New school gets green light in Farmington

Board members still want more financial detail

by Jennifer Chick
Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

Now that the Farmington School Board has approved the district’s new school concept, District 192 administrators will begin hiring teachers and registering students for the project-based school.

The board approved Farmington New School at its regular board meeting Monday night. Farmington New School is touted as a project-based, continuous progress, multi-age learning center. The vote was originally set for the Jan. 27 meeting, but with no school that day due to subzero temperatures, the board shortened its agenda that night, pushing the decision back to Feb. 10.

“This is not just a green light to go all the way forward, it’s a green light to take the next steps,” Board Chairwoman Tera Lee said. “I wanted to make sure that was very clear tonight.”

It wasn’t a unanimous decision with Board Member Julie Singewald voting against the decision to move forward with the new school.

“If I am voting on something, to me it means dollars,” Singewald said, “and I want to know what dollars are tied to this, 100 percent. And I’ve asked a number of questions regarding FTEs (full -time equivalent teachers), even estimated, and I get that this is still in process, but I want to make it clear that administratively, if we are going to plan … when we are voting on something, we are voting on something that is either a policy or has dollars behind it. That’s why I want to make it clear that if I am voting on something tonight, I fully want to understand the impact, and up to this point, I feel like we haven’t gotten all those answers.”

She said after the meeting she wasn’t against the concept, but she needed more detailed budget numbers before voting for what will amount to a new school in the district. District administrators have stressed that they plan to keep the new school budget-neutral, using space at the existing District Instructional Services Center and drawing staff from within the district.

But with no solid numbers to back up those claims, Singewald voted no.

Board Member Laura Beem voted for the new school, but she also wants to see budget numbers nailed down.

“We do need to start to get those parameters around there so that, as a board, we understand what the commitment is and what the risks and the things that we are going to kind of be giving away, and that we understand the capital costs that are going to go into this building,” she said. “This starts to become very important as we are making decisions that are on this list now, that we need to understand the financial impact of those and that we, as a board, are comfortable with that. In case something goes wrong, we need to understand what we committed to.”

The 100- to 120-student school will be open to all students in the district, ages 9 to 11, and will take students on a voluntary basis. If more students express interest than there is space, students would be selected by a lottery-type process. The school will be student-centered and feature project-based learning. Students will not be grouped by the traditional grade system, but instead by abilities and interests.

The district plans a fall 2014 opening and is posting open positions to current teachers in the district. Information and registration meetings will be held over the next month: 5 p.m. Feb. 18 at Farmington Elementary School Media Center; 10 a.m. Feb. 20 at Countryview Community Room; 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at North Trail Elementary School Media Center; 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at Community Education Center at Meadowview Elementary; 5 p.m. March 3 at Akin Road Elementary School Media Center, and 7 p.m. March 3 at Riverview Elementary School Media Center.

Information about the new school and an online application form can be found at Families seeking to enroll students in this new school should complete the application prior to April 1.

In other business, Director of Finance Carl Colmark updated the board on the formal budget process for 2014-2015. For the first time in many years, the district is looking at a surplus in the general fund of approximately $200,000 for next year. Much of this can be attributed to an increase in the state education formula and all-day kindergarten numbers, Colmark said, but he stressed that he does not see this surplus continuing into future years.

If the board wants to see its unassigned fund balance, which is basically an emergency fund for the district, reach the board recommended level of 6 to 7 percent, instead of the 2.2 percent it sits at now, he recommended the board consider a levy referendum.