Board President Larry Steffes presents the WASB Business Honor Roll award to Cummins.

The Mineral Point School Board met for three hours Monday night dealing with mostly items for information and discussion.

Video of the meeting can be obtained here:

The evening began with a formal recognition of Cummins Emission Solutions. The school board recently nominated them for the Wisconsin Association of School Board’s Business Honor Roll and the nomination was successful.

Timothy Buchanan and Amanda Tollefson of Cummins were on hand to receive the award.

In the Mineral Point Unified School District, Cummins has been essential in implementing and supporting the district’s Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program. Mineral Point Elementary School was one of only 24 schools in the nation selected to pilot a PLTW robotics program. The company helped support the pilot program with a large grant. “This would not have been possible without the support of Cummins,” said Superintendent Luke Francois. “Our students are benefiting from hands-on project based learning in STEM areas because of Cummins.”

In addition to financial support, the company also has a presence in the district’s elementary and high schools. Employees visit classrooms and work with students to enrich their STEM curriculum.

Additionally, Cummins, which is a global company with employees from across the world, helps teach global literacy. Employees teach elementary students about the history and customs of their home countries. “Students and staff continue to invite Cummins into the classroom to share in the learning experience,” Francois said.

Following the recognition, the board moved into the first discussion regarding its book study on The School Board Fieldbook.

The book takes the reader through the responsibilities and challenges of being a board of education member. The authors explain how board members can best work with school administrators and staff to create and fulfill a shared vision of school system excellence. In particular, this fieldbook helps board members understand the differences between the board’s strategic role in setting a vision, administration’s tactical role in creating a plan to realize that vision, and the faculty and staff’s operational role in implementing the plan at the classroom level. The authors outline some of the pitfalls boards often encounter and offer practical solutions and strategies for collaborating with school personnel without conflict, creating a system that values continuous improvement, communicating with the public on difficult issues, and monitoring progress.

The board will tackle a chapter at a time at its meetings for the next several months.

The bills payable and credit card statements were approved unanimously with Jeff Basting abstaining and Glenn Kinch absent.

There was a question regarding the cost of the new Chromebooks purchased for juniors and seniors, and Francois stated it was approximately $270 per Chromebook factoring in the device, case, and shipping. He also stated the dollars used to purchase these came from the funds that had been reserved for the English Language Learner (ELL) position that was to be shared with Fennimore the board did not approve earlier this year.

The board viewed a short video regarding Professional Learning Communities. At past meetings, members had expressed interest in learning more about PLCs. This was the first in a series of videos to be shared with the board.

The 3rd Friday in September count has been tabulated, which is the official count needed by DPI for funding purposes.

Overall FTE (full time equivalency) for the 2015-16 school year for the district is 681 compared to 701 in 2014-15.

The elementary has 324 FTE students, middle school 148, and high school 209.

The plus side is open enrollment is one more into the district and three less out of the district compared to last year.

Francois pointed out the number used to determine state funding is the FTE, but it is a three year average that is used.

The district should qualify for Sparsity Aid again next year as the cutoff for that number is 725 FTE. Sparsity Aid was vital this year in helping keep a balanced budget as it accounts for an additional $300 per student.

Mayra Angel has been secured as an independent contractor to offer services to English Language Learners and will coordinate services with students, families, and teachers.

The funding source for Angel’s position comes from dollars unused in the original ELL position presented to the board earlier this year. The remaining money went for the Chromebooks previously mentioned. Francois pointed out Angel is not benefit eligible and does not hold ELL licensure, but was an ELL student herself as a child. He has reserved $9,000 in the budget for her services and stated he has already been pleased with her efforts to assist these students and families.

Francois provided the board with an update on the Stadium Project.

The total spent to date is $394,000. Items left to complete total approximately $450,000 and encompass fencing, bleachers, press box, and lights.

Francois showed the board the detailed items from Fund 21 and Fund 49 to prove the district is not paying for the field out of Fund 10, or the general fund. Fund 21 is a fundraising account and Fund 49 holds a note secured by the school but paid off through fundraising efforts. There are private guaranteers in place should fundraising for the note fail.

He also thanked Farmers Savings Bank for its generous donation of approximately $20,000 for the scoreboard.

