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LP-A operating levy likely on ballot in 2009

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The Lake Park-Audubon School District is about $440,000 in the black through July 30, and the district's auditing firm is expected to present the annual audit at the district's regular meeting next month.

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District residents will likely be asked next year to vote for continuation of the existing $500-per-pupil excess operating levy, which raises about $100 per $100,000 homestead each year.

That levy is critical for meeting the district budget.

"We have to renew the levy by November of 2010, and it makes sense to do it next fall in November," said Board Member Dale Binde, who reported on behalf of the finance committee Monday at the board's regular monthly meeting.

In a separate issue, the board voted 4-1 to give the finance committee authority to lock in bus diesel fuel prices for three to four months at the Lake Park Cenex. The district would agree to purchase a certain number of gallons from Cenex at the contract price, regardless of whether the price at the pump went higher or lower.

The district uses about 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year. It has budgeted $100,000 for fuel this year, up from $80,000 last year.

The futures price for diesel fuel has come down substantially over the past month, and is now at about $4.10 a gallon, Binde said. It was at $4.53 per gallon last month and $4.57 per gallon in June.

Historically, the best contract prices are available in January, with June perhaps the worst month, Binde said.

That information came from Cenex, which is "not looking to make money off the school district," he added. It has to buy contract diesel fuel in blocks of at least 21,000 gallons, so it would have to find other buyers to go along with the 11,000 to 12,000 gallons the district would likely buy.

Locking in diesel fuel costs would enable the district to stay within budget, but it could miss out on savings if prices fall further at the pump.

"There's the potential for a small decrease (in pump prices), but there is also the potential for skyrocketing gas prices," if a natural disaster or refinery problem cuts the supply, Binde said.

He said he has successfully contracted for fuel for his farm operations for years, and in these times of uncertain fuel prices, the district should also consider it.

"It looks like it would be a good thing to maybe do," he said.

Board Member Jeff Swetland cast the sole vote against the proposal, because he believes fuel prices are likely to go lower this year.

In another matter, LP-A parents and guardians will get instant information from the district this year.

The district has approved installing Honeywell's "Instant Alert" system, which will enable families to check their e-mail inboxes or text messages for school news.

As part of the deal, the school district will pay Honeywell about $1.30 per student, per year during the three-year contract. There is expected to be a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 enrollment of about 615 students this September, said Superintendent Dale Hogie. That amounts to about $800 per year.

"If we eliminate three district-wide mailings per year, it will have paid for itself," Hogie said in an interview.

"We made the decision early in the summer that we will go through with this," he said. "In September, we will get information from families about how they want to get information from us."

There are different urgency levels that can be used -- from emergency messages to simple reminder notices.

The district can let families know when school is closing because of bad weather, or remind them about parent-teacher conferences, or staff development days.

"Stuff that we used to send home with students (on paper)," Hogie explained. Even report cards can be sent out through the system.

And it has other advantages. "Once it's set up, people in the building can customize a group," he said. "The track coach could send a message saying they are coming home at this time, or the basketball coach could let players know there's no practice today."

The system allows staff to send messages using their own voice, a computer-generated voice, or just text.

No matter how the district decides to use the system, the fee is the same, and it has unlimited usage.

Good news for kids who need some extra help early on: The LP-A district has received preliminary approval for about $32,000 in state funding for its fledgling Response to Intervention program.

The money will help pay for a half-time instructor, who will work with other elementary school teachers on differentiated instruction -- teaching the same thing in different ways -- and work with small groups of students.

The idea is to keep kids out of special education by giving them extra help in kindergarten through second grade.

The district implemented the program last school year. "We have some evidence we saw big gains in testing," said elementary school principal Kevin Ricke.

"If we see kids who need extra help in reading or math, we help them right away," instead of waiting until they qualify for special education in third grade, he continued.

"It has been shown if you catch these kids right away, they won't go into special ed," Ricke said.

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