The Ladysmith School Board continued discussion about the future of the former elementary school on Lindoo Avenue at its meeting last Wednesday.
The Lindoo school building has been mostly vacant since the school district relocated its elementary grades to a school on Miner Avenue. The facility is now used mostly for its gym space for traveling teams.
The school district, which still owns the building, has budgeted $175,000 in Community Service Fund 80 to pay for the building’s utility costs like maintaining minimum heat and paying electric bills. This is a separate tax to school district taxpayers outside revenue limits and does not affect spending on educational programs.
City leaders envision the building being repurposed as a blend of workforce housing, community center, daycare and other uses.
“The city is interested in doing something, but we are not quite sure what they want us to do other than have us assume a lot of liability and responsibility,” School Board President Todd Novakofski said.
“We have a pretty significant expense in that building,” Novakofski said. “It is money we are taxing the community for.”
The Community Service Fund is used to account for activities like adult education, community recreation programs such as evening swimming pool operation and softball leagues, elderly food service programs, non-special education preschool, day care services and other programs which are not elementary and secondary educational programs but have the primary function of serving the community. Expenditures for these activities including cost allocations for salaries, benefits, travel and purchased services are to be included in this fund to the extent feasible. The district may adopt a separate tax levy for this fund. Building use fees charged for utilities and other operational costs must be recorded in the General Fund if no cost allocation was made for these to the Community Service Fund.
Community programs and services. Establish and maintain community education, training, recreational, cultural or athletic programs and services, outside the regular curricular and extracurricular programs for pupils, under such terms and conditions as the school board prescribes. The school board may establish and collect fees to cover all or part of the costs of such programs and services. The school board may not expend moneys on ineligible costs, as defined by DPI by rule. Costs associated with such programs and services shall not be included in the school district’s shared cost.
State statutes define the consequence to a school district determined to have ineligible expenditures for community programs and services. The district’s revenue limit authority “is decreased by an amount equal to the sum of the school district’s ineligible expenditures for community programs and services in the previous school year”.
School district resident Jennifer Ruff encouraged the school board to partner with the city on developing the property as a community center. She told the board the area has a deficit in child care, and the building could be repurposed with that need in mind.
“I think with our staff being young and new, and I know of families who have already left the community because of this issue. We need to keep those educated people who want to work in the community here,” Ruff said.
Access to Community Service Fund activities cannot be limited to pupils enrolled in the district’s K-12 educational programs. Other funds, such as the General Fund and Special Projects Fund, carry out the day to day K-12 educational operations of the district. Excluded from a Community Service Fund are any academic subjects and extra-curricular activities available only to pupils enrolled in the district. Student activities such as inter-scholastic athletics and other extra-curricular activities, pupil clubs, dances, field trips, student seminars and symposiums also may not be funded through Community Service.
A school board may under state statute grant the temporary use of school grounds, buildings, facilities or equipment, under conditions, including fees as determined by the school board. A Community Service Fund should not be established for providing access to district property for organizations such as youth, theater and other groups not under the control of the school board unless the district is incurring additional direct cost that will not be recovered through fees and therefore requires a tax levy subsidy.
“The question first should be are we interested in continuing to levy that same amount to pay for utilities and maintenance of that building forever or at least the next 10 years,” school board member Chrysa Ostenso said.
She added the city is asking for some type of commitment from the school district before the city spends time and money on the building. She also said signs point to the school district being able to keep supporting the Lindoo school.
Ostenso also cited the school district’s long-range planning.
“Does our community want us to do this? Do they want to be levied $170,000-plus every year?” Ostenso said. “We have an asset that is owned by every single taxpayer in the school district and some people think if we don’t do something like this the building is just going to sit and rot.”
“It is a very difficult problem, and none of us want to continue having financial responsibility for that building,” said Ostenso, adding the Lindoo school became vacant after the board reduced from three to two facilities. “We didn’t want to continue to have financial liability there, but then apparently it is hard to sell a building like that and transfer ownership.”
“The fundamental question is does the school district want to be paying the bill for community center programs that are going to be mostly outside the school district,” interim School District Administrator Mike Cox said.
School board member Gerard Schueller questioned if the city will be funding building renovation and then turning over facility operations to the school district. “We don’t belong in that set of plans. When you get involved in that there is going to be a lot of hidden costs,” he said.
Cox suggested current Fund 80 charges have gotten other districts in trouble after challenges by taxpayers. He said those challenges led the state to further limit Fund 80 expenses.
Cox said the school district already has existing athletic facilities being reviewed, roofs that are leaking and unit ventilators that are nearing the end of their useful lives. “There is a lot of attention that needs to be made to your facilities right here,” he added.
The school board scheduled more discussion on the Lindoo school building for its next regular meeting Nov. 20.
The school district is very aware of the need for additional child care, according to Novakofski.
“I don’t see how we could afford as a district to do anything and repurpose the building for that,” Novakofski said. “As a district we are going to talk about what we can do about early childhood. Also as a district we need to look at what we are going to do with this old building that is too big for that. That is the problem.”
The board asked for the public to contact school board members about the matter.
“It is crucial that we get some idea about what people are thinking,” Novakofski said.
Also, Wednesday, the school board:
— Voted 6-0 to approve a crisis response manual detailing how the district responds to an active situation.
— Voted 6-0 to approve the school district tax levy for the 2019-20 school year.