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R-P School Board postpones cuts in staffing needs

Fri, Apr 23rd, 2010
Posted in Education

The Monday, April 19th agenda included two resolutions affecting staffing needs for the 2010-2011 school year. Stemming from a work session earlier in the month, district Superintendent Chuck Ehler had recommended changes in five current positions. These were detailed as non-renewal, or termination of the individual, and unrequested leave, which reduces teachers to less than full-time or requires a wait until funding for the position can be confirmed.

At least 15 students and nearly a dozen parents packed the normally spacious room to make their case in the defense of two teachers: industrial technology teacher Mark Winkels and agriculture instructor and FFA advisor Dawn Lubahn.

In regards to Lubahn, who was on the block for termination, Ehler expressed gratitude for the two years of service she has provided the district but noted the district was in need of new direction and new leadership. He also specifically added that the district is not eliminating the FFA program, but may find it a challenge to find a willing teacher on a limited contract.

Current FFA president and R-P student Kaitlyn Peterson was the first to speak in defense of the proposed elimination. "What will happen to FFA? Maybe you haven't thought that far ahead. It breaks my heart to think there may not be an FFA chapter in the future. We need ag. classes. It's all around us, no matter where we are."

Ehler responded, "It's pertinent for us to not be dealing with rumors and innuendos. I can assure you there is no recommendation to cut ag. or FFA."

R-P parent John Knudsen expressed concern for the financial cuts and why the students in particular need to feel the effect, especially in the area of agriculture. Calling the proposed resolution, "Not a well-conceived idea," Knudsen went on to note that he felt cutting Lubahn's position was essentially cutting FFA. "There's over 20 percent student involvement in ag. and FFA. It's the largest youth organization in the world, developing into the leaders of tomorrow."

R-P parent Brenda Bergan echoed the sentiment. "It's not your intention to cut FFA? Per FFA guidelines, the ag. instructor must be the FFA advisor. I'm disappointed that this proposal is even being considered."

Dawn Hauge, an R-P parent who spent 25 years with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, brought a point of view from that of one who open enrolls her two sons to the district. "Ag. opens up doors for them. This isn't just for the farm kids. It sets the bar high for the kids to achieve."

Several more students spoke on behalf of Lubahn citing the outcome of this cut will greatly affect the outcome of the students and noting that many are having difficulty selecting classes, feeling forced into taking classes that they believe won't benefit them. Bergan again cautioned the district, "I know you have a long-range plan and I hope you consider the programs."

Also in attendance was the teacher at the center of it all, Dawn Lubahn. "One thing you should be aware of, whether you choose to eliminate my position or not, please consider what you're doing. I respect that you're looking out for the financial. I'm looking out for my students."

R-P teacher Mark Winkels, whose position as industrial technology teacher was proposed to be put on unrequested leave due to low enrollment, also spoke in defense of the cuts. "You're slamming the door shut on opportunities. We need to offer opportunities to all students, not a handful and you're slamming a door on a huge number of students. We need to be guiding students in a direction that's most beneficial for them."

Discussion then turned to the topic of pre-registration with several in attendance noting that there was miscommunication and misunderstanding in the process. R-P parent David Markegard expressed concern over the fact that parents never saw the pre-registration forms last fall and classes with low enrollment numbers were not offered on the final registration. Bergan agreed and added, "Pre-registration is just that, pre-registration."

Principal McBroom acknowledged the district had used a different method to determine classes for the 2010 school year. Previously the district had used a one-time registration using all courses in the guide. The request to evaluate class determination by use of another registration was mentioned, but the district does not have the time to complete such an endeavor. Administration did assure those in attendance that they would meet to explore options with students.

Board member John Nitecki was sympathetic to the frustration with scheduling and loss of opportunity. Still, he added, "I can't overlook that everyday we need to make decisions."

Board member Greg Smith agreed noting, "Any cuts are hard, but we only have a certain amount of funds. None of us would like to see cuts or eliminations, but we only have so much to work with."

The district is predicted to lose 20 students in the coming year which equates to $136,000 in loss of funds. With state aid unsure and the district's fund balance "drifting," the school passed an operating levy referendum in 2009. Unfortunately, those funds are not available until the start of the 2011 school year. Ehler spoke to the board, "This is the harsh reality of what our needs are next year. I don't want you to feel forced into a decision, but we cannot wait until May. We're in a scramble position."

Chairman Dan Munson concluded, "We're looking at number of enrollment versus number of dollars. We don't want to make any cuts. The reality is we can't avoid it. What are we willing and you willing, as taxpayers, to pay for?"

A decision on the resolutions was eventually tabled until board members could research concerns and possible options. A special meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, April 29th, at 5:30, to make a final decision. The district has until June 1st to give notice of unrequested leave, but in fairness to both the district and the individuals involved will proceed as quickly as possible.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, May 17th, at 6:30, in the high school biology room. The public is encouraged to attend.

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