School board hopes to OK budget

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 25, 2001

The Austin School Board hopes to approve its 2001-2002 budget, which will reflect the recent $800,000 in cuts, at their Monday meeting.

Monday, June 25, 2001

The Austin School Board hopes to approve its 2001-2002 budget, which will reflect the recent $800,000 in cuts, at their Monday meeting.

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Because the state Legislature has not completed a budget for this year, the board’s budget will be based on current funding formulas. Additionally, the budget will reflect a 32 percent increase in health insurance costs to the district.

Lori Volz, district director of business services, said the increase is because of an increase from six to 10 in the number of $50,000 claims that the district has filed this year.

Any claims above $90,000 are paid for by a re-insurance carrier, whose rising costs the district has to pay.

"We hope that we don’t have those high claims, but it protects the district when it does happen," Volz said.

Any increase in insurance costs may be passed on to members of the Austin Education Association, whose contract also is being negotiated by the school district. The district’s final insurance rates will be set at a meeting in July, after the June claims report.

The board also will approve a bid for replacement of the ice balls in the air-conditioning unit at Austin High School, which operates at 20 percent of its intended efficiency, as well as hear an update on the status of the Seimens contract to increase the district’s energy efficiency.

Dan Noss, district technical director, is planning on asking the board for approval to rewire computer network cables and terminals throughout the high school.

Noss calls the current network speed "detrimental," and has worked with consultants from Cisco to design one "that will meet our current needs and the foreseeable future needs."

"We are putting all new wire in, and it is going to be top-quality, current-technology hardware," said Noss, who plans to rewire every room in the high school. Noss also will ask for connectivity devices to complete the project, which will cost $157,076.

Once school starts, the contractor will work from 4 to midnight. The new district offices already have new wiring, and are not included in the contract.

"It won’t be completed before school starts, so we are going to devise a schedule where there will be a minimal disruption to a specific classroom for the minimal amount of time," he said.

The board will not have to approve a call for bids because the contract is part of the Minnesota Cooperative Purchasing Venture Contract (CPV).

"Any contract over $50,000 has to go out for formal bid, but if you are a member of the CPV and you contract that service through a vendor authorized to do business through the CPV, then you are not required to go through the formal bid process," Noss said.

Noss also will demonstrate the district’s new Web site, which was done by Don Jones’ multimedia class at Austin High School. The new page can be found at

The board will also look to approve the Systems Accountability Report, which is required of all school districts by the state.

The report, which was overseen by Educational Services Coordinator Sue Roehrich, includes districtwide test results, as well as the returns of a parent survey.

"The basic intent of this," Roehrich said, "is to provide all citizens in our district, whether they are parents or not, with information on how the district is doing in curriculum, instruction, and student performance."

Roehrich is optimistic because test scores have gotten better.

"That will show that the curriculum is getting stronger, and our instructional delivery is getting better."

Moreover, Roehrich says that more students than ever before at Austin High are taking the American College Test (ACT).

"Having Austin at over 54 percent of our kids taking ACTs is outstanding because many other districts are in the 25 to 33 percent range," she said.

The report will be published in the Austin Community Schools Activity Calendar, which by state law, has to come out before Oct. 1.

District Human Relations Director Julie Jensen is planning to discuss personnel changes.

The most prominent is the resignation of Dennis Thorsen, director of special services, which include special education and English as a second language.

He is leaving the district to become the new director of special education in St. Peter, a cooperative that includes seven different school districts.

Two secretaries will be laid off because of previously approved budget cuts and restructuring, while one, Linda Watson, is taking another job within the district. Furthermore, two contracts – with Ramero Jackson and Cheryl Howard – are not being renewed.

Additionally, Jensen is reporting on the board’s negotiations with district teachers, collectively bargaining as the Austin Education Association (AEA).

Jensen, Volz and school board members Bev Nordby and Amy Baskin had their first negotiating session with the AEA’s team, which includes Bob Reige, president and history teacher at Austin High School, Jeff Ollman, chief negotiator and speech pathologist at Neveln Elementary School, Diane Wangsness, fifth-grade teacher at Neveln, and Dewey Schara, who teaches language arts at Ellis Junior High.

Jensen says the district is trying out a new bargaining style, interest based bargaining, which is much more amiable than previous styles.

"You don’t come with your laundry list of what you want, you come with issues and you try to come up with mutual solutions together, so its very much more collaborative and team approached," Jensen said.

"We’ve only had one session, but out first session went great," she added. "We set ground rules as a team, and laid out the format we’re going to use, and talked about what kinds of communication format well be using."

Although interest based bargaining might take longer than other methods, Jensen hopes that negotiations are concluded faster than they were two years ago, when a new teacher contract was not completed until January of the following year.

The board meets at 4 p.m. Monday in the District Administration Building, 202 Fourth Ave. NE.

Call Sam Garchik at 434-2233 or e-mail him at