Joint Exploration Center budget gets cool marks from Central Lee board

Fort Madison board to discuss at Monday’s meeting

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

DONNELLSON – The Central Lee School board had a cool response to a proposed budget from Southeastern Community College for the future Lee County Career Exploration Center.

At Monday’s regular meeting of the school board, directors saw a proposal that would require a first-year investment from the district of $88,531. Subsequent years would require incremental increases of at least 2% with a second-year investment of $108,661, and a third year of $110,984.

The budget spreadsheet produced at the meeting showed an even higher commitment from Fort Madison and Keokuk.

Fort Madison’s contribution is $160,966 the first year and $197,566 the second year. That contribution would increase to more than $200,000 annually after that with an average yearly growth factor of 2%.

Keokuk’s numbers are slightly lower than that at $187,688 in year one, and $191,700 year two and $195,802 in year three.

Central Lee Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said it’s a big ask for Central Lee taxpayers to put $1 million into that program.

“If you look at that over the course of 10 years, our amount would be about $1.1 million. Fort Madison’s would be over $2 (million) and Keokuk’s would be just under $2 (million). So as you can see here, there’s a long way to go with that budget,” Crozier said.

“We still have to take care of the 1,000 other kids that attend Central Lee. But coming back to the drawing board, I’m not saying it’s done, but that’s one of the challenges that’s been presented to us.”

The budget calls for a first-year total expenditure of $402,000 and a second-year budget of $493,000.

Crozier said there are different ways to navigate through it and different ways to generate revenue that other entities can put forward, but when you jump into a plan, you have to know how you’re going to pay the bills.

Preliminary plans include curriculum for Automation/Advanced Manufacturing/Robotics, Teacher Education, Pre-Engineering, and Computer Science.

Fort Madison Community School District Board of Directors President Dianne Hope declined to comment but said she had seen the budget worksheet.

Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said the budget is on the agenda for discussion on Monday.

“This is a discussion item on the 10/18 board agenda which will be released today.  I’ll be sharing programming, budget information, etc. with the board at that time for their input and feedback.”

Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise said he’s happy to see school boards reviewing the proposed budget.

“There’s always those inflection points and this is one of those where we go from ‘in theory’ to ‘this is what it is actually going to cost’, Fraise said.

“I fully expect school boards will due their diligence. They do great jobs of being stewards of their money and I applaud them for being able to look it and say ‘that doesn’t work for us’.

“I think everything is a beginning and not an end. SCC did a masterful job of putting that budget together and gave everyone something to react to. At the end of the day, school districts have to protect their budget, too.”

He said SCC is leading the budget process and LCEDG is there to support the group efforts and “keep the training moving down the tracks”.

Crozier said there’s a “sweet spot” on a return of investment, but right now he’s seeing too big of a difference in that number and the proposed budget.

He also pointed out at the agreement would require a 10-year commitment plus an automatic 5-year renewal. Each entity could request termination of their participation in the agreement but that would require approval of all the other groups in the contract including the two other school districts, LCEDG, and SCC.

“We’ve never signed contracts like that with anybody. Nobody would sign a contract like that. So there’s still work to do with that scenario as well,” Crozier said.

Board member Brock Westfall asked where the project currently stands and Crozier said, although they aren’t back at square one, there still is substantial work to be done.

Central Lee board president Mark Hulsebus said the budget looked like an operating budget and not any kind of a balance sheet or net worth statement.

“You have no amortization or depreciation in there for a building purchase, either,” Hulsebus said.

Crozier said it’s his understanding that it’s being taken care of by area businesses but there has been nothing produced contractually to guarantee that.

“If that doesn’t come through, there has to be a line item for that, as well,” he said.

Fraise is on record as saying LCEDG has set aside $100,000 to help pay for building costs, not including educational costs, for up to two years. He said that account could grow if the building operations start seeing a positive cash flow. LCEDG is also on the hook for paying the mortgage on the facility, which totaled close to $1 million and his held at Connection Bank.

Southeast Iowa Regional and Economic Port Authority purchased the building with a commitment from LCEDG to establish fundraisers to pay off the mortgage. LCEDG funds are used to pay the mortgage and related costs.

The faculty line for the center starts at $45,900 per year and jumps to $91,800 in the second year, and then follows an allowable 2% inflation rate for the remaining 10 years. The center’s director, or navigator, salary and benefit package in the proposed budget is $97,500 for the first year and then follows with the 2% inflationary rate.

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