WORTHINGTON - How to divvy up available funding between a list of projects was at front and center of this week’s Independent School District 518 Board of Education committee meetings.

Between $14 million and $14.5 million in fund balance was the figure district administration provided as an estimate that the board has to work with while maintaining a comfortable balance for day-to-day operations.

How to spend those dollars, particularly regarding an intermediate school and community education, received the most consideration.

District Director of Business Management Dave Skog said consultants estimate it would cost $754,000 more to construct community education in conjunction with another district facility than in conjunction with the city’s activity center. The district’s portion of that collaboration is estimated at $12.5 million.

Operations committee member Mike Harberts proposed spending $4 million of the available funds to fund the high school addition. He then suggested dividing the remaining funds based on project costs to contribute to two referendum questions - one for a three-grade intermediate school and one for community education. Under his proposal, the district would contribute approximately $7.5 million to the intermediate school question and $2.5 million to the community education.

While members of different committees, Harberts and Adam Blume both expressed concern should the board not commit the same or similar amount toward an intermediate school question than it did during the most recent failed referendum. Under that failed proposal, the district would have committed an estimated $5.8 million.

“I think the school space needs to be No. 1 at this point,” Blume said. “It’s not about being positive or negative, I’m just concerned about the economy.

“I’m not against doing (community ed) in the future,” he added. “I still think we need to get our school space taken care of before any of this.”

Operations committee members Steve Schnieder and Joel Lorenz disagreed about putting community education on a ballot.

“Community ed is going to be tough to pass,” Loernz said.

Schnieder said he didn’t want to risk the public voting for one but not the other.

“If they say they’re not going to fund it, that doesn’t make it go away,” Schnieder said. “It’s still our problem, and then we have no resources to do it.”

Instruction committee member Lori Dudley said the district’s opportunity to address the issue is now.

“We don’t want to put it off too long because it’s cheaper now to do it as part of the collaborative project,” added instruction committee member Linden Olson.

In response to the idea of community education being on a ballot, Community Education Director Sharon Johnson requested that it be the first question.

She said the board chose last year not to relocate early childhood special education into the West Learning Center facility where community ed is located due to health and safety concerns.

“If that building is not good enough to move early childhood special education, I don’t feel we should keep our current staff and children in there,” she said. “There is a growing feeling amongst staff that they’re not being treated equitably to other staff and students in the district.”

Blume said everyone needs to be on the same page before deciding on a referendum date.

“I think we’re on the same page, but I think we have different questions and different ways we want to see this done,” he said.

During Monday’s instructional meeting, board members heard a proposal from middle school principal Jeff Luke that would eliminate second quarter conferences and elongate first and third quarter conferences. The request is an attempt to be more accommodating to families, particularly those working shifts, he explained.

“We want more contact with parents and teachers,” Luke said.

The proposal would also call for teachers to attend the Aug. 22 back to school open house. They’d be on hand not only to meet and greet new students and their parents, but to help and encourage parents to fill out paperwork and gain access to the school’s online system.

In other committee meeting business,

  • The operations committee will recommend beginning to accept credit card payments at a flat fee rate of $3. MasterCard payments would not be accepted, as it charges a higher fee.
  • The operations committee will recommend installation of new security system technology across most district sites for an estimated cost of $413,000.
  • The operations committee will recommend resurfacing the tennis courts for approximately $35,500. The project is expected to fill in and fix areas that are beginning to flake.

The board will meet at 5:15 p.m. May 21 in regular session at the Worthington High School Media Center.