United South Central Schools Superintendent Jerry Jensen got a big surprise last month.
Jensen told the USC school board on Tuesday night that he met with the people in charge of a proposed Minnesota Academy for Girls which is trying to open in Bricelyn. Most of the students would be Jewish girls from New York.
“I quickly learned that I had a misunderstanding of why I was there,” Jensen told the board members. “I thought we were going to discuss how USC could assist the school in areas such as special education.”
Jensen says he soon learned the school has applied to the Minnesota Department of Human Services to operate as a care/treatment facility.
“I thought, ‘Whoa, that is a whole new ball game,’” Jensen says. According to a representative of the Minnesota Department of Education, Heather Lindstrom, who was in Bricelyn for the meeting, the facility cannot operate as a school if it is a care/treatment center.
“We (USC) would be responsible for operating the educationprogram for the girls there,” Jensen says. “And it would be done on site in Bricelyn, as the center does not want the girls to attend a public school.”
That revelation quickly brought a barrage of questions from the board members, as to what it would mean to USC. The questions ranged from whether new staff would need to be hired, to how USC would be reimbursed for the costs involved.
“I don’t want this to bankrupt USC,” board member Chris Olson says. “I don’t mean to be negative, but this has concerned me for the past six years, since we first had a presentation about this girls school at one of our meetings.”
Jensen said he felt there would be funding to cover the expenses, but the problem is that the students would not be residents of Minnesota. That brings into question how much state aid would be received.
“I have found six similar cases to this in the state, but none of them fit our situation exactly,” he says.
He recommended to the board they allow him to continue to investigate how the school board should proceed.
“We also need to see if they will be licensed as a care/treatment center from the state human services department,” he says.
The director of the new girls academy, Kimberly Testa, says they applied to the state Human Services Department three weeks ago for a license, and the state has 90 days to respond to the request.
“We are still working on all of the administrative details in order to open as an academy,” Testa says. “That includes working with the Minnesota Department of Education and the USC school district on how we will operate as a therapeutic boarding school.”
The girls’ academy in Bricelyn was not the only student reimbursement problem Jensen brought to the board.
USC has had several home-schooled students attending a few classes at the school.
“This is not unusual,” Jensen told the board. “The state will give us state aid for the amount of time these students are in class at USC.”
However, Jensen learned the students in this particular case are also enrolled full time with an on-line high school in Houston, Minn.
“Since they are enrolled full time there, the full state aid is going to the on-line school and we will not be reimbursed from the state,” he explains.
Jensen asked for a directive from the board to allow him to develop a fee policy to charge the parents directly for the classes the students take.
“They (the parents) are willing to pay for the classes,” he says. “And the state recently changed the regulations and now allow schools to enter into tuition agreements directly with parents.”
The board agreed a policy is needed, in order to keep finances under control in light of recent budget cuts.
Financially, the district is in good shape. Accountant Greg Larson presented the 2008-09 audit at Tuesday’s meeting, and says the district is currently doing fine.
He listed seven reasons why, including the closing of a building, an increased levy referendum, lower fuel costs and recent budget reductions.
Superintendent Jensen reminded the board members that the audit covered the past year, and did not reflect all of the budget adjustments which had to be made for the current year.
The board discussed how lower enrollments will affect the financial situation in the future.
“You are right,” Larson told the board. “You will be getting less money from the state, and you will never be able to make any increases to your budget.”
High School Principal Kelly Schlaak reported there are currently 359 students in grades 7-12. The largest class is 11th grade with 79 students; the smallest is seventh grade at 44 students.
Last year the school had 745 students, Schlaak told the board. Board members said they remembered class sizes near 100 not too many years ago.
The elementary school has 332 students, according to Principal Tracy Frank. The largest classes are first grade and sixth grade, with 57 students each. The smallest is third grade with 35.
The principals said the school is down 60 students from last year.