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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • School Board makes more cuts as wait on stimulus funds continues

  •     The St. James School Board met Monday night, June 8th primarily to discuss stark financial realities. Board members heard about a $477,172 budget shortfall from the 2008-’09 school year and a projected $409,237 shortfall for next year. With these numbers in mind, and without knowing how much s...
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  •     The St. James School Board met Monday night, June 8th primarily to discuss stark financial realities. Board members heard about a $477,172 budget shortfall from the 2008-’09 school year and a projected $409,237 shortfall for next year. With these numbers in mind, and without knowing how much state stimulus funds will be available, the board was forced to continue making financial cuts, and to borrow huge sums of money to cover a projected debt.
        Julie Schmidt had been the Health Assistant for the last 10 years for School District 840. On Monday, she was laid-off because of “Governor Pawlenty’s projected drastic financial reductions to schools,” as stated on the board agenda. All board members expressed deep regret for the cut. Superintendent Nordy Nelson said the financial reductions “force us to come to this conclusion.” Other members stated how much they appreciated Schmidt’s work and that there just wasn’t any other options.
        Schmidt herself arrived at the meeting minutes after the decision was made along with Jane Wolle, senior Health Assistant. In an emotional speech, Wolle made her opinion known that Schmidt will be a tough loss for the school district saying with doubt, “we’ll see what happens next year.”
        Schmidt’s termination, along with a rash of other cuts in the last several meetings are a response to the aforementioned budgetary shortfalls and Pawlenty’s statewide financial reductions. The reductions in student aid along with what are called “dollar shifts” forced the school to finalize a loan for $1,227,500.
        That money will be used to cover bills as early as February, 2010, the projected time in which the school will be out of cash for the school year. “Dollar shifts” are a budgetary move from the Governor to save money in the shortterm. According to Nelson, 25% of cash for operating the school in 2010 may be pushed back to next year. Board members approved the resolution to “award the sale of general obligation aid anticipation certificates of indebtedness,” 4-0. The school district will be investing the funds as soon as they can.
        The $1.227 million loan dwarfs the proposed $500,000 loan to help pay for the new heating and air conditioning system in the high school.  Board members approved this measure 4-0 as well. (Tim Pinke and Michelle Mohlenbrock were not in attendance.) The money will come out of the general fund.
        Financial relief should be available soon with Governor Pawlenty making provisions for the state stimulus plan. However, the question of how much money is still very much in question. $700,000-plus was the number thrown around at Monday night’s meeting. Still, board members were audibly frustrated with Governor Pawlenty’s school cuts.
        “The Governor laid out a plan for no new taxes,” said Bill Brown, “but that doesn’t say anything about new fees.”
        In other news, board members discussed the findings of the 25-member Facility Commissioning Committee, who met in April to discuss moving all classes to the north campus. Nelson stressed this move would happen sometime in the future and that it would take years to finish such a task. One recommendation that could happen as early as 2010-’11 school year is the construction of a 4th-grade “All-Purpose room” at Northside. The school district would take the Lease Levy and Capital dollars currently used for the yearly cost of Marian Hall ($40,000) to construct the room. Monday, board members voted to start the process of putting that recommendation into place. That is, administration will investigate the situation, there is no guarantee this would happen.
    Page 2 of 2 -     Larry Harbo, Health & Safety Director, presented a review of “Attachment 99,” a document outlining necessary Health & Safety tasks that need addressing in the school facilities. Among the concerns were Osha-related issues such as lab safety, lock out/tag out for the custodians, employee right to know hazardous material, and a targeted energy audit. The board approved Harbo’s review 4-0. Harbo’s annual Environmental Consulting Agreement, a renewal of $17,400 came up Monday. Members unanimously approved the measure, with Brown saying “we appreciate what you do -- it’s a complicated world.” Harbo returned the sentiment.
        In other new business, two new proposed policies, a sex nondiscrimination form and a religion policy were approved for first reading.
        In old news, two board-related policies were presented for approval. First was the “School Board Member Development” policy. This deals with attending seminars and workshops, it was passed. The second of this kind is the “School Board Committees” policy, which talks about the continued fashion of supporting decision-making by way of committees. This measure was also passed.

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