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R-P tries to move beyond disagreements


By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Aug 23rd, 2013
Posted in Rushford Village Education

Several district residents were on hand at the Monday, August 19 meeting to voice their opinions of several recent issues including the ongoing facilities and administration debate, grade location realignment, and consistency of offerings within the district. Two spoke directly to the facilities debate.

“I want to thank the board for their work,” said Sandy Rumstik. “It takes a lot of time and sacrifice, and I’m willing to pay whatever it takes to sacrifice for them [the students]. I commend you. Keep at it. It’s so important,” she continued.

Board member Peterson, a vocal opponent to the school’s past New School Initiative, took the brunt of other comments. “You use your seat to perpetuate your personal issue with Mr. Ehler. I see you as negative, as anti-education. I find it appalling,” said Joellen Bingaman. “I think you have you own personal agenda and your axe is sharpened by the minions who voted you in. Things don’t last forever and you won’t.”

A brief banter between Peterson and Bingaman was halted by board Chairwoman Angela Colbenson, who advised that comments be directed at the board for advisement, rather than conversation on the issue. Discussions then turned to ongoing talks revolving around a potential flip-flop move of middle school grades to the Rushford facility and upper elementary grades to Peterson, also a hot button issue for the community.

“I think we need to see more pros and cons as to why we’re considering making this realignment,” said Judi Tekautz. “There doesn’t appear to be much discussion. The experts, the teachers, have told us about the benefits of the closed setting for the kids over there. You want to transport those grades to Peterson, but they have their sports practices in Rushford and grades 7-8 have theirs in Peterson. It seems counterintuitive; a bad use of resources. You want to make those fourth and fifth grades line up and wait for a bus, when they should be running off energy before school. It’s a bad age to be bussed, and it seems a poor use of their time. There seems to be more potential for negative consequences.”

Superintendent Chuck Ehler spoke concisely and positively, seemingly to both issues brought up by those in attendance. “At the May 29 meeting, this came about with an administrative recommendation. There is still ongoing discussion. Let’s take a breath, before the guns come out let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages. It’s my goal to help you in making an educated decision. I ask your patience in allowing a bit of time for discussions to go on.”

“It’s important to have discussions without personal attacks,” Ehler continued. “Let’s look at it with a fresh new set of eyes, with those of our new principals. I’d like to see what they think. But, we need to take the fear factor out of change.”

The administration will continue to study the potential pros and cons of a realignment for future school years. It is expected that the information will be brought back to the board’s attention in February.

In other news, the district has moved forward in getting the next step of the teachers’ contracts worked out. Per teacher/administration negotiations, teachers have elected to use the Public Employee Insurance Plan, or PEIP, a state offered comprehensive medical package. The district went a different route four years ago, leaving the cooperative pool of Southeast Service Cooperative, utilizing Blue Cross & Blue Shield insurance, for Health Partners. The former plan, according to Ehler, involved high useage and risk at a high cost to the district.

Ehler sees certain advantages to this new choice, cost savings being one of them. Of the 38 eligible employees, at least 50 percent of them must elect to use the medical package in order for the district to be eligible for it. Currently 18 employees take the insurance package. There is strong indication, according to Ehler, that there will be 21 participants, which could fuel a $40,000-50,000 savings to the district. “This is the eleventh hour,” he noted. “September first, everything has to be ready to roll.”

The district has also entered into contract with Hiawatha Valley Mental Health for the 2013-2014 school year, pending approval by three other participating districts. A Winona, Minn. agency, Hiawatha assists students with a variety of issues. Previously, the district bussed eligible students to Hokah, Minn. Now, Hiwatha is entertaining a new model which will keep the students off the road, having a provider come to the district instead.

“I suggest we follow through and embrace the new model,” advised Ehler. “This will keep these students connected at R-P and still allow them to get the services that they need.” The projected cost of the service is $11,700 and will see a cost savings to the district in less travel. “It’s a win-win,” added Ehler.

“It’s hard on these kids to be bussed to a place they don’t know with kids from all different districts. With this, they’d stay in their comfort zone, with people they know. I think it will work out better if these kids are in their own district, in familiar surroundings,” added board member Valerie Howe.

The service will also shift to a five day per week program. At this time, no one-on-one para educator is required by students receiving this alternative learning service. Should it arise, the board would reevaluate that need in the future.

The regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, September 16, at 5:30p.m., in the high school biology room. The public is encouraged to attend.

In addition, the next Future Facilities for R-P Schools Committee meeting will be August 27, at 5:30p.m., in the biology room. 31 attended the first meeting, which included an overview of the committee planning process, purpose, and expectations by Tom Tapper and Dean Beeninga of architectural firm ATS&R. The committee is expected to meet over eight weeks’ time before coming to some recommendation for district facilities. Interested persons should attend.

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