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DC School Board still struggling to define Nov. ballot projects
April 13, 2018

by Nancy Dashwood
Staff Writer

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – At Monday’s school board meeting, members agreed that an operating levy, the Career and Technological Education (CTE) project, and an upgrade to the multi-purpose building should be the main items put before voters in November.

However, the board is still attempting to assess all potential options.

Since April 2017, the board has been attempting to determine the difference between district wants and needs, and what the district’s voters will support.

Finance goals and objectives

The Dassel-Cokato School District recently worked with the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA), and a strategic planning committee comprised of 30 people representing school administrators and staff, as well as volunteers from the Dassel-Cokato voting area.

The strategic planning committee created a working draft of a plan to maintain the district’s financial position, that would also provide short and long-term fiduciary stability.

Financial objectives included the passage of an operating levy by November 2018; that the school district will continue to develop and modify its five-year financial plan; and the district will regularly communicate appropriate information concerning school finances to the school district stakeholders.

The working draft, a collaborative effort between the MSBA and the school district’s strategic planning committee, stated facilities objectives included auditing and evaluating all existing buildings and grounds to identify area of improvement by June; determining the scope and cost of a building bond question by Aug. 18 to be placed before DC district voters; and pass a building/facilities bond referendum to fund building improvements by November.

Another goal on the strategic planning committee’s working draft called for DC Schools to provide 21st century education facilities and recreation spaces to support them.

Objectives designed to meet that goal included developing a plan to provide appropriate classrooms to support 21st century education by continuing to develop and expand upon partnerships with the community in the use of facilities and resources that mutually benefit both parties; and provide the school board with the status of plans annually.

Making goals happen – quickly

“How do we disseminate that information?” Board Chair Rebecca Clemen wondered.

Dassel-Cokato Superintendent Jeff Powers reminded board members, Aug. 24 was the last day for the district to call for an election.

“We’re not behind,” he stated, “but we’re not ahead. We have to start making decisions.”

Powers suggested having a representative from Ehlers Investment Partners attend an upcoming meeting to review the district’s financial options.

“I think we’re all in agreement we need to have a levy,” Clemen said.

Long-term facility funding – but for how long?

The board discussed new long-term facility funding received from the local tax levy and state aid this year of approximately $900,000.

Board Member Andy Engh indicated that after touring district facilities, he thought most maintenance issues could be covered by the $900,000 long- term facilities monies.

“I don’t think we need to ask for money for those improvements,” he said. “I think we can do it with what we have.”

What should make the ballot?

Board Member Bill Aho was adamant that people should see items on the November ballot as an investment. “Whatever we don’t do now will be more expensive down the road,” he said.

Powers interjected that district enrollment was not trending upward, and was not expected to in the near future. He also reminded board members that the long-term facilities funding may or may not continue.

Board members discussed the CTE, which failed by a small margin April 18, 2017, and will be presented again in November, with slight changes. They also discussed the need to do something with the multi-purpose building.

Also thrown into the discussion was the possibility of adding a $10 million aquatic center, and ideas for remodeling or re-purposing the district’s current pool.

What is the bottom line?

Board Member Irene Bender asked for a short report of proposed project costs.

She also asked for a tour of the multi-purpose building, and the building areas which would be impacted by the CTE project.

Powers said he would have financial information available by the board’s Monday, May 14 meeting, and invite Ehlers Investment Partners to attend that session.

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