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What happened to school’s fiscal responsibility?

To the Editor:
I feel as a parent of the community for the last 15 years, I have watched Glencoe-Silver Lake School district go through many changes —some good, some not so good. Unfortunately, I believe we have hit a “not-so-good” threshold.
Let me remind the readers of this letter and the community that it was a mere 10 years ago that our school district was in statutory operating debt and we brought in a very experienced superintendent and business manager to assist us in writing a financial and operational plan to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education. Our district went through a very tumultuous time in reducing staff hours, not replacing staff, monitoring the amount of classroom and office supplies and many other cost-saving initiatives to bring us back to a positive general fund. I believe that some of the current school board members are still representing the community and may remember how challenging those times were. I know as a community member, it has been difficult to watch what has been happening the last 10 years.
When it was announced that we were over budget by $1.39 million dollars, it did not surprise me. When it was explained to the school board and community as to “how” it happened, I was so disappointed. The community voted on this referendum multiple times and each time, it was never an overwhelming vote of “yes” – it was passed by a narrow margin I believe the third time it was presented on the ballot. It may have been the fourth; I’m not exactly sure.
I’m sure the school board members and the administrators executed their due diligence in researching the project and asked many questions of each company that submitted a bid in response to our request for proposals. In my experience, you won’t ask the questions that are necessary unless you know that you need to ask them. I believe this is where we may have fallen short. So this leads me to a list of questions and statements that should be answered by the school board and administrators to be addressed to the community.
• How did we miss the $800,000 fire suppression state-mandated code? Did Donlar not include it in the bid? If not, then we need to look through the original contract and find out the repercussions that could happen if Donlar was negligent in including it in the bid?
• Did we have any clauses in the contract that identified financial penalties to Donlar if project was not completed on time? This is standard language in a building project.
• It has been shared with the community that we have found $150,000 to start the recovery process. This is a pretty minimal amount to what needs to be recovered! How are we going to recover from a $1.39 million dollar deficit without affecting our students? Budget time is upon us for next year (and we should be planning for the next five years) — please share with us a detailed plan of how this is not going to affect our students directly or indirectly?
• Our superintendent’s contract is up for re-negotiating this year; could this be one area for cost savings? Sharing a superintendent with a neighboring district? Could we share a business manager with a neighboring district? Should we look at out-sourcing these two positions to a contractor? These two options could save us hundreds of thousands of dollars between salary and benefits. I believe this is an option we need to look at as a community since we are experiencing a declining enrollment.
Every month it is in the school board minutes that we continually stay “fiscally responsible” — I believe with the actions that have brought us to this project deficit does not show fiscal responsibility on our part. It was shared with us that our current operating levy is about to expire and the district is looking to bring it to a vote in November. Is this really the best time to do that? Or do we need to gain the trust back from the community, again, before we go back to ask for more money?
In conclusion, I have chosen to run for school board this November when elections come around to help be a part of this solution as we try to move the school district in a positive direction.
Andrea Janke