School going high-tech: Revamped website, online payment system on the way

by Tom Coombe -

The Ely School District is about to modernize its online presence.
Within two months, the district’s website will have a new look and school officials indicated Monday that the 2018-19 school year will provide added convenience for district parents.
If all goes as planned the district will be able to accept student lunch account payments, and perhaps sports participation fees, online.
“We’re planning on enabling that next year,” said superintendent Kevin Abrahamson.
Few details about the payment processing were available Monday, when the school board held a brief, 40-minute regular meeting, but high school principal Megan Anderson briefed the board about the revamping of the district’s web page at
Anderson has been part of an effort to give the page a different look and more timely, relevant information.
Anderson said it could be January when the page goes public.
“We want to make it look noticeably different when you go on there,” said Anderson.
The website has looked largely the same for several years, and some parts of it contain outdated, inaccurate information.
Board chairman Ray Marsnik noted Monday that the biography of a former superintendent remains on the site, while Anderson noted that both she and elementary principal Anne Oelke have worked to remove outdated information from both the high school and elementary portions of the website.
“We cleaned up a bunch in both of our buildings’ (websites),” said Anderson. “We’re working on a new look.”
Reserves still growing
The numbers will be out next month, but an early look shows that the district’s unassigned fund balance will jump again when the results of a district audit are finalized next month.
“(District finance manager) Spencer (Aune) assures me it will look really good,” Abrahamson told the board.
In 2016, results of the audit showed a climb of more than $650,000 in undesignated reserves, bringing the undesignated fund balance to $2.1 million, or 26 percent of the district’s annual general fund expenditures.
Auditors are looking at the district’s books for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, and Abrahamson predicted further growth.
“It’s going to be positive,” said Abrahamson, noting an increase in student enrollment as one of the factors.
Abrahamson cautioned, however, that the 2017 numbers may be a bit misleading, given accounting decisions that prevented the district from assigning a $50,000 contribution for the elementary playground as well as expenditures for a skid steer purchase to the 2017 budget.
Those expenses, as well as an additional $50,000 for the playground project, will all be taken out of the 2017-18 budget.
In other business, the board:
• Approved a cooperative agreement for girls hockey with Eveleth-Gilbert, with the provision that there be no expense to the district.
The move allows an Ely student to play high school girls hockey for Eveleth-Gilbert.
• Accepted the resignation of paraprofessional Cheri Debeltz.
• Approved a new two-year contract with the AFSCME local that represents paraprofessionals, custodians and other district staff.
The key provision mirrors a recently approved deal with district faculty and raises the district spending “cap” for family health insurance to $20,000 per year.
• Renewed the contract of assistant hockey coach Jake Myers and approved various volunteer coaches for winter sports.