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School Board Takes Action on Important Items
Borg Report April 12, 2019
At its regular meeting April 8, the Westonka School Board took action on several important items. The board voted to end the district’s lease agreement with Stonegate Plaza in Mound and also closed kindergarten enrollment at Hilltop Primary School for next school year due to lack of classroom space. Additionally, the board approved a plan to deal with a $300,000 budget adjustment.
District to End Stonegate Lease
On Monday night, the board took action to end the district’s lease of the Early Childhood Center space in Mound’s Stonegate Plaza. This space currently houses the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and 3-year-old preschool programs, as well as Adventure Club child care and some special education services. Due to cost increases associated with a space that the district viewed as a short-term solution and not as safe or appropriate as our school learning environments, the board decided to end this lease and move all programming onto our school campuses, starting with the 2019-2020 school year. Here are the details of this move:
- The 3-year-old preschool and 3-year-old Adventure Club programs will move out of Stonegate Plaza and to Shirley Hills Primary School for the 2019-2020 school year. This will accommodate preschool registration that has already taken place based on teacher preference as opposed to location. [Note: With the exception of the location of the 3-year-old program, there will be no changes to next year’s preschool registrations]
- For 2020-2021, the plan will be to offer 4-year-old preschool at both primary school locations, aligning students with the school where they would attend kindergarten.
- ECFE programming will be offered at the Educational Service Center (ESC) starting this fall
- To make this transition, the district will need to make some capital improvements to Shirley Hills and to the ESC.
In 2015, the school board established a two-phase construction plan to move the district’s early learning programming onto the school campus. Phase I of the Early Learning Center was completed in August 2017 and moved the 4-year-old preschool and Adventure Club programs onto the Hilltop Primary School campus. Phase I was paid for through the use of district and community education fund balance and the district lease levy. The project resulted in zero tax increase for Westonka residents over the prior year.
The future Phase II of the construction project will require a voter-approved bond. More study—on enrollment trends, grade configuration, programming needs, etc.—is needed before the district can go to the community with a bond referendum request. In the meantime, we felt it was necessary to move the early learning programs to a more safe and appropriate space.
Shirley Hills offers our earliest learners a secure entrance and cafeteria, as well as the Kelly Brady Nafus Memorial Playground, which is specifically designed for preschool-age children. The move to Shirley Hills will be temporary, only until the district can develop a Phase II Early Learning Center plan that the community will support.
Hilltop Kindergarten Program is Now Full
Due to lack of classroom space and an abnormal spike in enrollment from Hilltop Primary School’s attendance area, the board approved the decision to close kindergarten enrollment at Hilltop from this point forward for 2019-2020. Hilltop does not have space to add a sixth section of kindergarten for next year, but the district will be able to accommodate new kindergarten students at Shirley Hills, Westonka’s National Blue Ribbon primary school in Mound.
Budget Adjustment Plan Approved
Also on Monday night, the school board approved a $300,000 budget reduction plan that aligns staffing to school enrollments and focuses on operational spending and support positions. In addition to the $300,000 spending cut, the reduction plan includes the use of $200,000 of district fund balance in order to maintain our current offerings for next school year.
Due to multiple legislative demands, state aid to school districts has not kept up with inflation over the past decade. Routine underfunding of mandated programs, such as special education, further exacerbates budgetary challenges for all school districts.
Westonka has been able to deal with these challenges in the past thanks to sound financial management, a stable fund balance, strong community support and growing enrollment. However, district enrollment is projected to level off in coming years, and the use of fund balance is not a sustainable solution for balancing the budget.
The board is considering alternatives to help close this funding gap in future years and is seeking community input on the district’s budget priorities. Please join us for “Securing Our Future,” a conversation about district finances and facilities, April 30 at 7 p.m. in the Mound Westonka High School Little Theater.