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833 task force hones list to $3 million in projects

When District 833 school board members meet Jan. 7, they're likely to get a task force recommendation to spend $3 million of the $5 million available on projects.

A revised list of recommendations calls for an additional $1 million in projects to be selected by the board with the remaining $1 million to be put aside for future projects.

Task force members, who met Dec. 15, are charged with making recommendations to the board on how to spend money left over from the 2006 construction referendum.

By law, the money can only be used for capital projects and not to pay for teachers or staff members.

It can, however, be used to help pay debt on district bonds.

District Finance Director Aaron Bushberger told the task force that spending the entire $5 million to buy down debt would result in a $6 annual tax saving on a $250,000 home, for example, or a one-time savings of approximately $130 on 2010-2011 taxes.

School Board Member Tracy Brunnette agreed it's a small amount but asked if it might be important to pay down the debt to show the public that the board is being frugal with tax money.

"Is the perception important?" Brunnette said.

Task Force Member Teresa Veldof said 95 percent of the people she's talked to prefer that the money be spent on projects.

Projects being recommended for funding won't get done if the district relies on the levy given to districts by the state for capital projects, Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations, said. Most of it, based on a five-year plan, is set aside for other projects.

Task force member Mary Schultz, who also serves on the district finance advisory committee, continued her objection made at the Dec. 8 meeting, that the district not reimburse the Park High School wrestling booster club the $6,000 it is paying back for the installation of a new, more flexible, floor and $4,700 to Woodbury's booster club for the same flooring.

The East Ridge High School wrestling room was built with the new flooring.

"This is a huge can of worms," she said, adding that other booster clubs would want money for improvements they paid for.

School Board Chair Ron Kath, said he's concerned about booster club "commitments and promises" and has asked Superintendent Mark Porter for a policy and written contracts with clubs for facility improvements.

Promises were made to build bleachers in honor of a student who died at Woodbury High School, but eventually the district had to pay for part of the project, Kath said.

Part of the flooring controversy at Park High School was the result of not consulting with wrestling boosters and, instead, moving ahead with a standard concrete floor, Vogel said. The district was not aware that a newer, and more flexible flooring was embedded in East Ridge construction plans.

"You're never going to make everybody happy," Schultz said. "It's not their money, it's the district's money."

Schultz also objects to spending $135,000 to renovate press boxes, used by coaches and play-by-play announcers, at Park and Woodbury, and changing the location of a ticket booth at Woodbury to relieve crowding.

People cope with crowds at the Metrodome, she said.

She said there is income from football and soccer games that could be used to pay for improvements.

Veldof wants the task force to tell the school board which items on the recommended list are more important than other items, but didn't get agreement from other task force members.

Schultz asked, with agreement from Veldof on some items, that nine items be removed from the priority list, including spending $150,000 for a "shell" at the Cottage Grove Ice Arena for locker rooms for East Ridge hockey teams likely to have the arena as home ice for at least five years.

The district built a shell for Park teams and booster clubs paid for lockers, according to Vogel.

Task force members did not agree to remove the items, and they're likely to be on the final list submitted to the school board.

A suggestion by Veldof to look into paying for acoustic improvements in music rooms will be discussed at the Jan. 5 task force meeting.

A suggestion by Veldof and Schultz to fund $50,000 in drainage improvements on the Middleton Elementary School playground was supported by several task force members. Vogel said he would get additional information.

Vogel downgraded several technology lab requests to the second priority list. Instead, additional wireless systems for computers at middle and elementary schools were substituted.

Vogel said wireless systems are in the five-year technology plan, but will be needed next year when state testing is online.

Greater student access to computers is needed, he said, and eventually students will bring their own computers to school.

"Every curriculum has a software component," Vogel said.

A request for $100,000 to replace and upgrade equipment in Park metal and wood shops was moved to the top priority list.

Those items are typically funded with building budgets. They are expensive, however, and tend not to get approved after other department curriculum requests are granted, according to Vogel.

"I totally disagree," with the way building budgets are allocated, Schultz said. "You need to plan."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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