By Tom Larson
The Morris Area School Board on Monday approved extending the contract of high school principal Mike Coquyt, and authorized hiring an elementary school teacher for the 2008-2009.
The board also heard even more optimistic -- yet preliminary -- budget news for next school year.
Coquyt, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School principal for five years, had a contract approved Monday.
In August 2007, Coquyt succeeded Steve Wolf, who resigned earlier that summer after one year at MAHS to take another job in Colorado.
Coquyt is a native of Milroy. He taught in Silver Lake and at Marshall for six years before becoming kindergarten-8th grade principal at Milroy Public School, and high school principal at KMS.
The board reviewed Superintendent Scott Monson's projected budget for the 2009 fiscal year. The forecast shows a deficit of $5,239, a vastly different situation than the board faced in the previous three years, when it had to make about $1.4 million in cuts.
The last budget forecast projected a deficit of about $88,000 for next year. However, Enrollment in the high shool and elementary school has remained fairly constant this year, with the district gaining a total of one student since the school year began. The enrollment increase, if it holds, would put the district about $15,000 ahead of projections.
The district again received a significant boost when the Morris Area Teachers Association voted to waive its staff development money for 2008-2009, which allows the board to put about $65,000 toward deficit reduction.
The retirement of elementary teacher Francie Turner and the hiring of a new teacher will result in a cost saving of almost $40,000. But increased diesel fuel costs continue to bite into any potential surplus, Monson said, who added that the board could reduce its fund balance slightly to balance the budget for next year.
The board will be required to authorize a final 2008-2009 budget in June.
In other board business:
The school district will receive about $17,000 through the Safe Routes to School program.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation allocated about $2 million in grants through the federal program to 27 districts. There were 105 applications this year. The program was created in 2005 in the federal transportation funding bill.
The money is used to improve safety conditions and the quality of biking and walking access to schools.
A group of school district, county and city officials will meet April 30 at 4 p.m. in the Stevens County Courthouse to identify routes and conduct a parent survey. Once that work is completed, engineering costs will be estimated and another grant application will be submitted to MnDOT for the 2009 Safe Routes to School program. MnDOT's Safe Routes to School Coordinator Kristie Billar said funding for the 2009 program will total $8 million.
The board approved a request to adjust JOBZ acres in the Morris Industrial Park to allow a start-up company to apply for the program.
Bonanza Bean LLC is planning to build a facility in the park. Because acreage eligible for the JOBZ program was not contiguous, the area's taxing entities had to approve moving the designation for the acres.
The City of Morris and the Stevens County Board of Commissioners have approved the redesignation.
The board approved a measure to make up a missed school day on May 29.
The final day of classes was May 28 but a snow day earlier this month prompted the make-up day.
The district will once again contract with Interquest Contraband Detection K-9 Services.
Interquest brings a search dog into buildings to seek various contraband not allowed on school property.
Board members got an up-close look at the Morris Area robotics team's entry in the FIRST Robotics regional competition.
The team, The Plaid Pillagers, competed in the competition for the first time in March.
The team encountered some problems with its creation, but did complete some of the tasks in the contest, and team members and coach Eric Buchanan said building the robot and the competition was a vital learning experience, both in engineering and for efforts to sustain the program from year to year.
The team is engaged in fundraising for next year's competition, he said.