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Menahga School hires facility study consultant

The Menahga School Board held a special board meeting Monday to approve a consultant for its facility study.

Menahga is seeking professional help to address space shortages, improve bus traffic flow and tackle 10-year facility maintenance needs.

National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA), of which the Menahga district is a member, has a pilot program with an architectural company that offers facility assessment services at half the cost.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen informed the board Monday that NJPA’s existing vendor isn’t a facility consultant, but can subcontract with any one of the five firms that presented proposals to Menahga.

Wellen advised the board to select a company based on both pricing and familiarity. He recommended Foster, Jacobs & Johnson, Inc. (FJJ), the same firm that completed a facility assessment for the Sebeka school district.

The board unanimously approved FJJ, contingent upon NJPA’s acceptance of them as a vendor. If the contract doesn’t meet NJPA’s conditions, the district will pay the full amount: $6,400. If FJJ is approved, NJPA will cover half and the district will pay $3,200.

Board Chairperson Ernest Huhta Jr. noted Menahga will be the first district to take advantage of the NJPA pilot program.

Board member Durwin Tomperi said NJPA will want to make sure the study is a success.

According to Wellen, FJJ will be able to quickly launch the study, thereby allowing staff to provide input before the end of the school year.

While architectural firms are often hopeful to get a construction contract out of the study, Wellen said the district has made it clear there will be "no strings attached" to this contract.

Potential equalization through consolidation

During a finance workshop two weeks ago, Wellen said he learned of bill in the Legislature that would provide "significant equalization on building projects as a result of consolidation."

If two school districts combine, a building or school remodeling project would be eligible for "enhanced debt service equalization" at the same rate as national disaster equalization, Wellen explained.

Preliminary estimates are 84 percent equalization from the state.

Wellen said he called Sebeka Superintendent/Principal David Fjeldheim the next day to talk about consolidating.

"We should at least have the conversation," Wellen said. "When I heard 84 percent – that’s a huge number."

The House of Representative bill (HF 2746) and its companion bill in the Senate will not make it to the floor for a vote this session, Wellen said, but Menahga and Sebeka could lobby to renew the bill in January or February 2017. The bill was designed for two school districts that decided not to consolidate, he said, so it never got a hearing.

"It’s merely for discussion right now," Wellen said. "When you start talking 84 percent of anything, you can’t ignore it."

Fjeldheim is sharing the information with the Sebeka School Board.

"I think it’s awesome to the information out there," Huhta said. "It gets our communities talking."

In other business, the council did the following:

- Approved teaching contracts for Zach Kaiser, Social Studies; Alicia Eischens, English; Wade Kukriede, middle school math and Jenna Kost, EL.

- Accepted resignations from Joy Rippentrop, Karen Stifter and Eugene Kumpula.

- Authorized administration to hire a permanent substitute teacher.

Wellen said the position is justified based on leave requests.

There were only three days when the district didn’t  hire a substitute during this school year.

Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer said there’s a need for one or two subs every day. Due to a teacher shortage, Mayer said Title I teachers became substitutes on Monday and, as a result, there were no Title I classes that day.

Board member Curtis Hasbargen expressed concern about the cost of a permanent sub. The average cost per teacher is $70,000, including insurance and benefits, he said.

Wellen said a first- or second-year teacher is cheaper than a veteran teacher. The permanent substitute could also slide into any teaching positions that open up.

"I feel it’s a reasonable gamble," he said.

The board approved the hire.

- Appointed Wellen and Buildings & Grounds Manager Charlie Dormamen as project managers for the elementary bathroom model rather hiring a third party. Foss Architects offered to provide a project manager for $4,000.

- Learned the filing period for school board positions opens Aug. 2 and concludes Aug. 16. Terms are up for Brad Goehrig, Curtis Hasbargen and Al Peterson. The state general election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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