Belle Plaine is set to receive about $515,000 for their schools in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding. The money has to be spent by the end of December and is allocated for substitute teacher expenses, mental health support, underserved populations, costs associated with COVID-19 related to cleaning supplies/PPE, technology costs, and others.
Start of the School Year
Although the elementary school had some issues with distance learning that they were working through, Superintendent Ryan Laager noted at the school board meeting Monday night, Sept. 14, that the beginning of the school year, “knock on wood,” had been going well.
“Kids wearing masks have gone exceptionally well,” said Laager.
Lager also noted that there are two sets of guidelines, a set that schools follow versus a set of general public guidelines.
The district numbers are down about twenty or thirty students, and Laager said that the school would be losing about $170,000 to $180,000 as a result of losing funding for those kids. The CARES act funding will help offset that, although the board wants to make sure they are being competitive in appealing to students, parents and families. Nobody wants to be losing students from their district. Although enrollment is slightly down, it is not out of line with statewide trends, particularly as it relates to the pandemic.
Laager explained that the MSHSL has increased activity fees to schools; Belle Plaine’s will go up by about $10,000. Essentially, the league has changed their budget model, independent of COVID.
The new model will rely less on ticket sales and gate revenue, and instead start charging schools on the sports and participants they have which will help fund the league instead of relying so heavily on state tournament revenue. No state tournaments are scheduled for this year, but the league plans under its new model to redistribute revenue from state tournaments back to the schools under the same model they charged them by. Laager thinks it will be a positive thing in the long run.
Participation in Sports
The board also discussed how it would be better to keep students playing sports at the schools rather than venturing out to play in the different leagues that are available independent of the MSHSL.
Many pointed out that the travel in those independent leagues would cost a lot more and the risk for coronavirus exposure could be greater as the kids would play against more teams across the state and country.
Preliminary levy numbers were presented by business director Chuck Keller, who noted numbers were not final but said he did not see an increase in this year’s (school portion) levy. A preliminary levy will need to be approved at the Sept. 28 business meeting with final approval in December.
Refinancing the school’s 2012A bonds, which have already been refinanced once, could save taxpayers more than $750,000 (off the levy) over the next five years. The effect will not be seen until the 2022 levy.
The school board is also looking into getting a company to perform an in-depth assessment on all the facilities and grounds of the schools, such as pipes and boilers, as well as help with facility planning.