A lot on School Board’s plate

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate April 16, 2013 09:23 am

Possible closure of school among the topics discussed

After discussing a possible school closure and before eliminating a classified position at Crescent Elk Middle School as a cost-savings measure, School Board members on Thursday approved a contract with an auditor that was $13,500 higher than the lowest bidder.

Board members voted 3-2 in favor of an $81,000 contract with Messner & Hadley of Victorville to provide auditing services. Jennifer England and Frances Costello dissented.

The final vote came after a motion to approve a $67,500 contract with Chavan & Associates of San Jose failed on a 2-3 vote. Lori Cowan, Judie Cordts and Board President Don McArthur dissented.

“I’m in favor of keeping them,” McArthur said. “We know them. And I’m afraid of imposing cost on our organization by switching.”

Lori Bomke, the district’s director of fiscal services, argued in favor of awarding the contract to Messner & Hadley. The district has used the firm before, and it has also performed audits for Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, she said. 

It was Messner & Hadley that discovered the budgetary error that led to KRECR’s projected $168,000 deficit for the current year, Bomke said. That was the tipping point in Messner & Hadley’s favor, she said.

The difference of about $13,500 between the two bids will be stretched out over three years, Bomke said. 

“We need their expertise to guide our decision regarding KRECR,” she said. “Also they know what it takes to perform our audit.”

The decision was met with consternation from the local representatives of the California School Employees Association, the classified employees’ union. Patti Rommel noted the need for savings evidenced by the school closure and position-elimination issues on the agenda.

“That’s half a year salary for the classified employee,” she said, referring to Crescent Elk’s student conduct specialist position in the context of the auditing decision.

Board members unanimously approved eliminating the student conduct specialist position at Crescent Elk. The person currently holding the job, Katie Rawlings, will take a part-time position at Del Norte High School, said Human Resources Director Pamela Holloway.

Meanwhile, Crescent Elk’s new discipline program instituted last year has reduced the number of in-house suspensions and school suspensions, District Superintendent Don Olson said. Rawlings had been working in another area of the school because a behavior specialist was not needed, he said. 

Crescent Elk also has a new full-time counselor, said Steve Godla, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services and instruction.

Eliminating the position saves the district about $47,899 per year.

Despite the school’s new discipline program, roughly 90 students a day visit the behavior specialist during lunch and after-school detention, Rommel said.

“To eliminate the only person left to protect those kids (is a) scary thing,” she said. “It’s not a giant savings if you’ve got an extra $5,000 a year for auditors.”

Before the board discussed the auditors’ contract, Godla reported that the advisory committee tasked with recommending a school for closure has visited Bess Maxwell Elementary School. It will visit Pine Grove Elementary School on Tuesday before meeting again next Thursday.

The committee, which is made up of nine teachers, district staff and community members, has narrowed its list of elementary schools it may recommend for closure to Bess Maxwell and Pine Grove.

The committee’s next meeting will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at the district office. Its meetings are open to the public.

The School Board discussed the following Thursday:

• KRECR’s future: Officials gave Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods’ second interim financial report a negative certification, but KRECR Executive Director Bernadette Johnson said the charter school will recover from its recent financial crisis.

Johnson came to before the board in January reporting that due to a budgeting error, KRECR was anticipating a $168,000 deficit for the 2012-13 school year. KRECR is still in the hole, the reason for the negative declaration, but Johnson said the school will be able to stay open.

According to the school’s monthly cash forecast, for the 2012-13 school year, KRECR’s expenditures are expected to outweigh its revenue by about $180,953. But for 2013-14, revenue is projected at $869,566, and expenses at $635,709.

The school saved money by closing its Klamath campus, Johnson said. One-hundred students currently attend KRECR, and the school is anticipating 125 students next year, Johnson said.

 Redwood fencing: Superintendent Don Olson said employees erected a 6-foot fence along the southern boundary of Redwood Elementary School.

Board members had expressed concern about fencing at Redwood after learning the southern boundary fence had many holes and was only about 4 feet high.

• Harvest program: Board members unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers for the Harvest of the Month program.

CAFF will provide $2,000 to purchase local specialty produce and $780 for printing farmers profiles, according to Deborah Kravitz, coordinator for the district’s nutrition programs.

The MOU is contingent upon the district being able to find funding to continue to operate the Harvest of the Month program. Funding for that program and for the district’s Nutrition Network program are expected to expire at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, she said.

CAFF is partnering with five other California counties including Del Norte County, Kravitz said. Farmers partnering with the district include Del Norte’s own Ocean Air Farms, as well as farmers in Humboldt County, the Central Valley and elsewhere in California.

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