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School board treads carefully on renovation project

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/15/20

ELY – The ISD 696 building expansion and renovation project here is moving forward with the development of architectural plans and a draft proposal for funding options, however, school board …

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School board treads carefully on renovation project

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ELY – The ISD 696 building expansion and renovation project here is moving forward with the development of architectural plans and a draft proposal for funding options, however, school board members don’t entirely agree on committing district funds to the project.
Superintendent Erik Erie reported to the board Monday night that a meeting last week with Architectural Resources Inc. and the Costin Group included the distribution of a draft proposal that district lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik plans to present to Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation officials later this month.
School board members pushed to discuss and ultimately approve the funding proposal before it is presented to the IRRR. Board members James Pointer and Rochelle Sjoberg, in particular, requested the proposal be reviewed and approved before being presented to the IRRR.
“This is significant enough, that I feel support from the board is essential,” Sjoberg said.
“What we hired the Costin Group to do is to put this proposal together,” Erie said. “If you are not comfortable with things in the proposal, we need to talk about that.”
Pointer reiterated his concern. “We need to talk about it, then,” he said.
Board chair Ray Marsnik agreed. “Before (the proposal) goes any further, we need to vote on this,” he said. He suggested having a discussion at the school board’s study session on Monday, Jan. 27, and possibly scheduling a special meeting then to take action.
Erie reminded school board members that the state legislative session begins in early February and time is of the essence to get a campus renovation funding proposal, now referred to as the 21st Century Learning Facility Improvement Project, in place for consideration.
“You are totally changing the school,” Pointer said, “and there are things that we need to discuss as a board, like whether we want to go this way, or we don’t and look at other things.”
Sjoberg said several factors, such as collaboration with other school districts, student and staff survey results and seven-period school day considerations, are still up for discussion. “Some of this (proposal) sounds like we are committed, and I think we need dialogue and board approval,” she said.
Before she could expound on particular points in the draft proposal, Erie warned Sjoberg the document is “intended right now for our own internal discussion.”
Marsnik stressed that any final ISD 696 funding proposal coming from the IRRR must have full school board approval. “We have to live and die with this decision,” he said.
Financial commitment
Last fall, the school board appeared to agree that the school district would show good faith if they committed a portion of their unassigned fund balance to the renovation project. But on Monday, Pointer backed away from that commitment.
While earmarking $500,000 of the $2.1 million in the unassigned fund would diminish the monies available for unexpected expenditures by a substantial amount, it would still leave the district in compliance with its policy of maintaining a reserve equal to at least 20 percent of total expenditures. “By making this transfer, we would still have 22 percent on hand,” Marsnik said.
Tony Colarich made a motion, with support from Heidi Mann, to approve the $500,000 financial commitment to the 21st Century Learning Facility Improvement Project fund.
By James Pointer’s calculations, the $500,000 commitment would leave just $16,000 above the 20-percent goal. “Let’s say we have another gym issue where we have to spend $40,000. What do we do?” he asked. He also asked for a cost estimate on the district’s current lead in drinking water issue.
Erie said the district’s goal of maintaining 20 percent of expenditures in the unassigned fund would require financial adjustments if unforeseen expenditures dropped below that benchmark. “If we get to that point, we would have some decisions to make,” he said.
Marsnik added that the 20-percent unassigned balance goal is merely a recommendation. “That goal can be changed,” he said. He noted that the Long Term Facilities Maintenance Fund is also available to use for building repairs.
Colarich said a soundproof covering is still to be added to the gym ceiling repair project. “At this point, I am uncomfortable with the $500,000 (commitment) because of the unknowns. Maybe we could pull it back a little bit,” he said.
Sjoberg asserted that through discussion over many meetings, the board decided that the financial commitment to the renovation project was important. “We told the community that we are willing to have skin in the game,” she said.
Erie noted that the draft proposal for the IRRR also indicates the board’s financial commitment to the project.
Tom Omerza said the renovation project also includes infrastructure improvement. “We need to show outside entities that we are committed to this,” he said. “How many years have school boards here been wrangling over this? We need to look at the long term. Do we want to improve the campus? Are we the school board who is going to move this forward, or not?”
Despite saying that he is “not opposed to giving the money” to the renovation project, Pointer was the lone vote against the motion. The motion passed on a 5-1 vote.
Other business
In other action, the board,
Heard from facilities director Tim Leeson on the status of the campus water issue. He said that four of the campus’s 14 water fountains have tested positive for the presence of lead. More testing, to narrow down the source, is being conducted and he is waiting on cost estimates for new filtered fountains.
Elected Marsnik as board chair, Sjoberg as board clerk, and Omerza as board treasurer.
Heard from the board’s auditor, and approved the fiscal year 2019 audit as presented.
Designated the Ely Echo, the only publication to submit a quote, as the district’s legal newspaper for 2020.
Designated Klun Law Firm as the district’s legal counsel for 2020.
Established school board compensation rates, with a 2.1-percent increase, at $193 per month (plus $30,000 in life insurance) for board members, and $248 per month (plus $30,000 in life insurance) for the board chair, and an additional $55 per month for each board member for study session compensation, whether they attend the meeting or not.
Hired Evan Omerza to the para-professional position, and accepted the resignation of Shania Braaten from the para-professional position.
Hired Ruthann Griiffin to the long-term substitute elementary teacher position.
Approved Duane Lossing as a volunteer hockey coach for the 2019-2020 season.

ely school board

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