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Feds forgive $268,000 Waubun error

Good news for the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community School District: It has received forgiveness for Impact Aid overpayments for the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years.

The amount totals about $268,000.

According to a letter to the district from Catherine Schagh, director of the federal Impact Aid Program, "overpayments in this instance were largely due to erroneous information collected and maintained in the Impact Aid Program files regarding the Mahnomen Casino."

The letter also stated that the status of the casino property, and whether or not it was held in trust status, has been confusing for many parties.

"Because of this confusion, we have concluded that the Waubun School District could not reasonably have identified the mistaken trust status classification of this property," it said.

The original error that resulted in the overpayment happened during sharing of information between two federal agencies, and the district received forgiveness under the manifestly unjust repayment provision.

During the recognition portion of last Monday's board meeting, board chair Jim Helliksen thanked superintendent Joe Merseth, district secretary Diana Karl, business manager Michelle Heisler, and elementary principal Mitch Anderson for their work to resolve the matter.

Merseth said it was mostly due to Diana Karl's work.

"It was a team effort," Karl said.

"She did a good job and kept on and we appreciate it," Helliksen said.

The overpayment amounts were $130,860 for fiscal year 2005, and $137,279 for fiscal year 2006.

The letter also warned "that the Mahnomen casino property cannot be treated as Indian lands for FY 2007 or any future Impact Aid application years while its trust status is open and pending with the BIA."

School calendar

Merseth said he started working on the 2008-2009 calendar in November with teachers and staff.

"I think we've put something together that's good. I think we've addressed the needs of the kids, and I think we've addressed the needs of the staff," he said.

The new calendar includes 171 student days and 180 teacher days. That is two more days for students, and almost twice as much staff development time. Merseth said the teachers came up with a plan to include staff development without affecting student time.

Merseth said the big question is why the staff needs so much development time. He said if the board looks at AYP and requirements regarding students, staff will continue to need more development in the future.

"Teachers are needing more and more staff development time, and if we don't provide them that time, then we're not doing justice to them to do justice to the classrooms," he said.

"What we came up with here is a pretty innovative schedule for a school calendar that works well," he added. "Almost every month, except the last one, has some staff development in it."

The first day of school will be Sept. 2, with the last day of classes on May 28. Graduation will be May 24. The winter break will start Dec. 24 and end Jan. 2, with students returning to school on Jan. 5. Merseth said it also leaves a little wiggle room so students wouldn't have to return to school after May 29, for occurrences such as snow days.

"I like it, principals like it, the staff like it, and we think it's a good calendar," Merseth concluded.

The board approved it unanimously.

In other news, the board passed a resolution for capital facilities bonds, a step on the road needed to make repairs to the Waubun site buildings over the summer.

At the February board meeting, Merseth said the capital facilities bonds would allow the district to complete the work while stretching the payment out over 10 years.

Merseth said on Monday that he has been working with Foss Architectural. Bids have been published and bidding will open at 3 p.m. on April 4.

In his superintendent's report, Merseth said enrollment numbers are up about 10 students from the beginning of the school year, which is extremely good, but warned there may be a decline going into the end of the school year.

The district has gotten a re-built bus engine, with a warranty, for about $10,500. A new engine would have cost $15,000, plus labor.

There are also problems with the heating system at the Ogema building, Merseth said. The problems are being dealt with and the heating system just needs to be repaired.