Last Update: 10:45 a.m. on June 25, 2012
In a 4-2 vote, the board passed the measure, allocating $200,000 more to the project, using rental dollars from the new turf field as funding. Board members Todd Nollenberger and John Easterwood were against the measure.
Nollenberger told Richfield Patch that installing lights was fiscally irresponsible, noting that class sizes are increasing next year, layoff notices were just sent to some teachers and, simply, night games are rarely played.
“We try to prioritize capital projects,” he said. “And there is a long list of things the district is deferring because we don’t have the money available. … The administration never asked the board to consider field lights. This is a strictly, board member driven proposition.”
The district received a grant from the Hennepin Youth Sports Program to make improvements to the field in December 2011. The project went out for bid and many upgrades were proposed, including lights. According to Nollenberger, the school went through the proposal and decided what it could afford to do. Two months ago, that didn’t include lights, however, Board Clerk David Lamberger asked that it be reconsidered and put on the June 11 agenda.
Increasing Class Sizes Cause Concern
Nollenberger, the only board member to currently have children attending school in the district, said class sizes are a major concern for parents.
“In all honesty, [the project] isn’t a lot of money,” Nollenberger said. “Even if the dollars aren’t huge, it’s a slap in the face to parents that the board would do something that is not a necessity nor a want.”
Since news of the measure broke, one Facebook group, Richfield Dual Language School (RDLS) Parents, Friends and Family, has called for its members to write letters to school board members, expressing their concerns.
“Choosing Lights Over Classrooms’
According to Nollenberger, there are two types of funds: capital funds and operating funds.
Capital dollars go to building and improvement projects such as replacing a roof and paying for athletic facility improvements. Operating dollars cover teacher’s salaries, maintenance costs and so on.
The revenues that are generated from field rental would fall into the operating fund, Nollenberger said. And while operating dollars can be used for anything, he said the board’s decision to use those funds to pay for the lights was consciously taking money that could be used in the classroom and spending it elsewhere.
“Even though [the funds] are being generated by the field turf, they are operating funds,” he said. “I made it clear [that Monday] that the board was making a choice between spending money on the field or in the classrooms. … And *[over the past couple months, we've been sending] out lay-off notices.”
*However, first-term Board Member Deb Etienne acknowledged the money could be used in the classrooms, she argued the decision was most definitely not a choice over spending money there.
She said the board originally planned to use the rental income to pay for the upkeep of the field, expecting to make about $50,000 a year. However, the board discovered that the field would generate double that figure this year alone.
“I think that figure came in higher than anyone expected,” Etienne said. “We also have a firm, [multi-year] commitment from a vendor. … We feel pretty confident that we have a steady stream of money coming in [to install the lights] and still pay for the upkeep of the turf field.”
“This did not come down to a vote for teachers or lights,” she added. “We talked about this at three different meetings. Never did anyone say, ‘We need another teacher at [Richfield Dual Language School] or we need more paper at Richfield S.T.E.M.’”
Is the Decision Final?
According to Nollenberger, there is a chance the board could reverse the decision. However, time is an issue. The work will likely start this summer.
“Once they start putting lights up, you’re past the point of no return,” he said.
The only way this project would be reconsidered is if the board chair (Sandy Belkengren), the board clerk (Lamberger) or three board members (at least one being from the original four who voted in favor of the measure) called for a special session.
Richfield Patch will update readers if more information becomes available.
Editor's Note: We made a clarification as to when layoff notices have been sent out. In addition, we made a correction as to Deb Etienne's comments regarding the project funding coming from the capital fund versus the operating fund.