The idea of acquiring a school nurse on staff at Rushford-Peterson has been kicked around since before the district built its new facility. The new school officially opened in August 2017 and that year, the school board made the decision to proceed with a health assessment in lieu of hiring a nurse. Fast forward to the pandemic, the school board unanimously approved moving forward with the hiring of a nurse last month.
Superintendent Jon Thompson indicated at the September 21 board meeting that three candidates applied for the position. Ultimately, Stephanie Evenson was hired. “Stephanie stood out with her personality. She’s an ideal fit,” said Thompson. Evenson is a registered nurse with a Master’s in Nursing and has students in the district.
“I’m super excited. It’s been going well so far,” enthused Evenson about the first two weeks of school. “There’s a few things we’ve had to work through. I hit the ground running.” Staff was given an overview of COVID-19 training for the staff. In addition, she was able to visit most of the classrooms within the first week. “My goal is to make people be comfortable; to stay up to date with the most recent information.”
The bulk of the work thus far, according to Evenson, has been responding to phone calls and dealing with concerns. “These are very normal expected things with different levels of comfort,” she added. “I’m always available if people want to contact me.”
A weekly update to staff is also being done. “I’m keeping them in the loop. I know if one person asks the question, there’s at least seven more that have the same question.” Other tasks that have been completed include ordering of supplies for the health office, prepping an isolation room, and some community outreach on behalf of the district, along with Superintendent Thompson. “Overwhelmingly, it’s been going very well,” she concluded.
District praised Evenson’s skills. “What’s wonderful for us is that Stephanie is very calm. It’s been wonderful for the elementary,” said Elementary Principal Angela Shepard.
“With her there with training and experience, it lends credibility to what we’re trying to do,” noted Thompson. “Sometimes, with major changes, we need a little nudge to accomplish plans. She’s looking at things differently than we do as administrators.”
A number of items received unanimous approval (Director Chris Grindland was absent). They included setting the preliminary levy rate at the maximum level, purchase of vans with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security Act funds; updating the projected purchases for the Facility Improvement Plan, adopting a co-op agreement with Lewiston-Altura for dance, 2020-2022 wages for van drivers, and approving a coupon book fundraiser for the Spanish Club with the condition that no door-to-door sales are allowed until the district reevaluates.
The 2020-2021 E-Learning Plan is also seeing some tweaking to better align with what’s already being done for the current school plans. There’s no indication that the district will be moving to in-person, all day, learning. Rather, Thompson indicated Fillmore County Public Health predicted numbers show the COVID-19 case numbers could push things closer to the state model that would require districts to be hybrid. Because the district serves Fillmore, Houston, and Winona County residents, it’s required to use the county with the highest statistics. “I don’t want to jump back and forth,” added Thompson. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Before conversation could continue further, Board Director Bonnie Prinsen clarified the distinction between how the school is currently instructing through distance learning and the state’s E-Learning Days. The latter is an option for traditional snow days, when school is actually canceled for the day due to inclement weather and has nothing to do with the current model. “If we drew a line between it can be clear that we’re not doing this now,” suggested Prinsen.
According to Middle School/High School Principal Jake Timm, the district can dub the learning days whatever moniker they want to avoid confusion. Should the district call a snow day and it’s determined it to be an E-Learning Day, while the district is still in hybrid model, students scheduled to be physically present at school would have an E-Learning Day. Those who are on their off-day for the hybrid model would continue as a normal off-day. “Snow day means nothing; have fun,” added Timm.
“With all the stuff COVID has brought the community, let alone the world, the first snow day will be an actual snow day,” stated Thompson.
The last item added to the agenda was in regards to an email sent to the board by Matt Helgemoe regarding accountability for funds raised by groups outside of the district. Particularly, this involves youth sports activities that are put on by groups rather than the district. To promote better oversight and transparency, it was noted there are two options. One, a group can form a board. Secondly, a group can funnel money through the school to create a transparent paper trail. “It’s better if money comes under the school’s umbrella,” added Thompson.
“His biggest concern is where the money was spent. Is there any way to go back and find out,” asked Director Jeff Michel, who requested the discussion be put on the agenda.
“When this group started, there were a lot of mistakes made. There were promises made at board meetings,” said Prinsen. “My concern is, even if it’s not an R-P group, people thought it was. We can all make our assumptions about what happened to it, but going back can’t be done.”
“I don’t have that capability without accusing someone of mishandling,” stressed Thompson. “My thinking going forward is if someone has an event here, the money comes through school. We can control that. That’s my best form of closure, because I don’t have the capability to go back. I think we’re in a good spot going forward and that’s all you can do.”
During the Superintendent’s Report it was noted by Thompson that the district will potentially seek an Operating Levy Referendum in 2021. In his report, he noted the district’s tight financial position heading into this year and the anticipated loss in revenue for 2020-21 due to COVID-19.
“We knew we were going to maybe overspend a little and were making cuts over the course of this spring to get ahead of it early,” added Thompson. “We can’t replace what we lost; you’re talking about a 2% budget loss at least. With a $2 million budget, that’s significant.”
“One thing for certain, the state is going to be in financial difficulties for the next few years. We can’t really look there,” said Board Chairman John Linder. “Starting the discussion now would be good.”
Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) membership fees for 2020-21 were also discussed in the report. “The MSHSL recently issued advanced notices to schools of a large increase in membership as result of revenue losses suffered from the cancellation of state tournament events last school year and the anticipated loss of revenue from these events in 2020-21,” said the summary. Last year, the district paid $2,310 for membership. This year, membership was $3,224, but an additional membership fee was later added in the amount of $5,000, making R-P’s total membership fee $8,224, a 356% increase, for 2020-2021.
“This is a ‘Hot Button’ topic around the state and will likely find its way into the newspaper and newscasts,” said Thompson’s summary. “It is possible for schools to utilize Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds and the Minnesota Department of Education is checking on potential use of Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars.”
“While that is a large number, it’s also important to our students,” said Thompson. “I grumbled about it for a while, but it’s something we should do. I just wanted you to be aware of it.” The board authorized the district to pay the membership fees earlier this year.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, October 19, at 5:30 p.m., in the forum room.