Auditor gives high marks to Lester Prairie for its finances

Oct. 22, 2007

By Lynda Jensen

Despite obstacles, the Lester Prairie School District has done well with managing its money over the past year, according to an independent auditor’s report given last Monday to the board.

“Due to legislative action, a positive voter response on the referendum, sound fiscal management, and an increase in enrollment, the district has climbed out of statutory operating debt,” reported auditor Kyle Meyers of Abdo, Eick and Meyers, Mankato.

This is the second year the school has been out of statutory operating debt, which it was mired in previously for one year.

The district is paying down its existing debt service, and also managed to overcome an accounting error last year, when an early payment from the state of $137,000 was counted as revenue instead of simply being shifted forward to the 2006-07 school year, Meyers said.

The school district has a two-month reserve in the bank, which is a good figure, Meyers said. This reserve amount is just above what is recommended by the state, Supt. Joe Miller noted.

It helped when the legislature allowed the district to transfer $150,000 from a capital account to an undesignated, unreserved account in the general fund last year, as well as allowing $170,000 from the severance account to the undesignated account, Miller said.

This undesignated account in the general fund is actually a good barometer of how finances are going for the district in general, Miller said.

In 2003-04, the undesignated amount was $149,000, and in 2004-05 it dropped to -$220,960. The following year, 2005-06, this figure went to $356,410, reaching $429,080 in 2006-07, he said. The gradual increase is a good sign, he added.

More good news is also found in the district’s census of children aged 0-4 years. In the fall 2006, the census recorded 164 youngsters. Recently, that figure reached 183. Miller called this “the best news in two years.”

This would mean a class of 40 kindergarteners – and if so, would be an “absolutely positive” figure, because a class of 40 students is perfect for Lester Prairie, he said.

Enrollment, although it increased last year and dipped down this year, is holding steady and shouldn’t hurt the budget much, Miller said.

The auditor tagged Lester Prairie on one issue – segregation of duties in a small staff environment, which is a standard advisory given to all the schools and cities in the area, since it relates to being a small entity with only a few people handling money. This time, the auditor went out of his way to warn the board that it must come up with some kind of written policy on how it will try to manage the issue. This was prompted by the Enron scandal, filtering down through the national board of auditors, who are trying to institute safeguards for this kind of problem.

Mediation with teachers

Another factor for next year may be the fact that the teachers and school district are currently in mediation over contract negotiations.

Negotiations for the teachers’ contract recently ended without a successful agreement. Since then, teachers have asked for mediation.

There are 31 full-time teachers at Lester Prairie. Staff salaries comprise more than 70 percent of the school district budget.

The state average for pay increase is 7.09 percent over two years. “Our offer is above that figure,” Miller said.

The mediator has been in contact with Miller, but a date hasn’t been locked in quite yet.

At the board meeting, Miller said that as soon as an agreement has been reached, the district will have to revise its budget.

New features on web site

The board also heard from science teacher Greg Landkamer about new features on the Lester Prairie web site, www.lp.k12.mn.us.

Features on the site include:

• class syllabuses and schedules

• school announcements

• school lunches

• student information, such as grades, useful to parents (with passwords and not for the public)

• athletic schedules and activities

The web site could eventually offer a range of cost-effective resources. For example, the district is thinking of offering online “hybrid” courses for students.

Traditional online courses are strictly accredited by the government, and must be open to anyone who wishes to take the course (not just Lester Prairie students), Landkamer noted.

However, there are variations of resources that could be offered which would allow a student who wishes to work ahead for extra credit to check course work online.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• approved the only bid for snow removal from Litzau Excavating at $72 per hour for removal by Bobcat or backhoe. It will be between $102 and $112 per hour for hauling the snow away, depending on the equipment used.

• heard from Secondary Principal and Athletic Director Scott Fitzsimonds that 200 students attended the dance with Holy Trinity and concessions went well. Later in the evening, about 75 of them still remained, playing games and enjoying the dance, which is a good thing, he said.

• asked for a sports pairing report next month from Fitzsimonds. He noted that it was too early to give one since the season isn’t over.

• noted that the Veterans Day program will be 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 12. It will be colorful, with bugle playing, it was noted.

• set the tax equalization hearing Monday, Dec. 10, and Monday, Dec. 17 if a continuation is needed.

The next board meeting will be Monday, Nov. 19.