The Stillwater school board approved nearly $2 million of improvements to the district’s bus facility property at the Thursday, May 23 board meeting.

The improvements will cost $1.98 million and will complete the city of Lake Elmo’s requirements for the district to use the property as a bus facility. The board voted 5-2, with board members Sarah Stivland and Liz Weisberg voting against.

However, Stillwater Area Public Schools (SAPS) Finance Director Kristen Hoheisel said crews will likely complete construction by the end of September, leaving the district without an area to park its bus fleet.

“We essentially have nowhere to put a fleet for a portion or all of September,” Hoheisel said.

Oak Park Heights City Council approved temporary parking of the bus fleet at Stillwater Area High School through Aug. 16 at their Tuesday, May 28 meeting. The board has not taken official action on where to house the buses after the district’s current lease ends June 30.

The board could also vote to extend the district’s lease at the property where SAPS currently houses its bus fleet until Aug. 30. The board tabled the lease extension at the Thursday meeting to explore other options first.

The district purchased the $5 million bus facility in October 2018 as part of the 2015 bond. The improvements will include bus parking, storm water ponds, landscaping, school bus electrical outlets, site lighting, building fire suppression, fire hydrants and public utilities.

As in previous meetings, several board members raised concern about the additional cost to prepare the property for district use. Weisberg said the previous board and taxpayers did not know how much the improvements would cost before the board purchased the property.

“Just like the closing of three schools, if voters had known this is what they could expect, I’m not sure this referendum would’ve passed,” Weisberg said. “I feel the board majority made a $5 million mistake.”

Board members previously discussed possibly selling the Lake Elmo property at the May 6 work session but Hoheisel said any proceeds must be used for the debt balance.

“You can’t go outside of the scope of what the ballot question was,” Hoheisel said of the 2015 bond.

The board also approved a tool to evaluate the superintendent and a self-evaluation tool for the board. According to the meeting packet, the board will evaluate SAPS Superintendent Denise Pontrelli over the next month. Board chair Mike Ptacek will read Pontrelli’s evaluation summary at the July 11 school board meeting.

The superintendent tool evaluates Pontrelli on eight standards in: governance team, school district finances, communication and community relationships, school district operations, human resources, teaching and learning, student support and ethical and inclusive leadership.

The board will also complete a self-evaluation tool and discuss results at the June 4 board member retreat.

With a 6-1 vote, the school board also approved the preliminary 2019-2020 budget, assuming a two percent increase in general education funding from the state.

Stivland, the dissenting vote, said the preliminary budget did not reflect enough savings.

During budget cuts this winter, the board worked toward a five percent unassigned general fund balance. Pearson said the preliminary budget reflects 4.64 percent in the unassigned general fund.

The board will review a revised budget again in the fall.

Additional Notes:

- The board received a report on mandatory lunch price increases that could go into effect July 1. Under the increases, elementary student breakfasts will increase by 10 cents and lunches by fifteen cents. Middle school student lunches will increase by five cents. High school student lunches as well as adult breakfasts and lunches will increase by 10 cents. The school board will likely vote on the increases at the June 13 board meeting.

- The board approved $95,800 from the long-term facilities maintenance fund for asbestos abatement projects at Afton-Lakeland, Lily Lake and Lake Elmo Elementary Schools as well as Stillwater Middle School.

Contact Kim Schneider at kim.schneider@ecm-inc.com

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