Board member Lisa Hay had concerns on how the project would be completed, given the large amount of money left to be raised. Board member Matt Lindsey said the fundraising has been going slow and steady. Athletic Director Vickie Dahl said she is making a big push for each graduating class to purchase a stadium engraved bleacher seat.

Hay asked if football would be played on the new field next fall and Lindsey said he had his doubts, but depended on what sort of efforts were made.

Basting questioned if the public was ever asked if they would allow the school to put money into the field. “Maybe they would step up and support it. Doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said.

Hay stated she believes she suggested a referendum during the original discussion process, but it was not met with favoritism.

Lindsey said he didn’t want to turn his back on the public and ask them for money when the board promised it wouldn’t.

Francois stated he asked District Bookkeeper Marsha Kjelland for confirmation to prove no district funds have been taken out of Fund 10 to pay for the stadium project, and she confirmed the validity of this statement.

Hay also questioned how much administrator time is being spent during the school day on the Stadium Project. High school principal Mitch Wainwright and Middle school principal Vickie Dahl both said none on their end and Francois stated he could measure each week the time in minutes, not hours. He said head custodian Roger Palzkill is involved with the contractors to put his stamp of approval on things because the district will be responsible for maintaining the field.

Discussion then took place around the top of starting school prior to September 1.

Francois stated the state requires districts to begin school no earlier than September 1 unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a large construction project. In those cases, the district could apply for a waiver from the state.

September 1 usually also presents a problem as it’s around fair time.

Francois stated, with Wainwright agreeing, that even though the district held classes during the fair this year, the absence rate did not seem excessive.

Board President Larry Steffes said more advocates are needed at the state level to change the September 1 start date.

Francois mentioned the option of year-round schooling where there would be six weeks of classes, and three weeks off, as the best chance for Mineral Point to qualify to avoid the September 1 start date.

Hay and Basting stated they both like the September 1 start date.

Steffes suggested, and made a motion to the effect, a survey of the community should be done to gauge their thoughts on trying to start school earlier than September 1.

Basting said the board’s hands are tied so a survey would be a moot point as the district has no control over the matter and has to do what the state says.

The motion failed.

Francois stated he and Communications Director Joelle Doye met recently with the Madison Community Foundation about possibly commencing an endowment fund for the district.

Doye referenced the newly updated version of the Strategic Plan that was approved by the board that has the goal of establishing an endowment fund as the catalyst for this conversation.

Francois mentioned the big bonus of using the Madison Community Foundation to hold the funds is that donations would be tax deductible, but if they were to be funneled through a local bank, they would not. In addition, the MCF also has the ability to accept donations from estates.

School districts that have funds held through the MCF currently include: Columbus, Rio, Albany, Madison, Middleton-Cross Plains, Monona Grove, Montello, and River Valley.

Francois said the district would be looking at an Organizational Endowment Fund that requires a minimum of $15,000 to begin earning interest at 4.75%. The interest is then available for spending as the account grows, but the principal can never be touched. There are two ways this could begin for the Mineral Point District. One would be with an acorn fund of raising a minimum of $1,500 for ten years and the other would be not to start the endowment until the $15,000 has been earned upfront.

Hay expressed some concern with the ability to get people to donate to an entity entitled the Madison Community Fund, compared to if it was held locally, and Francois responded by saying the actual funds can have the school district’s name. In addition, each district can have its own donation webpage. He also said it is evident by the wide geographic area of schools holding funds through the MCF that it is not just Madison based, even though the name may indicate that.

Monies in an endowment fund benefit school districts in many ways such as innovative efforts, technology, grants for staff, and scholarships for students, just to name a few. There is a board that is created, along with bylaws, that determine how the money can be spent at the local level.

Hay wished to hear from districts that have their endowments through the MCF and Francois and Doye said they will work on arranging communication.

Francois was looking for direction from the board to continue pursuing this endeavor with MCF and the board said yes, continue getting more information.

Doye presented highlights from the Communications Survey residents were asked to complete this summer. The survey was placed in the district newsletter which is mailed to every address in the 53565 zip code. It was also sent to families electronically and placed on the district website and Facebook page. A prompt to fill out the survey also ran in the Democrat Tribune. The District received about 250 responses, approximately 40 of which were hard copy versions.

Only 4% of respondents indicated they do not have internet access at all.

