By Kevin Borg
As you have seen recently in the Laker, Westonka students and staff have been making headlines for a wide range of accomplishments this year. From all-state musicians to National Merit Scholarship finalists to three state team tournament appearances to four Minnesota Teacher of the Year candidates, I could fill column after column with our success stories.
In this superintendent update, I think it’s important to focus on some of the exciting facilities projects moving forward in the Westonka district and provide an update to taxpayers on our district finances. But if you want to give me a call, I will be more than happy to spend time bragging about our exceptional students and staff.
MAXIMIZING OUR FACILITIES
The school board and administration are focused on maximizing the district’s existing and new facilities to best meet the needs of our students, staff and community.
The new early learning center addition at Hilltop Primary School is really starting to take shape, with the exterior work close to completion. This project represents Phase One of a two-phase early learning center. The first phase of the project will move the 4-year-old preschool program onto the school campus to help address our current preschool waiting lists and provide room for future growth. This project is funded by the district lease levy and district and community education fund balance. The center is on track to open this July.
The eventual second phase of the project will move the ECFE and three-year-old preschool programs out of Stonegate Plaza and onto the school campus. The timing of Phase Two will depend on preschool enrollment.
I am also pleased to report that the district has received two Hennepin County grants totaling $110,000 for the refurbishment of the varsity baseball field at Mound Westonka High School, also known as Soule Field. Irrigation, drainage, fencing, accessibility, aesthetics and adding a warning track are on the list for Field 1 improvements. We are in the design phase for this project and plan to bid it out this spring. Work on the field will begin in June, with additional funds coming from the district, Westonka Community Education and private donors.
MWHS outdoor Field 2 will be operational in the fall, following a complete reconstruction. We were fortunate to have favorable weather last fall, which allowed the new turf to take root. Improvements to this field were made possible through a donation from the soccer association, a Hennepin County grant and district funding.
Final design meetings took place at the end of January for the two projects approved by the May 10, 2016 bond referendum. The new community activities center will include three multi-use courts, a wrestling gym, a fitness room, an elevated track for walking/jogging, community locker rooms, and meeting/gathering space. The new performing arts center will include a 600-seat theater with an orchestra area, a vibrant public lobby with gallery/display space, a green room, dressing rooms, and full-sized scene and costume shops. I greatly appreciate the time, creativity, energy and thought that our committee members have brought to the design process.
We are scheduled to break ground on both facilities late May or early June 2017, and they are scheduled to open in the fall of 2018. During the construction process, certain areas of our buildings and grounds will not be accessible. Please look for communication from coaches and program managers this summer about any changes to activities at the high school.
DEMONSTRATING FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
Like you, the Westonka School District understands the importance of living within its means. We work hard to ensure financial health by continually reviewing operations for new efficiencies at all levels and making annual budget adjustments.
Over the past several years, Westonka has worked to build and maintain a fund balance, which has allowed us to run a tighter budget with fewer contingencies and has resulted in smaller reductions. We have achieved this fund balance while continuing to have the lowest total school taxes in Hennepin County.
In October, Westonka received an unqualified or “clean” audit for the previous fiscal year, which is the best opinion a district can receive. We also demonstrated financial responsibility by earning the School Finance Award once again in 2016. Both honors are compliments to the careful work of our finance department.
On Feb. 6, the Westonka School Board approved the revised 2016-2017 general operating budget of $28,468,279 in revenues and $28,396,868 in expenditures that includes a slight increase to the district’s fund balance. As the district brought in more revenue this year from increased enrollment, expenditures also increased due to staff additions.
The school board also approved budget assumptions for 2017-2018, which call for an adjustment of approximately $75,000. The administration is currently considering ways to reduce expenses, as well as appropriate ways to increase revenue. Our focus is on continually reviewing our budget to align with the goals and objectives laid out in our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan, which includes being transparent and responsible stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.
The school board will approve the plan to deal with the $75,000 adjustment in April. This year’s budget planning represents the discipline of aligning expenses to revenues on an annual basis so that larger reductions aren’t required in the future.
We appreciate the Westonka community’s continued support of our schools and our students. We do not take this support for granted. I also want to express deep gratitude for the outpouring of support the district received following the passing of long-time school board member Ann Bremer last month. Ann was a champion for all students and will be greatly missed.
As always, if you have specific questions about our ongoing projects, or if you have ideas about how the district can be more efficient in how it operates, I encourage you to reach out to me directly to set up a time to meet.
Westonka Public Schools