Getting a feel for his new district
WILLMAR -- Funding issues were at the top of the list of challenges new Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard listed on Thursday. Kjergaard joined the district on Tuesday and spoke at the Willmar Lakes Rotary meeting Thursday at the Blue Heron i...
WILLMAR -- Funding issues were at the top of the list of challenges new Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard listed on Thursday.
Kjergaard joined the district on Tuesday and spoke at the Willmar Lakes Rotary meeting Thursday at the Blue Heron in Willmar. He succeeds Kathy Leedom, who will be retiring on July 31.
"I'm really happy to be here," Kjergaard said. "I think that Willmar has a really good district."
Kjergaard said he is not the type of person to make wholesale changes right away, but people will notice some changes in the district over time. He said he would take time to evaluate the current operation and consult with school leaders before making any adjustments.
"I hate to make the first public thing I talk about money," Kjergaard said.
However, the district may be turning to the voters for an operating levy this fall, and the discussion should begin soon, he said.
"I have to tell you there are challenges here and I think all of you here around these tables know that," he said.
"We got the news last week, relative to adequate yearly progress, that we have some students across the district that did not make it," he said. The federal No Child Left Behind education law requires states to try to gauge the effectiveness of their schools through standardized testing.
"I'm not a firm believer in how the feds have set up no child left behind, but if that's the measurement that they're going to hold us to, the district's commitment has to ... make a commitment to educating all children to the best of our ability," Kjergaard told the group of about 25 people.
The law includes nearly 80 different ways that a school district can miss the law's goals for progress, he said.
Even though the district recently cut $1.4 million from its budget, "the bad news is the future looks like if we don't do something we're going to have to cut another $2.5 million out by 2010," he said.
Cutting $2.5 million from the $40 million budget will require some extreme measures, he said. The move will be needed to maintain a general fund balance that can be used in case of emergency, he added.
State officials are talking about freezing school funding for the next two years, Kjergaard said. If that does happen, he added, "We can't live like that."
The School Board will need to decide in August if it plans to ask the voters for an operating levy, he said.
"Nobody is saying that it's going to be an easy vote this fall if we do that because it will be a huge turnout," he said, "and it's just tough for schools to pass elections in a presidential election year."
If the board does decide to seek an operating levy, a committee of community members will need to start working to promote it beginning August, he said.
Other challenges Kjergaard sees in the near future are heating and diesel costs and the district's mobility rate.
Kjergaard was superintendent in Waconia for eight years before coming to Willmar. He started his career as a social studies teacher and coached before becoming a principal and then a superintendent.
"It's been an enjoyable experience being a superintendent," he said. "I look forward to the challenges that Willmar faces."