Officer Karnes makes connections with students

Waconia School Board Chairman Brian Rothstein reads a resolution commending the career of Superintendent Dr. Nancy Rajanen during the board meeting on Monday, June 9. Rajanen is retiring at the end of this month. (Patriot photo by Todd Moen)
Waconia School Board Chairman Brian Rothstein reads a resolution commending the career of Superintendent Dr. Nancy Rajanen during the board meeting on Monday, June 9. Rajanen is retiring at the end of this month. (Patriot photo by Todd Moen)

The Waconia School Board tackled a packed agenda during its regular meeting on Monday, June 9.

One of the first items was a presentation by Carver County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Karnes, who has served as the district’s Student Resource Officer for the past 14 years. Karnes noted that before him, his wife, Julie Karnes, served in the role for several years, meaning a Karnes has been the district’s SRO for close to two decades.

In his presentation, Karnes touched on a variety of subjects, such as traffic issues, bullying and drug concerns.

Karnes noted that while Waconia deals with all of those issues, its situation is no different from any other school or city, as the rest contend with those issues, too. Karnes said the presence, communication and connections provided by an SRO are key to addressing those issues, along with proactive law enforcement.

Karnes talked about the relationships he has with students. He said he loves kids and believes in them, even if they initially come across as outsiders. Karnes uses a compassionate approach so he can get to know the students and said his role isn’t always about getting after the kids, it’s about teaching, educating and working as a team to help keep kids safe. Karnes said his relationships with students often continue even after they graduate.

Director Ken Varble asked Karnes for his thoughts about any concerns with district’s security.

Karnes noted that the camera systems in the buildings and parking lots are adequate but not great and that the ALC may be a bit understaffed considering the number of students, some with various challenges, who spend time there. Karnes also noted that even with some recent tweaks, traffic issues remain a problem. He said property damage reports were “way up” this year due to increased accidents in the high school parking lot.

Varble also asked Karnes to touch on how he works with teachers and administrators about trouble students. Karnes said effective communication is a big tool and he and the staff have a good system in place.

During the meeting, the board approved the annual contract renewal for the SRO. Director Keith Griffin said his impression was that students trust Karnes and view him as a figurehead and thanked him for his service.

Karnes said he would like to continue in the role at Waconia for a couple of more years before retiring and he hopes he will be the one who trains in the district’s new SRO so that person will understand his philosophy and approach to the position. Karnes noted that he has a box of thank you letters from students and the community that probably weighs around 50 lbs that he has been collecting over the years. He hasn’t opened them yet and is saving them to enjoy after he retires.

Also during the meeting, the board approved the Revised Budget for 2013-14 and the Preliminary Budget for 2014-15 by a vote of 4-2 (Directors John Weinand and Varble voted nay; Director Mike Bullis was absent).

The Revised Budget started with a general fund balance of $5,924,379 as of June 30, 2013 and included total revenues of $31,474,905 and total expenditures of $33,052,209 (resulting in a projected deficit of $1,577,304) and an ending general fund balance of $4,347,075. The deficit spending was planned and was largely related to funding the district’s iPad initiative (which received funding in both 2012-13 and 2013-14) and numerous capital improvements, including a high school roof project.

The Preliminary Budget is based on an enrollment of 3,800 students, which is an increase of 119 students over the 2013-14 enrollment of 3,681. In this budget, the estimated total revenues are $33,541,122 and total expenditures are $33,853,347, which results in a projected $312,225 deficit and ending general fund balance of $4,034,850 as of June 30, 2015. There is no specific project that relates to deficit spending in this budget.

Todd Swanson, Director of Finance & Operations, noted that the projected deficit represents approximately 1 percent of the budget and it could be made up by an increase in students over what is budgeted or the normal process of district staff spending less than what is budgeted for materials, supplies and etc.

In terms of their nay votes, both Varble and Weinand cited concerns about the deficit spending.

“At the 2012-13 year-end, the district held an unassigned fund balance in excess of 14 percent to expenditures, and our auditors suggested that a better target percentage was around 10 percent,” Varble explained.

“Essentially, they were telling us that we were being too conservative in handling our public funding. In the 2013-14 budget the board approved a planned spend-down of the fund balance by over $1 million to primarily upgrade technology infrastructure in the district, but also included other things. I supported this planned spend-down and felt that it was a good decision for the district,” said Varble, noting the revised budget for 2013-14, as of June 9, 2014, placed the district’s projected unassigned fund balance at just over 10 percent of expenditures.

“I was very pleased to see that percentage maintained around 10 percent,” he continued.

“Our 2014-15 proposed budget has deficit spending of $312,225, which would place our unassigned fund balance at about 9.3 percent of expenditures. In addition, our projections through the 2017-18 fiscal year would diminish our unassigned fund balance to just over 7 percent.

