to raise the earnest money. Well House Ministry was the third offer.

 

As the board discussed the proposals, Chairman Linder admitted that the offer from Maplewood Group “was more money [than the others], but it’s only more money if you actually have it.” Director Michel agreed, noting, “I don’t think we should consider any offer from Maplewood at all.” Director Grindland said, “When I came here tonight I had it in my head to go with the city’s offer, but it’s my opinion to give Well House at least a shot.” Linder echoed those sentiments when he said, “This is an ambitious project, but it does preserve the building and would be useful to the community. You’re asking for time to put this together and I think that’s reasonable.” Director Michel moved to accept the Well House Ministry offer, and the board was unanimous in its approval.

 

The board has received two purchase offers for the former middle school building in Peterson, and the facilities committee will consider those bids at its meeting later this month.

 

2019-20 school year budget

The board turned its attention to budgets in the New Business portion of the agenda. Business manager Toni Oian first presented a revised 2018-19 budget, which included the following categories:

Revenue             Expenditures       Change              Projected 2018-19 balance 

General fund      $7,877,907         $8,252,891         -$374,984          $1,591,303

Food service       $335,700                       $342,161                       -$6,461              $70,951

Comm. Ed.        $359,144                       $440,228                       -$81,084                        -$129,069

Debt Service       $2,709,071         $2,601,950         $107,121                       $531,317

Fund 21             $76,200             $76,200             $0.00                $0.00

 

Oian noted that the shortfall is Community Education funds is largely due to costs associated with the preschool program. “There aren’t enough dollars to support staff salaries, but the program generally receives support from the general fund,” she said. Oian said the shortfall could be reduced in the upcoming year, as there will be only two sections of preschool offered, compared to three this past school year. The board voted to accept revisions to the 2018-19 budget.

Oian then presented the budget for the upcoming 2019-20 school year, which included the following categories:

                                    Revenue             Expenditures       Change in fund balance

General fund                  $8,034,166         $8,056,013         -$21,847.00

Food Service                  $346,800                       $353,297                       -$6,497.00

Comm. Ed.                    $333,275                       $402,960                       -$69,685.00

Debt Service                   $2,600,511         $2,602,650         -$2,139.00

Fund 21                         $63,900                        $63,900             $0.00

 

In the discussion that followed, Supt. Ehler noted that the Community Education program had recently received word that it will receive a Pathway II Grant, which will provide $75,000 to the program over the next two years. Ehler also noted that the district has received additional funding due to Open Enrollment students who have transferred to R-P since the new school construction. “We’ve averaged 47-48 students in each of the last two years,” he said. “I’d anticipate that [trend] to continue, though perhaps not at that pace.” After some discussion, the board voted to approve the 2019-20 budget.

 

Final superintendent’s report  

 

In his last report to the R-P school board, Supt. Ehler presented a summary of building project costs (with the construction complete on the $35-million school, cost overruns amounted to $29,043), and noted that the state legislature had passed a School Bond Agriculture Tax Credit (known as a Ag2Credit) that will reduce taxes on agricultural land by 40% in 2018. “Assuming that state fund balances remain in the black, this figure could go as high as 70% by 2023,” Ehler said.

 

Ehler also reported the speed study on the Hwy 43/Pine Meadows Lane intersection was completed by Bolton & Menk Engineering and found a daily traffic volume of 5,100 vehicles. It’s anticipated there will be a proposal to reduce the speed limit in this area from 35 mph to 25 mph.

 

Ehler thanked “students, staff, board members, and citizens of the district for the support that was given to me during my 12 years as your superintendent.” Ehler was further honored by the creation of a $500 scholarship in his name by the Foundation for R-P Schools; the scholarship will be awarded annually starting in 2020. Ehler was also named in a resolution by Rep.Gene Pelowski (D-Winona) acknowledging his efforts in flood recovery and construction of the new

School.

 

Other business

In other business, the board:

• Approved the Q-Comp report, which evaluates career advancement options, professional development, and teacher evaluations, for district employees as submitted by Principal Timm.

• Approved the hire of Smith Schafer to complete the audit of the 2018-19 school year. The district has worked with Smith Schafer in each of the last three audits.

• Approved the membership fee of $4,363 to the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) for the 2019-20 school year. The MSBA was particularly helpful to the district as it conducted its search for a new superintendent.

 

Schedule  

The next meeting of the Rushford-Peterson School Board is scheduled for Monday, July 15, at 5:30 p.m.. All members of the public are invited to attend.

Note: The first published version of this article had Well House Ministry referred to as Wellhouse Ministries.