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ACGC will ask voters to renew operating levy in November

GROVE CITY –– Now that its finances are healthy and student test scores improving, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board wants to keep the positive momentum going by asking voters to renew its operating levy.

The district’s current $1,075-per-pupil operating levy, which was approved in May of 2008, generates about $400,000 each year.

That operating levy expires at the end of 2014.

The board took formal action Monday to ask voters to approve the operating levy for another seven years.

The issue will be on the November ballot.

Superintendent Sherri Broderius said a citizens’ committee will be created to get the word out about the levy vote prior to the November election.

If the levy is renewed, there will be no gap in revenues coming to the district, said Business Manager Dan Tait.

The board didn’t set a specific dollar figure for the per-pupil levy in the resolution in order to give the board flexibility in case the Legislature adjusts how schools must calculate operating levy formulas.

But Board Chairman Joel Gratz said the intention is to renew the existing $1,075 operating levy.

“We’re not trying to increase the tax burden on constituents,” said Gratz.

He added that taxpayers are expected to see a tax decrease when the district makes its final $700,000 bond payment on the high school in January of 2015.

Gratz said the board wants to “keep the ball rolling” for the district, which used the operating levy and budget cuts to emerge from statutory operating debt with healthy finances. In the process, innovative teaching tools were used that resulted in positive student outcomes that have won statewide praise for ACGC’s elementary school.

“We’re really in a nice place right now,” said Gratz, adding that the board wants to continue the “momentum we’ve been gaining in the last few years.”

Because of the improved finances, the board agreed Monday to again offer a business class as an elective course. The program had been cut when the district was in statutory operating debt — a term that refers to deficit spending beyond levels allowed by the state.

There are many classes on the wish list, but Gratz said a district advisory committee recommended that the business program be added to the 2014-15 school curriculum.

Gratz said there are no immediate plans to add back other electives. He said renewing the levy will be “critical” in order for the board to consider adding any more classes.

Broderius said the business course meshes nicely with a new CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program that includes a partnership with ACGC, Willmar and New London-Spicer School Districts.

Superintendent review

In other action Monday, the board discussed its evaluation of Broderius, whose two-year contract expires in June.

Broderius chose to have the review done publicly.

The board gave Broderius an average ranking of 4.4 points out of 5 for the various components of the review, which Gratz said was an “excellent” rating.

He said the tone of the board’s response to Broderius was, “Wow. Keep up the fantastic work.”

Broderius said the review was an opportunity to recognize the “team” of ACGC staff that she works with.

“No leader works in isolation,” said Broderius. “I’ve got a great team around me.”

Gratz said the board is expected to begin negotiating a new contract with Broderius.

Cold cancellations

The board on Monday also reviewed the recent school closure days brought about because of the cold weather.

Broderius said a weather survey taken by superintendents in the region shows most districts do not have policies outlining standards for closing school because of weather conditions.

She said calling school off, or delaying classes, because of dangerously cold temperatures is one of the toughest school/weather decisions to make.

She said it’s difficult to decide if school should close at 35 below zero, but be open at 30 below zero.

Broderius said it’s easy for people to make statements at 5 p.m. on whether the school district made the right decision.

But, she said, school superintendents have to make the call at 5 a.m., when the crystal ball can be a bit cloudy.

ACGC does not have a policy on making those weather decisions because each situation is unique. Broderius said it was reassuring to see that other districts did not have weather policies either.

Because two of the cold days that forced closure of many schools fell on Mondays, ACGC has missed only two full days of school because of weather this year. Because of ACGC’s four-day school week — Tuesday through Friday — those two missed days will be made up on Mondays later this year. The district is expected to end classes on schedule in May.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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