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Books vs. building improvements: A district dilemma in 833

There is not enough money to pay for all the requests for School District 833 facility improvements, textbooks and technology for next year. So administrators are paring the list and looking to unused funds from the East Ridge High School construction project.

The district's proposed capital budget plan includes the use of $635,000 from $2 million in unused bond money. The funds, from bond proceeds that built East Ridge and funded other district improvement, by state law can only be used for capital expenses. It's can't be used to pay teachers because that's not what voters approved.

The number of capital spending requests was cut to $6.8 million. When the bond money is added, the amount to be spent is $8 million. The remaining revenue for district improvements comes from state aid, lease levies and a voter-approved $1 million levy for technology.

The district's shopping list includes $700,000 for a new elementary school math curriculum and books, completing wireless infrastructure in middle schools to finish installation district-wide, and $275,000 to build locker rooms for the East Ridge High School girls and Woodbury High School boys' hockey teams at the Bielenberg Sports Center.

The money is the same amount as was used to install locker rooms at the Cottage Grove Ice Arena for the East Ridge boys and Park High School teams, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations.

Booster clubs will pay for the interior and lockers.

Board members, who discussed the facilities budget at the March 3 workshop, don't agree with some recommended items.

Board member Jim Gelbmann asked why the administration isn't recommending additional book requests for $166,036 since there is still referendum money left.

"It's nearly as important as teachers," he said.

Superintendent Mark Porter said the district is looking for other ways to fund additional books. Other requested items had a higher priority, he said.

Since it's a new school, Board member Marsha Adou asked why East Ridge is getting an allocation, as are other district schools get, of $24,851 for equipment.

Adou said she's heard from several parents concerned about the "inequities" in other schools.

It's unfair, Adou said, that East Ridge gets an allocation when $72,000 is being spent for new lockers at Park High School but the school is not getting the additional $48,000 for lockers that was requested.

Vogel said the allocation is made using a district-wide formula, adding he will ask East Ridge how it intends to use the money.

Board Chair Leslee Boyd asked why a Woodbury High School concession improvement for $100,000 is being recommended.

The concession, which is used by booster clubs, currently has no water or the means to serve heated food, according to Vogel.

Board member Ron Kath said the focus should be on textbooks. "We're never going to win the equity argument," he said.

A consensus of the board opposes the concession stand improvements, with Boyd suggesting the East Ridge allocation be cut in half and spent for books instead.

It's also recommended that the district contribute $125,000 to help upgrade School Drive in front of Woodbury Elementary and Woodbury Middle schools.

"I was surprised to see that we're getting the street," Gelbmann said.

"The city will be upgrading what is essentially a driveway to our facilities," Porter said, "and turn it over to us."

The administration will submit a revised list of recommendations for approval at the March 24 meeting.