The North Crawford School Board meeting began and ended in executive closed session last Tuesday, June 24.
The meeting agenda posted the week before included the final closed session with several personnel issues listed. However, the initial closed session was added to that agenda later.
The finalized agenda at the meeting stated that the closed session’s purpose was to confer with legal counsel who is “rendering advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the board with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.”
In fact, the board spent about the first 45 minutes of the meeting in closed session with their contracted attorney, Eileen Brownlee.
When the school board returned to open session, the first item on the agenda was an update of the proposed fitness center. Borrowing for funding of the fitness or wellness center, as it is sometimes called, will be the subject of a referendum on the ballot in August 12 election.
North Crawford’s PEP Grant Director Tarassa Lown led the discussion updating the board on the fitness center and a series of meetings planned to explain the project prior to the referendum. The discussion included a phone meeting with financial consultant Carol Wirth to go over a sample ballot. Wirth also reviewed the answers to some commonly asked questions about the general obligation bonds the referendum would authorize and their tax implications.
Wirth told the board the ballot will ask voters a yes or no question on whether the district should be granted authority to issue general obligation bonds in the amount not to exceed $1.3 million to construct and equip a wellness center.
The consultant pointed out to the board that information used in putting together a proposal on where to obtain the money and what interest rates could be expected and the 20-year duration of the bond were not really part of the referendum question. However, she explained the answers and told the board some of those points could be explained at informational meetings.
Lown told the board that there were six meetings currently planned to explain the plans for the fitness center and the August referendum. A group, including school board members, architects, school staff, Wirth and others, was scheduled to make appearances at village board meetings to update those boards and anyone else present on the referendum and the plans for the fitness center. The group would also be available to answer any questions. Those meetings are scheduled for July 3 and August 7 at the Soldiers Grove Village Board meetings and July 7 and August 4 at the Gays Mills Village Board meetings.
In addition to the presentations at the village board meetings, Lown told the board two other more in-depth public meetings were also being planned in early July and August. At these meetings, the district would provide more detailed information about the fitness center and the referendum.
For its part, the board had few questions about the material since most members had spent many months in meetings where it was presented and developed.
However, later in the meeting during the public input segment, two district residents, Greg Lundberg and Monica George, did ask questions and raise some points about the fitness center.
Lundberg asked what the 0.42 mil rate increase that results in $42 more in taxes annually per $100,000 of equalized property value, meant in terms of percentage of increase in the current tax levy.
North Crawford School District Administrator Dan Davies promised Lundberg he would get the information and provide it to him.
The percentage of overall increase that raising the current tax levy by 0.42 will vary in the future according to any given year’s tax levy, which is different every year based on a variety of factors. However, in the 2013-2014 budget, which resulted in a mil rate of 9.68, an increase of 0.42, would’ve resulted in an overall tax rate increase of 4.34 percent.
Davies later confirmed to the Independent-Scout that these numbers were approximately accurate in reflecting what the percentage increase in tax rate would have cost to fund the borrowing given this year’s tax levy.
Lundberg also had questions about the three-year contract with Vernon Memorial Healthcare to manage and staff the community-side of the fitness center.
George asked if the weight room couldn’t be redone to accommodate the equipment to be purchased.
Davies told George that there was much more equipment than just weights and more room would be needed.
George quoted a previous Independent-Scout article in in which Davies or another North Crawford official was quoted as saying if VMH pulled out and another way could not be found to run the community aspect of the fitness center, it would still be available for the school’s students to use.
Davies said the intent was always to make the facility available to the community and even if VMH decides against continuing its role after three years, the district will try other approaches to make it available to the community, perhaps including volunteer staffers. George noted that at the last meeting VMH was supposedly making a five-year contract and now it’s referred to as three years.
“We say five years and they say three years,” board member Wade Dull said in explaining the discrepancy.
“Is this district out of debt?” George asked.
“Yes,” Davies replied.
“Then why do you want to put us in debt again?” George asked.
“It’s whether the community wants it,” Davies said.
“I think it’s a mistake,” George said in conclusion.
In other business, the North Crawford School Board:
• approved the purchase of fitness equipment with PEP grant funds
• approved the 2014-2015 school calendar that calls for an 8:05 a.m. start and 3:30 p.m. end to the school and starts school after September 1, while ending school for students on May 28 and teachers on May 31
• passed a motion making May 29, 2015 the official high school graduation date
• agreed to an employee physical contract with Vernon Memorial Hospital, which will provide greatly reduced rates
• approved a cooperative agreement with Kickapoo School district to provide Early Childhood
• approved a cooperative agreement with Seneca to provide autism service through the special ed department
• tabled the VMH Fitness Center agreement
• accepted the resignations of school guidance counselor Hillary Day, school nurse Barb Kanadle, high school phy ed teacher Judd Eastman, junior varsity volleyball coach Angie Dahl and bus drivers Gerald Geursten and Dennis Johnson
• agreed to keep student fees the same for the coming year
• approved a request for a band trip to Memphis and New Orleans from March 31 through April 4