Months of discussion regarding the District’s long-term facilities plan came to a boiling point Monday night. (Keep scrolling past the video for more article text.)
The Mineral Point School Board voted 4-3 at its meeting to terminate the District’s relationship with Nexus in regards to the Long-term Facilities Plan to address deferred maintenance to aging facilities, building security upgrades, and energy efficiency measures.
This decision came following a lengthy, contentious discussion. (Go to the 43 minute, 45 second mark of the video for this topic.)
In February of 2016, after a vendor interview process, the Board selected Nexus to assist with the development of a 10 year facilities plan and related performance contracting for energy efficiencies.
The Board received a detailed report of all possible improvements at a regular Board meeting in the fall, further discussed projects at a special Board meeting that followed, participated in a building tour, hosted a community open house, and received community feedback via surveys.
Jeff Mangan, of Nexus, noted the surveys that were received indicated 87% support for a facilities improvement project, which skews towards strong support.
Board member Jeff Basting expressed concern with a low response rate, not confident that number represents the true pulse of the community.
The first reading of the facility plan was discussed at the December Board meeting and the second reading was before the Board Monday night.
Many of the projects before the Board for approval would qualify for a state revenue energy efficiency exemption. In order to qualify for such an exemption, the Board would need to use a Department of Public Instruction approved vendor, which Nexus is.
Total cost for the entire initial plan was not to exceed $8.285 million, which could be acted on by the Board without a referendum since the improvements fall under the revenue limit exemption.
Because the District would be aided by the State implementing such a project, it would cost taxpayers approximately 50 cents on the dollar, compared to if the District did the upgrades itself without the revenue limit exemption.
Board member Lisa Hay said she had concerns with Nexus’ role and the company pushing a bigger project than she felt necessary because their fee would be bigger if the project would be bigger. Board member Larry Dolphin agreed.
Board member Glenn Kinch stated he believes the district can take care of these needs on its own without the oversight of Nexus.
Hans Noel, of Nexus, stated they bring in technical experts in various fields to help form what is necessary for the project, and these are their recommendations, which he stands by.
Mangan reminded the Board any of the projects listed in the plan could be removed, if the Board desired. Francois added there was no rush to make a final decision about the plan at the January meeting.
Mike David, of Nexus, stated the needs are going to continue to get more expensive and the budget will get increasingly tight the longer the District defers the maintenance. “Where does the money come from? If these are truly needs, how do you pay for it?” he asked.
“The buildings will get maintained regardless; it’s what our custodial staff does,” said Hay.
Board member Andy Busch stated the Board would be negligent to give away this state aid opportunity to do these necessary projects, and it will end up costing the taxpayers more. He also voiced concern about taxpayer money asking, “What is the community getting for $9,400 if we pay the walkaway fee?”
Hay responded stating they are getting a long term facilities plan detailed by Nexus. Busch stated the plan detailed many items that were already known to the District. The contract between the District and Nexus also states, if the relationship is terminated, the District can’t take Nexus’ plan and implement the repairs with another vendor.
Board President Larry Steffes asked Superintendent Luke Francois how the District would do the repairs in house without the revenue limit exemption.
Francois responded, “We would have to reduce staffing. There’s no way to get to that level of expenditures without having it impact staffing.” Staffing makes up the largest portion of the school district budget.
Steffes added he can’t look taxpayers in the eye and say he is going to replace a roof on a 20 year old building, but he wasn’t ready to toss Nexus to the curb yet either in year one of a three year contract, thinking the plan could be further looked at by the Board to determine what projects it would be interested in funding, not needing to complete the entire plan as presented.
Elementary principal Matt Renwick added that he heard the word taxpayer come up quite a bit during the discussion, but had yet to hear anything about students and urged the Board to refocus its decision making as to what is best for students.
Board member Julie Stephenson added she had a hard time with the level of mistrust the Board seems to have with experts in their fields–whether it’s teachers, or Nexus solutions, etc. “We need to let our kids know that we invest in them and the buildings they spend eight hours a day in,” she said.
Voting in favor of terminating the Nexus relationship and paying the walk away fee were Hay, Kinch, Dolphin, and Basting. Voting no were Stephenson, Busch, and Steffes.
Since Monday’s meeting, the Board has called a special meeting for Monday, January 16 at 6:30 pm to further discuss next steps regarding facility needs.
— Brad Smith of Ubersox was on hand to present a check to the elementary school as proceeds from its recent test drive fundraiser. (This begins the meeting video.)
— Every two years the District convenes a Calendar Committee to review and recommend changes to the school calendar. The 2017-18 calendar is in year two of two. The second reading of the calendar was before the Board and mirrors the calendar put forth by the calendar committee last year.