“My ‘nay’ vote on the 2014-15 budget was in response to this trend of deficit spending and a wave of the caution flag to other board members that we need to reverse course sooner, rather than later,” Varble said. “Personally, I would like to see our unassigned fund balance maintained between 9 to 10 percent. I fully support our board and finance team at the district, however, and while I am not dramatically opposed to the 2014-15 budget as approved, I felt it necessary to voice my concern for caution publicly, rather than just in dialogue at board work sessions.”

Weinand echoed many of the same sentiments, noting concern about projections that include deficit spending for the next several years. As a public official, Weinand said he wants to look out for the community by making sure tax dollars are spent properly and his preference is to avoid deficit spending when possible.

One may review the budget at the district website (

In other matters:

• The evening marked the final school board meeting for Superintendent Dr. Nancy Rajanen, who is retiring at the end of the month. During her Superintendent’s Report, Rajanen read a heartfelt message describing how much she enjoyed her six years in Waconia and her contribution to creating a culture of respect and transparency between the district and its staff and the community. She also touched on her 37-year career in public education, describing education as “the most important job on the planet.”

Later in the meeting, Board Chairman Brian Rothstein read a lengthy resolution commending the many achievements that Rajanen achieved during her tenure as superintendent.

On a related note, the board approved the contract of incoming superintendent Patrick Devine.

The contract is for three years, starting July 1, 2014, and ending June 30, 2017. The annual salary is for $142,000 in the first year, $144,840 for the second year, and $147,680 for the third year. The contract includes an added financial incentive should Devine earn a doctorate level degree (Ph.D., Ed.D., J.D.).

Rothstein described the contract as a competitive executive level contract.

• During the Public Comments Related to Non-Agenda Items, parent Stacy Strate shared concerns with how honor students are determined when it comes to graduation, especially in the cases of PSEO students.

Strate said her daughter, who graduated from Waconia this year, was a PSEO student who did not receive honor student recognition at graduation despite having a 3.75 or higher GPA, which is the threshold for the honor (National Honor Society students with a 3.5 GPA or higher are also designated as honor students).

According to Strate, honor students are designated in March based on their GPA at the end of the second trimester. Strate said making the designation at this time of the year is unfair to PSEO students, who are at a disadvantage because they only have a few classes on their transcript compared to non-PSEO students.

Strate asked the board for greater transparency on how the honor student designation process is conducted and to consider tweaking the system to better consider the achievements of PSEO students. One way to do this is to make the designation later in the year when PSEO students have more grades on their transcripts.

The board indicated the concerns would be discussed at a future work session / meeting.

• The prices of school lunches will be increasing for some Waconia students next year.

As explained by Swanson, the Paid Lunch Equity (PLE) provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school food authorities to ensure each year that sufficient funds are provided to the food service account for full-paid student lunches. The PLE provision of the act requires a calculation be made to ensure that the weighted average lunch price charged for paid lunches is at least $2.55 in the 2014-15 school year.

Swanson explained that after calculating meal prices and comparing prices to surrounding area schools, it was determined that prices should be raised at Bayview and Southview by 10 cents per meal and 15 cents per meal at Clearwater for the 2014-15 school year. At this point, no increases are recommended for the high school.

Swanson noted that prices will likely have to be raised again in the 2015-16 school year, again to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. More details about that will become available next spring.

• Rajanen honored Bob Schwichtenberg, who was recently commended for his service as a bus driver.

• The board approved the 2014-16 contract terms and conditions for Nutritional Services and Community Education groups. The contracts included a 2 percent increase in the salary schedule for both years.

• The board acknowledged the following donations: $800 from Carver County Farm Bureau for tilling at the edible classroom; $2,500 from the Southview PTO for classroom libraries; and $1,200 from Melchert Hubert Sjodin, Koch Bus, and KleinBank for Southview’s Book Buddy Program.

On a related note, the board acknowledged several donations during its meeting on May 12: $29,300 from the Bayview PTO for SmartBoard, iPads, headphones, and music shells; $4,455.60 from the Bayview PTO for SmartBoards; and $3,500 from the Waconia Lions for a softball batting cage.

• The board approved a joint purchasing agreement with Wayzata ISD #284. The agreement will help both districts lower their costs associated with milk purchases and possibly other items.

• The board approved a lease purchase agreement with American Capital for the lease/purchase of two vehicles that will be used for driver’s training. The vehicles are a 2014 Ford Fusion and a 2014 Dodge Avenger. It was noted that driver’s training vehicles generally don’t accumulate high miles quickly so if all goes well, district officials hope to operate the vehicles for seven to 10 years.

• In the general election this fall, four seats on the school board will be available.

The seats are currently held by Rothstein, Weinand, Bullis and Griffin. All four seats are four-year terms. Citizens interested in running for school board may file at the district office with the School Board Clerk between July 29 and Aug. 12. A $2 filing fee applies for each person filing for office.

• The board held a special meeting on Monday, June 16 to discuss facility needs and the possible pursuit of a land/building referendum this fall. The board’s next meeting will be held on Monday, July 14.


Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]