WORTHINGTON — All local government entities must pre-certify their 2021 tax levy by Sept. 30, so the District 518 school board needed to make that decision at its regular board meeting Tuesday.
The board voted unanimously to approve the maximum estimated, at a decrease of 13.67%, or a total levy of $7,634,233.30. Some adjustments may be made before the levy is finalized in December.
Potential building purchase
At the school board's work session last week, potential options for moving out of the old West Elementary building were discussed. The board's preference at the time was to consider purchasing a commercial building available in town, and it had planned to vote Tuesday on giving Superintendent John Landgaard the authority to begin negotiations.
However, when board members reviewed the action item Tuesday, they opted to gather more information before making a decision.
"I think at this point, we're still weighing the pros and cons," said board member Steve Schnieder.
Board chair Brad Shaffer agreed, but also noted the potential risk of waiting.
"The downside of doing this (waiting to make a move) is that someone else may swoop in and take this piece of property out from under us," he said.
Understanding that possibility, the board was still unanimous in being cautious about moving ahead with the purchase. Members wanted to gather more information and discuss the move again at the special board meeting Sept. 29.
Part of gathering information was touring the facility — Worthington's former Shopko building, located at 1755 N. Humiston Ave. Following the meeting, Landgaard took the board on a walk-through of the site, pointing out potential uses for the space.
Board members seemed optimistic about the building's potential, but still had a number of questions to explore before deciding for certain whether to pursue purchasing the site for community education.
Intermediate school bids
The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept the low bid submitted for the district's planned intermediate school. The district received 10 bids total, and the lowest came in at $25,490,000 for the base and 26,134,000 with two alternates — one for terrazzo flooring in high-traffic areas, and one for concrete parking lots instead of bituminous.
In total, that's about 11% — or around $4 million — below the district's estimate for the project.
Landgaard shared the most recent enrollment numbers, as of the beginning of the school year:
- 1,129 students at Prairie Elementary, which is 76 fewer than estimated
- 961 at Worthington Middle School, 11 fewer than estimated
- 1,028 at Worthington High School, 24 fewer than estimated
- 103 at the Area Learning Center, 14 more than estimated
- 121 in the VIBE program, 66 more than estimated
That's a total loss of about 31 students, which adds to a decrease in about $350,000 in funding from the state. Final funding numbers are determined by the enrollment as of Oct. 1, and there are still some students entering and leaving the district, Landgaard noted.
District COVID-19 cases
District 518 recently confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 within the school district. First, a staff member who had not yet entered any district buildings tested positive Sept. 8. More cases were confirmed Sept. 14, and Landgaard said he could not share whether these cases were students or staff, or which buildings were affected.
It's possible the district could consider welcoming more students into the buildings as early as October, should case numbers in Nobles County fall accordingly. One determining factor in this decision is how quickly the bus service can finalize a three-tier busing system to ensure social distancing during transport to school.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," board member Linden Olson said. "I think the best case is to wait and see."
Suspension of indoor concerts
At the request of district principals and music faculty, the school board voted to suspend all indoor concerts, plays and other arts events until the end of the calendar year. Students may still be able to perform their work, but it will have to happen either outdoors or virtually in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Also during the school board meeting:
- A second and final reading of the district's COVID-19 face covering policy passed.
- A truth in taxation hearing was set for 6 p.m. Dec. 15 in the WHS Media Center.
- A first reading of the district's Title IX sex nondiscrimination policy, grievance procedure and process was approved. The policy requires a successful second reading before it is enacted.
- The board approved an additional one-year nursing contract for the district.
- A district command team was created to address potential model changes and other COVID-19 adjustments. The team will consist of a nurse, a human resources professional, a district communications employee, a Nobles County representative, an administrator, a Sanford representative and the school board chair.