School board keeps tabs on St. Paul

MARSHALL – Along with five other discussion items, the Marshall Public School board took time Monday to discuss and learn about possible legislative actions that could impact the district in the future.

MPS Superintendent Klint Willert pointed out that on a federal level, Minnesota is looking at losing $25-27 million in support. At MPS, the district could see a decrease of $86,000, a 5.3 percent impact on next year’s budget, which would greatly impact some programs and services.

“There is so much happening,” Willert said. “And it’s a little like sausage-making. You don’t really like watching it, but you’re glad when it’s done.”

Special education and Title I students would be most at-risk because of the federal decrease, Willert said.

“There’s a danger of having a domino effect,” he said. “If you end up taking from one area, another area ends up being affected.”

Willert also noted that school lunch programs will likely be exempt from federal cuts. He also informed the board that bullying legislation went through recently.

“We know Minnesota is going to have a new bullying policy,” he said. “We’re going to have to do some work there in the future.”

Willert let the board know about three specific House Files to keep an eye on, including House File 247, which is tied to approximately $300,000 worth of integration funding in the district. It’s possible, he said, that the funding may be changed into innovation dollars.

“There’s been a big push from the state department in the direction of addressing the achievement gap,” Willert said. “Minnesota has one of the most predominant achievement gaps in the country. It will be focused on leverage, on closing that.”

Business director Bruce Lamprecht added that it was possible that the funding would be some type of formula based on the number of students of color that each district has. The most difficult part, he said, was in trying to guess what the Legislature would actually do.

“There will probably be little movement until May,” Lamprecht said. “From a budgeting standpoint, there may be a lot of estimates. We’ll have to get the budget out by April or May, but we’ll have no idea where the actual numbers will land until after that.”

House File 105, which supports all day, every day kindergarten, and House File 416, which connects inflation increases to funding increases, are both worth of keeping an eye on as well, Willert said.

Lamprecht walked the board through a comparative analysis of Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative contracts, noting differences between the current year and projected 2013-14 contract year amounts.

“Basically, not much has changed,” he said. “There’s an educational Resource Library that we haven’t utilized much, so we’re making a recommendation to not continue that.”

Administrators also suggested discontinuing Response to Intervention (RtI)/Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) Services from the Service Coop.

“Last year, we added a full-time reading coach and we also have the ability to handle PBIS internally now,” Willert said. “We don’t have a need for the additional support any longer.”

If the district discontinues those two areas of support, it would equate to about $11,000 in savings per year, though a few areas, including special education services, increased slightly.

“We’re paying $8,000 less than last year,” Board member Karen VanKeulen said. “That’s good.”

Willert reported what he knew about the Affordable Health Care Act, noting that there were many unknowns yet.

“Right now, we’re dealing with a big ball of spaghetti,” he said. “If we pull on this noodle, we don’t know what that’ll mean. . . But we’ll certainly work through it and keep you up to date.”

The Marshall robotics team also gave a presentation, highlighting the current season.

“We would’ve liked to have brought the robot in, but it’s what you call ‘bagged and tagged’ right now,” mentor John DeCramer said. “It’s ready for the March competition.”

This year’s robotics theme is “Ultimate Ascent”

“It’s essentially playing with frisbees,” DeCramer said. “The robots are to receive frisbees from someone outside the area, then deliver them through one of the windows. Also, at the end, the last 30 seconds or so, the idea is to have the robot climb that pyramid.”

The higher up the pyramid the robot ascends, the more points are awarded.

“The robot cannot grab the second bar until it’s off the first bar,” DeCramer said. “That creates a challenge.”

Three Marshall Tigerbots participants – Monica Timmerman, Troy Timmerman and Sam Garvey – explained a little bit about the process, from getting a required kit, building an appropriate robot and then advancing to competition.

“They give you a box of parts and some gift certificates to get some smaller motors,” Garvey said. “There’s a couple of motors that are quite large. As far as the frame, there’s not much help from the kit.”

Every one of the teams, including approximately 60 the Tigerbots will compete against, use the same battery and control system. There are also physical size restrictions.

“We made a camera for the robot, so we could see where it was going,” Monica Timmerman said.

DeCramer brought up the possibility of switching from the US First organization, which requires a $5,000 entry fee, to a newer one called Jackrabbit BEST in Brookings, S.D., which does not require an entry fee. Currently, the Marshall program operates on the support of four corporate sponsors.