Swedeborg cancels summer school, meets state officials about future
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
SWEDEBORG, Mo. (May 4, 2010) — Board members of the struggling Swedeborg R-III School District voted Tuesday evening to cancel summer school and also received a report from District Administrator Joe Dunlop on meetings with state school officials regarding the future of the district.
“They explained the options at this point of what can happen with our district in terms of financial cash flow and commented, without going into detail because this is still a work in progress, on some of their advisements in terms of how with federal money what we can and cannot do. However, those comments were in a very general format,” Dunlop said. “We have since been seeking the assistance of Laquey’s federal programs director who has considerable experience doing that.”
Swedeborg has a longstanding relationship with the Laquey R-V School District whose superintendent, Bob Boulware, previously served as Swedeborg’s district administrator. Laquey also handles maintenance on the buses for Swedeborg.
What will happens next with Swedeborg isn’t yet clear, Dunlop said.
“The upshot of the meeting from our state supervisor is every district has local control over their own future up until the point where they can no longer provide quality education for their students, which at this point we are not,” Dunlop said. “There was a lot of information and discussion shared about our intention of providing a transition year. They didn’t really offer us a certified plan but they did offer us some guidance.”
Swedeborg’s standardized test scores have been problematic in recent years and the district’s financial picture is even more problematic. Dunlop has previously said that if the Richland R-IV School Board hadn’t voted to allow Swedeborg to make delayed payments of its tuition for students who attend Richland High School, Swedeborg’s cash-flow situation would have deteriorated to the point that state officials would likely have stepped in and acted to force the dissolution or merger of a financially insolvent district.
Dunlop said he’s also met with state officials on the details of the district’s financial condition and how it may affect the district’s accreditation status.
“The upshot of that meeting is we requested and were offered the help of the state director of administration and financial services and we had a meeting today with him,” Dunlop said. “In his estimation it is thin but there is a possibility for progress there, but there again, it is a work in progress … Right now it is pretty iffy and there is nothing I can say at this point, but we are looking at that. This is more or less a fact-finding mission and we presented him with some of our local data on finances and we found an area where there was a variance in our favor in terms of salaries, but as far as the final impact that is something we are still working on.”
Responding to questions from other board members, board president Jaimie Alexander, who is a banker in Pulaski County, said state officials are investigating rather than requiring actions by Swedeborg.
“They were merely offering more help; they weren’t mandating anything. They were just inviting us to come up look at our books and say, ‘Let’s look at your books and let’s see what we can come up with,’” Alexander said.
“It kind of shows a care and concern on their part as well for the district,” Alexander said.
Actions by the Swedeborg board members to get the district’s financial situation under control include cancelling summer school.
“Based on the availability of state funding right now and in comparison of costs versus benefits to the district, it is my recommendation that we go ahead and cancel summer school for this summer,” Dunlop said. “Some of the districts around, from what I’m hearing from superintendents and administrators, are trying to do a modified form of summer school for credit recovery in high school and things like that, but the state is restricting summer school to what they call core curriculum subject to funds. Right now the definition of that is pretty vague.”
That means students from Swedeborg may be able to attend summer school in other nearby districts if they choose to do so, and board members unanimously agreed to follow Dunlop’s recommendation.
Board members also voted unanimously to cut costs in a different area: refusing to pay for the remainder of a school copier contract on the recommendation of the attorney from the Missouri Association for Rural Education.
“We’ve been working with the attorney through MARE… he had us to the point now in dealing with the old copier subcontractors that we are basically down to one more letter indicating that we are not going to be resolving that with a settlement, we are going to go ahead and refuse the debt,” Dunlop said. “Since the last information he got from the copier company was in the neighborhood of about $13,000, which was unreasonable, right now we’re better off.”
So far the district has spent $800 to $900 in legal fees and will probably spend $1,000 to $1,100, Dunlop said.
Board member Chris Black asked for details.
“We’re not obligated, we’re not bound?” Black asked.
“Because the original copier lease was not signed by the board president or secretary and was not voted on, they are not present anyplace in the minutes as far back as we could go, therefore we are not legally obligated,” Dunlop said. “The subcontractor company is outside of Missouri so that’s why it took a while to get that across because they don’t understand Missouri law.”
Board members also approved eight checks to staff members of $400 each for professional development.
“This is coming out of federal funds which have already been allocated, not coming out of local dollars,” Alexander said.
“We have the money so it is something that can happen in the fiscal year without adding any additional burden,” Dunlop said.