July 31, 2013

School ends year with $370,000 deficit

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Meeting the needs of an ever growing student population put the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 in the red to the tune of $370,000 for the past school year.
During the school board’s regular meeting on July 22, Steve Holen, district superintendent, informed the board that while they had budgeted to deficit-spend this past year, the amount was larger than anticipated.
“We basically had three areas that drove the deficit higher,” stated Holen. “And they were all related to providing more services because of increased student numbers.”
The biggest budget overrun, according to Holen, was the district’s $256,000 contribution to the Wolf Run Housing project, which will make affordable housing available to school district employees. The other two overruns were directly related to the remodeling and expansion of the Watford City Elementary School. In addition, the district paid for its first bond lease payment of $215,000 for the new elementary school district project out of its general fund, along with a $120,000 payment to ICON, the architectural firm the district hired for the elementary school project.
“Overall, it was a good year financially for the district,” stated Holen. We knew that we were going to spend down our reserves, which we did by $350,000.”
During the past school year, the district had total general fund expenditures of $9,963,000 and will have a $2.1 million carryover.
“We’re not wealthy by any means,” stated Holen. “In fact, with our $2.1 million carryover, which represents 21.73 percent of our budget, we qualify for a safety grant that will enable us to install safety equipment in our school buildings.” Holen anticipates that the district could receive between $15,000 and $20,000 in safety grant funds.
During Monday night’s meeting, the school board also approved advertising for a Request For Proposal soliciting architectural firms to work with the district in designing a new school building.
“We’re getting calls daily from architects who have heard we may be building a new school,” stated Holen. “While we have used ICON in our  elementary school project, a $40 million to $60 million new building requires us to do due diligence on our part to select an architectural firm.”
According to Holen, he hopes to have land proposals from developers in Watford City by the board’s meeting in August.
The board has a special committee that is meeting weekly on the new building project and is looking at what options the district has regarding land and financing options.
According to Holen, the financing of the school, which will be one of the biggest hurdles facing the district, could require a vote of Watford City residents.
“There is a possibility that the district will need a vote of the community in January on a general bond issue,” stated Holen.
In a non-related issue, Holen also informed the board that the school district has received an allotment of 14 units in the Wolf Run Apartments for district employees.
“The district was initially alloted six units,” stated Holen. “But we were able to pick up some additional units that were not being used by city or county employees.”
Of the 16 housing units that the district now has access to, Holen stated that 11 of the units have already been spoken for.
“I don’t think we will have a problem filling all of our units,” stated Holen. “Our priority is to make them available to district employees that don’t have any housing options right now.”
Holen also informed the board that the monthly rent for the units, which includes utilities, will range from $721 for a one-bedroom unit to $826 for a two-bedroom unit.
In other business, the school board:
• Approved offering Kristy Fowler a salary of $42,500, effective Aug. 1 as district secretary.
• Approved a $500 retention bonus for all non-contract and ancillary employees who returned from last year.
• Took no formal action on a request from the CrossPoint Church for use of the high school parking lot on Sundays. However, it was a consensus of the board that they had no objection to members of the church parking their vehicles on the school’s parking lot while attending church services.
• Approved the district submitting a $4.7 million Energy Impact Grant application for parking lots at the elementary school, employee housing, elementary school playground equipment, land acquisition, as well as a security system, lockers and text-books.