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Menahga School Board will seek public input on possible bond referendum

The Menahga School Board tabled the decision to schedule a building bond referendum this spring, opting instead to seek community feedback about a possible Nov. 8 voter-approved referendum.  Gary Olsen of Ehlers & Associates, the district’s financial advisor, presented preliminary information on a 20-year bond – potentially ranging from $9.6 to $26.6 million – assuming a 3.85 percent average interest rate and a May vote.  

“We know you’ve been struggling with space issues for some time,” Olsen said. “We know the board hasn’t decided.”  

The Menahga School District qualifies for state debt aid, Olsen said. Based on a state legislative formula, the school could receive between 25 and 58 percent state aid.  On a $21.6 million bond, for example, Ehlers estimates the state would contribute $10,529,271.  Olsen said Ehlers could identify places to under-levy, which would ease the local tax burden without risking the loss of state aid.  

“If you’re going to do it, do it now because you won’t get 58 percent state aid again,” Superintendent Kevin Wellen told the board.  

He urged board members to schedule a special meeting for March and set a bond referendum for May, citing the available state aid, low interest rates and a likely 12- to 15-month construction timeline as reasons for action.  In his board report, Wellen said he’d been working with principals and staff to develop needs and goals if the district proceeded with a new building project.  He listed a working draft of those goals:  n Return Early Childhood to the campus;  n Create elementary classrooms, especially in kindergarten, with square footage that’s in line with state recommendations;  

- Add classrooms to accommodate the anticipated growth in the high school (approximately 36 percent).  

- Restore space for agriculture and industrial technology;  n Create additional space for the booming music program;  

- Provide building flow and identities for the elementary, middle school and high school.  

- Create a kitchen that can feed all students in a timely fashion.  n Provide the senior high with a space to eat and gather;  

- Provide adequate gym space;  

- Move the wrestling room out of the basement and bring the wall mats up to code;  n Create space that increases the ability to serve the community as a whole;  

- Create a performance space that could accommodate concerts, plays, musical and community events.  “We’re at max capacity, but each year we’re adding 30 to 50 kids,” said Menahga High School Principal Mark Frank. “We’re out of space. We’re using every nook and cranny.”  Board Chair Ernest Huhta Jr. said that, even with caps, enrollment continues to increase.  “Reality is the growth is in residents,” Wellen said.  Portable classrooms won’t resolve infrastructural problems, such as lack of adequate gym, music and kitchen space, Wellen pointed out.  In order to prepare food for over 1,000 students, lunch is served from 10:40 a.m. until 1 p.m.  Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer noted that third graders eat lunch at 10:40 a.m., then don’t eat again until they go home.  Some high school band sections rehearse in the hallway because they don’t have classroom space.  “I’m telling you the need is there. It’s not going away,” Wellen said. “If you decide to wait, we wait.”  The board was reluctant to push a referendum too quickly, preferring to get additional community input. Previous bond referendums have been voted down.  “I think we should wait until November,” said Board member Durwin Tomperi. “I couldn’t support anything until we get public feedback.”  

Open enrollment caps  For the 2016-17 school year, the board opted to cap open enrollment for grades K-8 at 88 and grades 9-12 at 60.  Wellen described the caps as “fiscally responsible,” due to limited facility space. The elementary cap allows for four sections of 22 students. Since there isn’t room for high school physical education, band or choir, he noted, 60 is a “manageable” number.  The resolution passed unanimously. The caps will be revisited by the board each year.  The board also decided the district will not extend existing bus routes/stops to pick up new, open-enrolled students.  “We don’t go further from the physical plant of the school than an existing stop, in any direction,” Wellen explained. 

No trespass order  Board member Al Peterson asked about the status of the no-trespassing order against Jon Kangas.  Last month, the board followed their legal counsel’s recommendation to sustain the order for one year. They also asked the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             attorney to conduct additional interviews about the utility knife incident. She has not yet submitted a report to the board.  Peterson reiterated that former Superintendent Allen Stoeckman planned to rescind the no-trespassing order.  Wellen stated that, according to the attorney, the board’s action at its Dec. 21 meeting overruled the former superintendent’s decision.  “It’s now in the board’s hands. The superintendent has to follow the will of the board,” he said.  Wellen said the board is waiting for the attorney’s report.  A couple citizens spoke in support of Kangas, saying the utility knife is a tool, not a weapon. A website has also been launched:  In a letter, Kangas requested that all board meetings be videotaped or audio recorded.  

In other business, the board: Heard a request from Jensine Kurtti to reschedule the board’s work session to 5 p.m. It currently conflicts with the Menahga City Council, forcing interested citizens to choose to attend one or the other.  

- Engaged the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) to facilitate the district’s strategic planning process. The service will be provided at no charge.  

- Acknowledged a $1,500 donation from a VFW Post 6206 to the Spanish Club.  

- Recognized the 2016 middle school Spelling Bee winners. Clara Buchner took first place, Jacob Bloomquist second and Alyssa Skoog third.  

- Congratulated physical education teacher Isaiah Hahn, the middle school’s nominee for NJPA Teachers of Excellence Award. He was nominated by his peers for his work with Special Olympians.  

- Learned that 29 Menahga BPA students qualified for the state competition.  

- Approved Charlie Dormanen for baseball head coach, Scott Petrowski for baseball assistant coach, Bob White for softball head coach, Steve Bruer for softball assistant coach, Tim Wurdock for golf head coach, Justin Day and Taylor Schroeder as golf assistant coaches.  The Menahga School Board’s next work session is Monday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. and its regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 21.