Board OKs co-op move

FAIRMONT — Fairmont and four other school districts are moving ahead with plans to relocate the Southern Plains Education Cooperative from its current home in Winnebago to the former Lincoln School building in Fairmont.

SPEC is a joint powers organization that provides special education and alternative learning programs for: Blue Earth Area, Fairmont Area, Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Martin County West, United South Central and Truman.

In order to move SPEC from Winnebago — because the building it occupies requires extensive maintenance — all six districts needed to approve the proposed plan, as well as the proposed cost to rehabilitate the former Lincoln School, something estimated to cost $10.8 million.

Five of the districts approved both plans, but Truman did not.

After Truman voted no, the superintendents from the other five districts met to discuss options and came to the conclusion they would still like to move forward.

“It will actually be better for Fairmont because there will be some changes in the financial numbers,” said Fairmont School Board member Julie Laue, who also serves on the SPEC committee.

On Tuesday, the Fairmont School Board approved three agreements regarding SPEC and its move to the former Lincoln School building.

“The only difference between the first time we voted last month and this month is that instead of having six districts, there will be five,” explained Superintendent Joe Brown.

The Truman School Board held a special meeting June 6, at which time it agreed to pull out of SPEC. This will be effective at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

“We all agreed to let Truman go a year from now and they passed an agreement to pull out of Southern Plains so that we can go ahead with the project because it’s pretty timely,” Brown said.

He went on to explain that there are real concerns about SPEC’s current home so rehab work needs to begin soon at the former Lincoln School.

“The five districts in the plan are financially secure but Truman’s bond rate was so low that it was causing the interest rates to go up on the bond to fix up the [former Lincoln School] building,” Brown noted. “Now that Truman’s not in it, the interest rates actually came down so we might see a savings.”

Future meetings will continue to be held regarding the project.

Moving on to other matters, the school board looked at meal prices, participation fees for extracurricular activities and admission fees to events. The operations committee had reviewed the fees and recommended no changes in any, and the board voted to approve no change to the fees.

“This just goes to show that our school district is in excellent condition financially so we see no reason to raise these fees,” Brown said.

However, the board did vote to increase all rental fees by $5 per hour per the recommendation of the operations committee. The rental fees apply to those who rent out rooms in the either of Fairmont’s school buildings. These may include the gym, cafeteria or high school commons. The fee hike is due to a slight increase in the custodial pay rate.

In other news, board president Rufus Rodriguez gave a brief summary of a meeting held last week that consisted of the math and science departments, as well as school administrators.

“We’re always trying to do better in every aspect,” Rodriguez said. “One area we hope to try to improve is in the math and science disciplines. Right now there isn’t a lot of collaboration between the two departments, and I think math and science go hand in hand.”

Brown said the point of the meeting was to begin brainstorming ways that the two departments can collaborate.

“One of my important messages to the teachers and staff was that the board needs to hear from them,” Rodriguez said. “What do they need in time and resources to be able to collaborate with their colleagues? We hope to continue this dialogue with the teachers and find out what we can do to support this effort.”