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R-P board hits at board member letter

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Apr 19th, 2013
Posted in Rushford Education

By Kirsten Zoellner

A March 27 open letter to a local news publication by R-P board member Taylor Peterson prompted the need for comments by nearly all board members at the April 15 regular meeting. A long-time advocate for cost savings in the district and one strongly opposed to recent proposals to build a new district facility, Peterson’s words struck a chord with the district superintendent Chuck Ehler, as well as board members Angela Colbenson, Valerie Howe, Greg Smith, and Julie Koop.

In the letter, Peterson called out the district for continuing its New School Initiative, following a defeated referendum. He noted several costs incurred by the district, including a Comprehensive Educational Analysis & Facility Engineering Analysis by the firm ATS&R, a contractual hire of Hazel Reinhardt for a demographic study of future enrollment, and monies paid towards five firms for referendum-related work. An inability to get the information from the district office was also mentioned by Peterson. The issue of biggest debate was Peterson’s choice of the word, “deceived” in reference to the district and its residents. In a full room, including Rushford Mayor Chris Hallum and councilor Mark Honsey, the board responded to the letter.

“To say we’re deceiving the public, it upsets me,” said board chair Angela Colbenson. “The door is always open. If you don’t get a question answered the first time, it’s common courtesy to come back and ask again. In the future I ask that we be careful with broad brushes of the administration and board. I also ask that we not use board members’ names. It implies that we are splitting up and tearing against each other. Yes, the community is divided about the building, but it’s not our decision. It’s a community decision. I’m looking forward to a diverse board. It invites open mindedness and unique ways of problem-solving. We all need to work together.”

“Another thing that’s unsettling, we’re hearing feedback that this may have jeopardized our chance at state funding,” Colbenson continued. “When writing open letters please speak positively about the district; we have a fantastic district.”

Superintendent Ehler also responded to the comments. “Make a reference to me if there’s an issue, not a broad statement. There needs to be mutual respect, right up front. We can agree to disagree. There also needs to be professional courtesy and I ask you to embrace that along with me.” Ehler noted that he hadn’t met with Peterson to discuss the issues brought forth in the letter, but not for lack of trying. “Deal with me in a direct manner. I invited you to meet with me on two different occasions. You turned me down.”

First-time board member Valerie Howe echoed the displeasure over the insinuation of deception by the district. “Everything here is public knowledge and these are open meetings.”

“It did bother me,” added board member Greg Smith, who was on the board when the referendum was prepared, in reference to Peterson’s comments. “I’ve been on the board six and a half years. I think we’ve accomplished a lot as a board. We need to work together as a board, bring discussion forward, and do what’s best on behalf of the people. We might vote different as a board, but we have to come in here and have good discussion.”

New board member Julie Koop also suggested a professional courtesy. “We have diversity here. When there’s a vote and we walk out of the room, we need to support that decision as a board, whatever the vote, and represent the district. Speak your opinion here.”

Peterson had no comments about the letter.

The district has scheduled a working session with ATS&R and ICS Consulting to review the facility and educational analysis. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 9, at 5:30pm, in the high school biology room. It is open to the public.

In other news, the district is looking at possible repairs to the track at the Ben Niggle Sports Complex. Installed in 2000, the asphalt and latex track is seeing delamination, causing a separation between the two material layers. The issue causes temporary bubbling of the track in areas and if left untreated will eventually lead to complete separation and wearing down of the latex layer. A proposal from Fisher Tracks, the firm who installed the track, suggests a $99,405 plan that would remove the latex layer, patch any asphalt issues, and place a 30-year polyurethane layer on top. Fisher Tracks also suggests an additional structural spray which could be done immediately or within 7-10 years after track resurfacing. The cost of that item is $37,000.

“We have the best athletic facility in the Three Rivers Conference,” noted R-P Athletic Director Luke Lutterman. “Our track facility brings many people to this community. We want to be proactive in maintaining the facility. We want to make sure it’s kept in great shape for our community and students and athletes.”

According to Lutterman, the funding for the project would come from multiple sources. The R-P Booster Club has allocated $36,000 and the district would contribute $40,000. The remaining $33,405 or more needed in funding would be raised through donations, either corporate or private.

Rumors of track useability and condition were also discussed. Lutterman assured the board that the track is useable and will be able to host home track events this season and presumably future events. However, it was noted that it is impossible to predict what the weather will continue to do to track conditions. Timing of the project, due to seasonal limitations and project requirements was also a concern.

The board voted unanimously to see bids for the potential project, rather than moving forward with the Fisher Track proposal. “This brings a lot of business to town,” added Colbenson. “It’s important.”

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, May 20, at 5:30pm, in the high school biology room. The public is encouraged to attend.

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