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Menahga School Board hosting town hall meeting about building needs

The Menahga School Board scheduled a community forum to discuss how to address the district's building needs.

District residents are invited to share their thoughts with board, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the high school media center.

It's intended as a listening session; no action will be taken at the meeting.

As for the format, Board Chair Andrea Haverinen said she's seeking concise, 3-minute statements from the public. Haverinen will use her discretion to allow longer remarks.

"Are the conversations going to be interactive?" asked Board Member Julia Kicker.

"If the board has questions, of course, that can go as long as it has to," replied Haverinen.

"What are you anticipating then? People trying to come in with fresh, new ideas?" Board Member Durwin Tomperi asked.

"My thought is that many of us have been approached outside of board meetings, and I would like all the board members to hear community input at the same time," Haverinen said. "I want to have another way for community members who maybe haven't showed up before, to come, put the time in and talk to the board directly. I know we tried a bunch of other ways. We haven't tried this before. I don't really know what more we can do to get more community input other than try something different."

Tomperi said he has heard support for the classrooms, but not the gymnasium.

Haverinen said she would also like to hear from those who supported the proposed building plan.

In speaking with a number of people who opposed the recent bond referendum, Haverinen said she found they did not take tours of the school, did not look at the plan, did not check their tax impact or "a variety of things where we had information here."

Havernen said she'd like both sides of the issue to hear each other's arguments.

"We've had facilitated discussions, but don't get people showing up," she said.

"And if no one shows up again?" asked Tomperi.

"Then we make a decision without them. I don't know what else we can do," Haverinen said. "As board members, we have the authority and direction to make decisions for the voters. If we don't get input directly, we'll have to make decisions for them."

Board Member Jon Kangas said the recent vote count should be considered.

"Right, but we need suggestions on how to make it better," Haverinen replied.

She added that some residents have told her they don't have email or Facebook or read the local newspapers.

Boost in state funding

Every school district across the state will see a two-percent bump in state funding for the next two years. The Minnesota Legislature approved the increase in the state formula which grants funding to schools.

"This results in $153,184 in anticipated new revenue for the 2017-18 fiscal year," Wellen wrote in his report to the school board. "With our expected enrollment increase of 20 students, our total general education new state aid will be $445,564. Part of this increase is $103,689 in compensatory revenue (the new money we are receiving based on increased completion of lunch applications)."

In order to continue the free lunch and breakfast program at Menahga, Wellen said the district needs parents to complete free/reduced lunch applications again this year.

"We are currently drafting our explanation, reminding them to complete the forms, whether they qualify or not," he said.

Wellen reminded board members that they need to decide what to do with the district's two lease levies. The district is paying interest for both.

"If we pay them off, our general fund balance would drop below our three-month expenditure goal," he said. "We also have the unknown of creating temporary solutions to our growth issues."

The district would see "dramatically" more savings if the levies were paid off compared to refinancing them, Wellen said.

In other business, the school board did the following:

• Heard a proposal from Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer and Middle School Principal Anne Wothe about upgrading student iPads in grades K through 8. The estimated cost is $192,900.

• Heard a proposal from High School Principal Mark Frank and Activities Director Bob White about scoreboards, painting and acoustic improvements to the main gym and secondary gym. The cost was estimated at $29,182.

• Approved a contract with Destiny Mitchell to teach 2nd grade for the 2017-18 school year.

• Approved the purchase of six photocopiers in the amount of $49,683 and a five-year maintenance agreement with Marco.

• Learned that the school district was not awarded a grant to install wi-fi hotspots on school buses.

• Heard from Wellen that he'd prefer to have a new, three-year contract in place before the school year begins. As of July 1, he is in his last year of his current contract.

The next regular Menahga School Board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 19 in the high school media center.