Archived Story

BL should look at school cooperation

Published 9:59am Wednesday, October 31, 2012 Updated 12:08pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Battle Lake’s financial difficulties and money or management issues?

As a backdrop to the message, let me acquaint the readers with the fact that I was the superintendent at Battle Lake when the current school bond issue was passed, when the school was designed and partially constructed, and also when it became known that the district would receive the Broberg trust (approximately $1.8 million) designated to the building fund.

I came to the school in 1996, and inherited a negative fund balance. I left the school with a general fund balance of $1.5 million after the three budgets I’d developed (two of which I implemented) and left the school in the best fiscal condition it had ever been in and you’re welcome .

At a June, 1998 school board meeting, I informed the board that the Broberg trust executor had informed me that the legal obligations necessary for the trust to be given to the school would be wrapped up within a few weeks. I also discussed with the board laws and rules that applied to the use of these funds, including but not limited to the following:

• The trust, which was in the form of stocks/securities, could be left in place as it was received but, if divested, could not be reinvested in any manner that would put the principal at risk.

• No public money could be put into private foundations/enterprises. A number of foundations had contacted the school offering to help us care for the bequest.

• The original bequest needed to remain in the designated building fund, but all earnings from the bequest could be used for general fund expenditures.

I left the school’s employment shortly after this meeting, and had no contact with the school until 2004, when I found out about the illegal activities surrounding the Broberg estate.

I received copies of the board minutes from the time I’d left until that time. Drunken sailors everywhere would be vindicated by the school’s spending habits and $100,000 (twice the legal limit) to encourage a teacher to retire; the illegal transfer of the Broberg trust to a broker and over $100,000 paid in brokerage/legal fees; sports facilities; bus garages; $1,000 thank yous (per Annette Atterberg — former board member) to students for getting a free public education. (Does anyone know the proper gratuity for others who use taxpayer supported institutions , welfare, corrections, public assistance etc.); and In addition the board negotiated six years of salary increases at between 3 and 5.5 times the rate of inflation and awarded the teachers with the shortest work year of any Minnesota public school.

Open meeting violations and violations of the public information laws numbered in the dozens during that time. There was no public meeting and no public board vote to violate the provisions of Broberg’s will or to illegally transfer the bequest

Meanwhile, had the Broberg trust been left in its two main stock holdings, Unocal (now a part of Chevron) and Merck (a pharmaceutical company), its current worth would be approximately $5.7 million, and most of the real (and legal) expenditures could probably have been paid for with dividends from the original bequest.

My conclusion is that the school is not in a money crisis as much as a management crisis.

While the board membership has changed, there exists a fair contingency of board members who strongly supported the actions of the former board members that set the stage for the misuse of funds, the depletion of financial resources and the current financial difficulties of the school.

To ignore this misuse of funds and attribute the current financial state of the school to external forces is to ignore the elephant in the room. The referenda issues (to me) are the local equivalent to the federal government’s bank bailouts.

I would suggest that solutions to be explored should include creative cooperation with the other three school districts located within 16 miles of Battle Lake. It seems ludicrous to promote sports cooperation and ignore/resist academic cooperation in this age of declining rural school enrollments.

 

Bob Clausen

Underwood

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