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FACT CHECK: High school has classroom spaces for everyone (April 21, 2017)

Construction and remodeling at the high school, and the subsequent movement of teaching spaces, has caused some confusion and sparked several rumors in the community.

The fact is our high school is not too small, and there will be space for students and teachers alike in the coming years.

Here are a few important things to know:

  • Architects and district and school staff have worked hard to design the high school efficiently to ensure we didn’t overbuild, which would have resulted in unused spaces and unnecessary expense.

  • By working together with staff, we've found ways to convert some larger flexible spaces into learning spaces that teachers will utilize more frequently throughout the day.

  • Next year's junior and senior classes are the largest within our system - creating an enrollment bubble that will make things tight, but manageable for the coming year. Subsequent classes are smaller and the high school will continue to have ample room into the future.

Administrators are currently working to finalize staffing for next year, and working along with high school staff to begin the task of assigning classrooms to teachers. It sounds like a simple task - just assign one teacher to each of the classroom spaces in the building. And while that is generally what happens, there are a few exceptions. There are a handful of teachers in the building who do not teach full-time. Some teachers split their time between the high school and another building; others have non-teaching responsibilities for a portion of their day. Because these teachers teach less than five periods per day, that would mean that their classroom spaces, if assigned, would remain empty for a large portion of the school day. That’s not an efficient use of space.

Most full-time teachers (who teach five periods each day and have one period off for prep time) will have their own classrooms spaces. During their prep period, a few of those classrooms may be used by part-time teachers. Teachers who are not in their own room for a prep time have access to spaces where they can collaborate with other teachers or work on their own. Because of the enrollment bubble, it’s tightest in the Humanities wing (Language Arts and Social Studies) next year. But that pressure will decline in subsequent years.

High school administrators are continuing to work with teachers and staff to finalize plans for the coming year. They’re developing creative solutions to efficiently utilize space and best meet the needs of our students.

FACT CHECK: Staffing for next year is just beginning, there’s much more to come (Feb. 2017)

There are many changes on the horizon for the coming school year, and the business of staffing our schools is more complex than ever before. With the movement of thousands of students and staff, the staffing process for the 2017-18 school year began in the fall of 2015. The process of rolling out initial allocations of teacher FTE began in mid-February, more than a month earlier than any year in the past. This was done through collaborative coordination between district leaders and union representatives, in an effort to reduce the uncertainty of staff members, given all of the transitions taking place.

The staffing process, however, is not yet finalized, and in fact, it will be a few months before our schools are fully staffed. With each round of postings, positions are filled, new jobs open up and the shifting of employees takes place. We’re also coordinating our staffing with enrollment of our students - another complex process that will continue to play out over the next several months (see below). The reality is, it will be late into May before we have a total picture of what staffing will be for next year, and even then minor changes may be made throughout the summer to adjust for changes in our student enrollment.

It is fair to say that next year, staffing in each of our buildings will look differently than it does this year; this is true of any year. It is impossible to compare next year’s staffing numbers to this year, because staffing is done based on the needs of the students enrolled in each building.  As students progress through our system and programs, and move to different buildings, staffing appropriations follows those movements.   

We’re working closely with our union leadership, as well as with our Special Education staff and building principals, to ensure our staffing for the coming year reflects the needs of each school building.

FACT CHECK: Alternate and open enrollment requests still being filled (Feb. 2017)

Several hundred families have submitted applications for alternate or open enrollment for the coming year. A lottery was held in January and more than 70 percent of all of the applications were approved in the first round - that’s a higher percentage than is filled at this time in a typical year. Yet, the process is far from over.

Families accepted in the first round have until March 1 to notify the district if they’ll be accepting a spot in their chosen school. As families accept positions, new openings are created within schools across the district. Families next in line on a waiting list for a place in a chosen school will be notified of any new openings in mid-March, at which time the process begins anew. Alternate and open enrollment requests will continue to be filled throughout the spring, and well into the summer. We ask for your patience as we work through this process.

FACT CHECK: Conversations about the sale of Marine Elementary (Feb. 2017)

UPDATE: The school board will be discussing an amended stay resolution at its Feb. 23 learning session, which could allow for discussion around the sale of Marine. Watch for more details to be posted following that meeting. 

The city of Marine has expressed an interest in purchasing Marine Elementary School and asked the school board to engage in conversations about the sale of the building.

The district, however, is unable to talk about the future of the schools slated for closure due to a stay resolution that was approved in April 2016 at the request of 834 VOICE.

834 VOICE is a non-profit organization of parents concerned about school closures. They’ve filed an appeal on the school closure decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Last spring they asked the school board to stay, or halt any further action on school closure until after the court of appeals ruled on the case. That request was made by an attorney for 834 VOICE at the April 14, 2016 school board meeting. In response, a resolution was passed by the board to “stay action on the closing of schools, active marketing and/or sale of buildings and implementation of boundary changes pending a decision by the Court of Appeals.”

On several occasions elected officials from the city of Marine, as well as members of the Marine Area Charter School board of directors, have approached the district to discuss the future of Marine Elementary. The district’s attorney advised Marine city council members at a Jan. 19, 2017 learning session to reach out to 834 VOICE’s attorney to formally request a change to the stay to allow such conversations to take place.

FACT CHECK: The real story behind conflict of interest allegations (Winter 2016)

A recent news article alleged a conflict of interest against a district employee and the district’s financial advisor, Robert W. Baird and Co. It also raised concerns about fees paid to Baird for its work on the bond sales to finance construction projects currently underway across the district.

It is important to note that the State Auditor has twice issued opinions finding no statutory conflict of interest arising from the relationship between Kristen Hoheisel, the district’s executive director of finance and operations since 2013, and Mike Hoheisel, who has served as the district’s financial adviser for nearly 10 years.

The school board approved the overall budget for the construction projects and ultimately approved the sale of bonds. The district entered into a financial advisor contract with Baird.  At the time of that agreement, Baird’s standard financial advisory fee structure was used. This was the same fee used throughout the referendum process once the scope of the project was defined. Documents related to the sale of bonds (which included an overview of the closing fees) were brought before the school board for review on three separate occasions from January through August 2015. On each occasion, the documents were approved unanimously without any concerns about an alleged conflict being raised by any of the board members.

Fact Check Archive

Visit an archive of previous Fact Checks - beginning in the fall of 2016.