These news stories were just emailed to me. I’ve followed the story for a few months and talked to some unhappy folks about it. At least, they will get to vote on the bond referendum. JCI will do well whether it wins or loses and the District can’t afford them either way.
St Louis County Schools
Board OKs new contract with Johnson Controls
Contract includes spending an additional $300,000 in preparation for November bond referendum
TOM KLEIN, Cook/Orr Editor – The Timberjay (Tower MN) â€“ 27 Jun 09
Consultants Johnson Controls got the go-ahead on Monday for additional work related to a $78.8 million bond issue.
The contract, approved unanimously by the school board, will cost the district a maximum of $300,000 â€” twice the nearly $150,000 already paid to the Duluth-based consultants for preliminary work on the bond issue. A comprehensive study of the district, which accounted for more than $90,000 of the initial fees, was paid for with a state appropriation through the Iron Range Resources Board.
Several board members expressed concerns about the fee and questioned if they would be liable for the full amount if voters reject the bond proposal.
Superintendent Charles Rick told the board that the work will be done in advance of the referendum and the district would have to pay the bill regardless of the vote’s outcome. He stressed that the $300,000 quoted was the maximum that the district would pay and actual costs could be less. However, he cautioned the board to expect to pay the full fee.
Board member Zelda Bruns said the work was essential. If the bond passes, she said, the district could use a portion of those funds to cover the costs. If not, she said, the money would have to come from the district’s regular funds.
Phase III of the contract is divided into several tasks with the cost for each separated.
A report on the district’s plan to the state Department of Education carries the heftiest price tag at $80,000. The report is required before the district can ask for a vote on the proposed bond issue. The state reviews the report, which details the condition of existing facilities, describes the district’s plan and outlines issues to be addressed by the plan. The state’s review determines whether a vote can proceed and specifies how large a majority is required to win passage of the bond issue. A favorable rating allows passage with a simple majority while an unfavorable rating requires just over 60 percent of the voters’ support.
In Phase III, consultants will also prepare a “fall back” plan in the event that the bond issue fails and develop a related plan for financing for the district ($22,000); facilitate development of a new educational plan for the district that will focus on overall academic design of buildings and improvements in education and extra curriculars to attract students ($47,000); and oversee development of a plan for the transition period, including financial operations, during the period between the vote and the district’s completed construction of new and remodeled facilities ($26,000).
Other components of Phase III include assistance communicating the district’s plan with the public, including polling residents, ($50,000) and site assessment for two new schools that will include preliminary work on wetland delineations and soil samples to determine if sites are appropriate for the water and sewer needs of the schools ($67,000).
In related action, board members also approved appointing two board representatives to serve on site committees for the proposed new schools.
Cotton representative Chet Larson and Albrook representative Bob Larson will serve on the committee looking at options for a new school between those communities, while Orr representative Zelda Bruns and Cook representative Tom Beaudry will be on the committee reviewing options for a new school site between their communities.
Community residents will also serve on the site committees, which will provide a recommendation to the board. The final decision on sites, however, will rest with the board.
Board approves deficit budget for 2009-10
TOM KLEIN, Cook/Orr Editor – The Timberjay (Tower MN) 27 Jun 09
The St. Louis County School District will end the 2009-10 school year more than $800,000 in the red, according to a preliminary budget approved Monday. The net result is that the district’s reserves will fall to $2.56 million â€” about half of the $5.37 million that the district had banked at the end of the 2007-08 school year.
Even so it’s an improvement over the current school year in which expenses totaled over $1.97 million more than revenues.
And the forecast could have been worse if the district hadn’t been able to negotiate a different health care plan with employees, according to Business Manager Kim Johnson.
Although health care costs will rise next year, she said, the increase would have been in the double digits without the changes enacted for teachers. Johnson added that the elimination of 16 full-time equivalent teaching positions and retirements of five senior staff helped reduce costs for the district.
Even so, the district will be hurt by declining enrollment with a projected loss of about 69 students, which translates into a loss of $579,600 in state aid at $8,400 per pupil. That loss, however, will be offset by a one-time shot of federal stimulus funds for Title I and special education totaling $749,109.
Meanwhile, the state included no increases in funding for education which hampers districts’ ability to keep pace with increased costs for utilities and supplies.
A good example is food service, where estimated expenditures will top $1.1 million in 2009-10, up from $999,209 in 2008-09 and significantly higher than projected revenues of $845,838. The district plans to transfer $256,309 from its general fund to cover the anticipated shortfall.
Johnson said the rising cost of fuel to transport food is responsible for much of the increase.
Superintendent Charles Rick suggested that the district may have to look at adjusting prices to help offset the expenses in food service.
Board members also discussed whether savings could be generated by reducing staff.
Although the state did not reduce funds for schools, Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to withhold 27 percent of state aid (about $1.8 billion statewide) until the next fiscal year. Districts normally receive 90 percent of their state aid and the remaining ten percent at the start of the next fiscal year.
That means that District 2142 will have $4.5 million of its $16.7 million in state aid deferred and will be forced to borrow money to maintain cash flow. That, in turn, will cost the district in interest payments.
But districts may be looking at an even larger problem down the road. Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL Cook, cautioned that districts might not ever recoup the dollars withheld by the governor.
“We’re looking at a $6 billion deficit in the next biennium,” he warned. “I don’t think we’ll have $1.8 billion to provide schools.”
Bakk urged districts to instead use their reserves or make cuts to avoid borrowing money, but acknowledged that option may not exist for some districts, including 2142.
If the state doesn’t repay all or a portion of the money it defers, Johnson said it would accelerate the district’s fall into statutory operating debt. If the state pays the customary ten percent it defers, but delays the remaining 17 percent, Johnson said the district would be shorted by $2.8 million – more than it will have remaining in its reserves by the start of the next school year.
“It will really put us behind the eight ball,” she concluded.