68% say they receive most of their information from the district via direct email and 76% listed the preferred method of communication from the district as email. Efforts will be put in place to expand and tailor communication on this front and community members will soon be able to sign up to receive district e-news. Currently this is primarily reserved for families of students.

By far, the item most people indicated they were looking for on the school website was the calendar of events. It is fitting then to note a new calendar is being rolled out currently. It will make it easier for the clerical team, as well as people requesting facilities, and it is the same calendar used by the SWAL conference athletics.

Doye said she was most pleased with 76% of people saying they either strongly agree or agree the communication they are receiving from the district is timely and accurate and said she feels this speaks loudly for the goal of transparency. 84% of people said they are satisfied with district communication.

She added, as a general takeaway, this survey reinforced the idea that it is important to remember not one form of communication works well for everyone and the district should value everyone’s communication needs equally. “Everyone pays taxes and deserves to have the same access to information,” she said.

Doye also brought forth findings from the board’s desire last month to have her research other district’s policies when it comes to using district communication channels to publicize non-school information.

She reached out to approximately 20 other schools and it was the general consensus from the group that school channels should be used for promoting school activities. Most schools tend to be moving away from allowing non-school items to be communicated on their website, or flyers sent home with children.

The board discussed the pros and cons of both scenarios and reached the conclusion they will support Doye’s recommendation that, if an event does not have a tie to a district program, or is not occurring on school grounds, it does not receive publication or promotion on district channels.

There was a first reading of an updated Wellness Policy draft with no discussion.

The board acted on a resolution to exceed the revenue limit on a non-recurring basis for debt service payments on the energy efficiency measures.

As per member Kinch’s request at the last meeting, a resolution was placed before the board as follows:

“Be it resolved that the School Board of the Mineral Point Unified School District hereby exercises its authority under s. 121.91(4)(o), Wis. Stats., to exceed the revenue limit on a non-recurring basis by an amount the District will spend on principal and interest payments each of the next 8 years of debt payments for the term of the following issue: $550,000 G.O. Promissory Notes dated July 1, 2013.

2013 Wisconsin Act 20 created a provision in state law that affects districts that borrow to finance an energy efficiency project over multiple years: 121.91(4)(o)3. If a school district issues a bond or note or obtains a state trust fund loan to finance a project and the school district’s utility costs are measurably reduced as a result of the project, the school board shall use the savings to retire the bond, note, or state trust fund loan.

The Mineral Point School District measurably reduced $27,000 as a result of the project. Therefore the scheduled debt payment of $58,555 that was issued for new energy efficiency measures and renewable energy efficiency products is to be reduced to $31,555.

The board has identified the required performance indicators as presented by Johnson Controls that will measure the energy savings and/or energy cost avoidance in an amount equal to the exemption request.

An evaluation of the energy performance indicators will be included as an addendum in the required 2016-2017 published budget summary document per s. 65.90, Wis. Stats., and in the school district’s newsletter or in the published minutes of the school board meeting.”

The original resolution called for the full $58,555 to be levied with the note being paid off sooner than the completion date of 2022 but Kinch wished to see the savings of the energy project used to pay down the note from year to year instead of at the end.

This would mean less tax dollars would be levied from year to year, but the project would be extended to 2022 instead of being completed sooner, so tax dollars would be levied longer.

Lindsey stated he was concerned this would impact the district’s ability to start another positive project if this one was drawn out to its full length of 2022.

A motion was made to levy the $31,555 instead of the full $58,555. This motion failed with Lindsey, Basting, Dolphin, and Steffes voting no while Hay and Stephenson voted yes. Kinch was absent.

A motion was then made to levy the full $58,555 and this passed unanimously.

The board unanimously approved a Recognition Policy that solidified the procedures used to determine which student and staff accomplishments qualify to receive recognition at the board level.

Credits pre-approved by the board are subject to reimbursement per the administrator’s contract.  Dahl requested reimbursement of one graduate credit from Edgewood College for her attendance at the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association Workshop.  The amount requested to be reimbursed is $170. This was approved unanimously.

Francois concluded the meeting by recognizing the district winning a Bronze Wisconsin School Health Award from the Department of Public Instruction. He thanked school nurse Julie Pompos for applying for the award, as well as anyone instrumental in helping the district strive for healthy environments, education, programs, nutrition, and involvement. The award will be presented later this month in Wisconsin Dells.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held Monday, November 9.