Roughly three months after they approved a $3.5 million loan to upgrade Del Norte County Unified School District’s technology infrastructure, trustees on Thursday unanimously agreed to establish a special fund and use one-time state education dollars to help pay off the loan.

Jeff Napier, assistant superintendent of business, said he had already transferred $1 million of the $1.2 million one-time funds to Fund 40. This, he said, would enable the district to make its $710,000 annual loan payment without having to dip into its general fund.

“My intent is we’d be using one-time funds to put into that Fund 40 so we can pay that loan off as quickly as possible and not using ongoing funds to do that,” Napier said, adding the district has already made a $710,000 payment out of its general fund.

According to Napier, districts can create a Fund 40 for mid-year capital purchases and for saving money for capital purchases.

The school board approved a $3.5 million loan contract between the school district and Colorado-based Key Government Finance, Inc. at a special meeting March 14. At the board’s meeting Feb. 15, Napier said the district needed to purchase new switches, routers and other upgrades to its technology, which would cost an estimated $3.5 million to $4 million.

As the school district didn’t have the available money in its reserves to fund the purchase, Napier looked into financing the cost of the technology upgrade with a zero-interest, no fee-financing loan.

The district’s total payout of the loan over five years will be $3.5 million, Superintendent Jeff Harris told the school board on Thursday.

“Interest is accruing, but our payout will still be $3.5 million,” Harris said. “But if we pay out early we won’t pay three years of interest on $3.5 million. I think it’s a fiscally prudent thing to do if we realize those one-time dollars. That’s $700,000 a year that doesn’t go (into) ongoing expenses. It does not throw off the multi-year projections of having to pull $700,000 a year out of ongoing funds for the next four years.”

Harris said the money in Fund 40 would be used to make the district’s regularly scheduled $710,000 payment. The fund could also be used for other one-time dollars the district receives, including its allocation from the newly-authorized Secured Rural Schools program, Harris said. The district also expects to receive a small amount of one-time federal dollars, but Harris said that would be “just in the tens of thousands.”

Secured Rural Schools funding was reauthorized with the passing of an omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump in March. On Monday, Napier said the district still doesn’t know what its allocation will be, but has been told the check is in the mail.

In other matters, trustees received some feedback on the district’s proposed Local Control Accountability Plan. Lora Schultz, a school counselor at Joe Hamilton and Pine Grove elementary schools, requested the school board reconsider staff’s recommendation to hire one additional counselor at the K-8 level instead of the two additional counselors that was in the original LCAP.

After working with children in Del Norte County for about 30 years as a social worker, health therapist and school counselor, Schultz said she has seen a decline in mental health services for youngsters over the years. When she worked at Joe Hamilton Elementary School full time as a counselor, Schultz said she was able to build relationships with parents and students, offer classroom guidance, help establish a bullying prevention program and participate in school wide activities.

Schultz also cited the American School Counselors Association, which recommends a ratio of 250 students to one counselor. At Joe Hamilton, Schultz said she worked with 340 students and now, serving two schools, she works with roughly 700 students.

“I can say students in Del Norte County are struggling with trauma, poverty and social-emotional stress at an alarming rate,” Schultz said. “I urge you to reconsider the LCAP survey results. The most frequent requests from all focus groups was (advances) in social and emotional support and counseling. We were originally told we’d have three counselors in the LCAP, then two, now one. Please reconsider keeping a second counselor position at the elementary level.”

Even though the district’s revised LCAP calls for only hiring one K8 counselor, the district also plans to fund a fully-certified counselor at Del Norte High School, according to Harris. He said the County Office of Education is currently paying for a counselor tech, which can only provide career counseling. A full-time counselor can provide academic counseling as well as social and emotional counseling, he said.

The school board is expected to vote June 28 on the 2018-19 LCAP as well as the district’s budget.

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