The calendar is viewable here: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39876838
Kinch, Dolphin, and Steffes all wished to see the District either cut back Spring Break, or eliminate it entirely. Basting stated about 20 years ago, the Board did a survey of parents and they also wished to see a shorter Spring Break. Hay stated she believes parents would feel differently nowadays.
Voting in favor of the calendar as presented were Hay, Dolphin, Stephenson, Busch, and Basting. Voting against were Steffes and Kinch. (Go to the two hour, 13 minute mark of the video.)
— Per state statute, the non-resident School Board shall determine the number of regular education and special education spaces available for open enrollment in the 2017-18 available within the school district in the January meeting of the School Board.
In order to keep class sizes applicable to the Board policy, the administrative team issued the following recommendations to the Board. A red box indicates no students via open enrollment would be accepted at that grade level. As always, there is an option to review each student’s open enrollment application on a case by case basis and some exceptions could be made.
Kinch stated he felt the District is overstaffed and should look at closing open enrollment in more grade levels and cut sections from three to two.
Francois stated that if the Board chose to reduce staffing, that would come up in the budget development process in the coming months.
Hay cautioned the Board about discussing staffing levels as that was not an item listed on the agenda.
Special ed recommendations are listed here: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39891603
The special ed recommendations passed unanimously.
The regular ed recommendations passed by a 6-1 vote with Kinch opposed.
(Go to the one hour, 52 minute, 30 second mark of the video.)
— The Board approved a one-time voluntary retirement benefit for certified staff to retire with a $30,000 403b benefit not offered in other years. The benefit could be used toward retirement or purchasing health insurance on the exchange. Qualified employees must be certified staff with ten years of experience in the District and notify the District of intent no later than March 1.
The thought behind this is staff members would then be hired that might not be as costly, which could help with funding challenges and scenarios.
Seven employees would be eligible for this benefit.
Voting in favor were Hay, Stephenson, Busch, and Steffes. Voting no were Kinch, Basting, and Dolphin.
Basting stated he voted no because he didn’t like the idea of pushing senior teachers out. Stephenson reminded everyone it would be voluntary for staff to take this benefit. (Go to the two hour, five minute mark of the video.)
— Recently, a proximate school district shifted board policy to reduce the threshold for cold temperatures that would subject schools to closing using more lenient temperatures. A first draft of a proposed policy change was before the Board for review with Francois recommending changing actual air temperatures from 25 to 20 degrees below zero to warrant a closure, and wind chill temperatures from 35 to 30 degrees.
The entire policy can be viewed here and will be up for a vote at a later date: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39834158
Hay and Steffes stated they would like to see data from other area districts on their closing policies.
(Go to the one hour, 43 minute mark of the video.)
— Peter Grender, financial forecast consultant from PMA Financial, shared assumptions with the Board, along with a forecast of revenues and expenditures. The projections can be viewed here: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39905310
(Go to the 16 minute mark of the video.)
— The administrative team reviewed the attendance policy and offered the following policy and rule as an update to the current policy. High school principal Mitch Wainwright stated all three buildings now have similar language and the new language also matches Iowa County’s truancy language.
These passed unanimously.
(Go to the two hour, 19 minute, 45 second mark of the video)
— The board unanimously approved the Year End June 30, 2016 financial audit. (Go to the two hour, 21 minute, 30 second mark of the video.)
Francois stated there was a recommendation made by the auditors to look into forming a Student Fund Policy that currently does not exist which would oversee fundraising accounts.
— The credit card statement and bills payable were approved with Busch, Dolphin, Hay, and Steffes voting yes and Stephenson, Basting, and Kinch abstaining.
— (Go to the two hour, 32 minute mark for the beginning of the Superintendent’s Report)
Francois informed the Board of proposed language for an employee handbook update on a future agenda which further defines normal hours of work in a work day for staff. That proposed language can be viewed here: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39882238
In response to recent events, the District will convene a School Safety Committee to study and make recommendations for procedures and protocols for students, families, and guests entering and exiting the building during the school day, special events, and after school events.
Recently, the District conducted a survey in search of why families open enrolled in or out of the District.
The significant factors for why families open enrolled into Mineral Point were, in rank order: had better teachers, better communication/transparency, had a safer learning environment, had better principals/administrators, had fewer discipline problems, offered smaller class sizes, and offered more courses/programs.
The only significant factor for open enrolling out of the District was that the respondent or their spouse worked near the other school district.
Francois updated the Board on the Tuesday, April 4 election timeline. Four candidates will vie for two seats. A drawing was held prior to Monday’s meeting for which order the names will appear on the ballot. They are: Kelly Gundlach, Mike Thousand, Glenn E. Kinch, and Jeff Basting.
The District will again be hosting a candidate forum, likely sometime in March, where voters can ask questions of the candidates.
— The next regularly scheduled Board meeting is set for Monday, February 13 with a special meeting to discuss facilities planning on Monday, January 16.