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FC School Board votes to move 7th and 8th graders


Fri, Feb 26th, 2010
Posted in Education

Superintendent Myrna Luehmann (middle), along with the school board, spoke to the crowd about their concerns along with answering questions about budget cuts and the shifting of students. (Sue Sikkink, left, Chairperson Ross Kiehne, right). Photo by Jade Wangen

In a unanimous decision, the Fillmore Central School Board has voted to move the seventh and eight graders to the high school building in Harmony for the 2010-2011 school year.

There were several people from the community in attendance to voice their concerns and questions about the decision. Superintendent Myrna Luehmann started by saying there has been no changes to the numbers since last month. There is one resignation, and the other person they thought might retire is coming back parttime for one more semester. According to Luehmann, if they move the students, they will not have to replace the retired teachers, which will be a savings.

"Is this going to be a good thing for our students?" asked Luehmann. "That's the first thing we have to think about."

Board member Jim Love asked if there would be deeper cuts if the move was not made. Luehmann said there would have to be cuts into student programs. She said with the move, the students will have additional offerings.

High School Principal Heath Olstad mentioned some of the things that the students will be able to have that they weren't able to get at the middle school. They would have choices such as Intro to Spanish, Home Ec., Ag, and shop classes.

"It's not going to be a middle school setting," said Olstad. "But I think it will be a positive thing."

One concern that Olstad spoke about is having the seventh and eighth graders in a block schedule. Right now the high school classes are 77 minutes long and students are in a class for one semester. There is sometimes a concern about having English first semester one year and second semester the next year and the large gap between.

Olstad said other classes incorporate English skills in their curriculum with writing reports and other things. He also mentioned the possibility of splitting one block period into two "skinnies" for the younger students.

Board member John Torgrimson asked about social situations with seventh graders and seniors in the same building. Olstad responded by saying it's a small school so it's not realistic to say they would be completely separate. He added that the high school has a very dedicated staff, and he is confident the adjustment would work and be a positive experience.

Love asked if the students would be more ready for ninth grade, when their grades really start to count toward their future. Olstad believed it would be a much smoother transition for them.

Heather Shupe has a daughter who will be in seventh grade next year. She spoke to a few of the board members and the administration before the meeting and had several concerns about the change, especially about the things that are still unknown.

"I really don't want my twelve-year-old in a building with seventeen and eighteen-year-olds," said Shupe. "My daughter is petrified just thinking about it."

Shupe said she knows from experience working at the high school as a paraprofessional how differently the high school kids act. She added that she went to a school that had grades 7-12 in one building. "But that was 20 year ago," she said. "Things are different now."

Shupe had concerns about the block schedule, as well as concern for students that might fall between the cracks.

"I don't see how a decision can be made tonight without knowing the budget for sure," said Shupe.

Shupe said that in her years volunteering and working in the school in different areas, she has seen many areas that could be looked at for saving money, and areas where money is not being spent wisely, or staff that are not doing as much as they could be doing.

Shupe also mentioned that the district could lose some students through open enrollment because of this decision, for whatever reason. She is concerned that people will be shopping around for the best education they can find for their kids.

Board member Sue Sikkink replied, "We think they're getting the best now, and it'll be better."

Sikkink also mentioned that other schools have gone to the 7-12 format, including Kingsland and Chatfield. Also, Lanesboro and Mabel have students in kindergarten through 12th grade all in the same building.

Chairperson Ross Kiehne thanked Shupe for signing up to talk and said he appreciated her comments. Heath Mensink also spoke out against the decision. He asked if they spoke to the faculty about the decision and had open communication with them. Luehmann said they had discussed it at several faculty meetings.

Mensink also questioned why the school is spending over a million dollars on the air quality of the middle school, then shuffling all the kids to the older building in Harmony. He said that could be a problem for kids with asthma problems.

Kiehne answered that the district has also spent money on the facility in Harmony, and they have to look at their facilities like a home.

Board member Craig Britton said they would want to upgrade the school regardless of the decision, as they need to take care of the system as a whole. Mensink also had concerns about mixing pre-teens with young adults, and the ramifications of that. He asked if they could put a $150,000 price tag on peer pressure, teen pregnancy, drinking, and drugs. "Are you prepared for the results?"

Mensink was also concerned that there was no mention of this moving seventh and eighth graders in the minutes of the meetings. The only way that parents and other people would know about it was by reading the articles in the paper.

Board member Sue Ostrom said that the option is not perfect, but because of declining enrollment and budget constraints, they have to do the best they can.

Archie Jorgenson spoke up and asked what would be done with the space at the middle school. Custodian Blaine Moe said that if they closed off the basement of the elementary school and did not heat or clean it, it would save $11,000 a year. The classrooms could then be moved to the middle school area.

Board member Deb Ristau said that it would be a transition for the students, but they want the kids to get the best education they can. She said she understood all of the concerns, but a lot of it has to fall back on the parents.

Torgrimson made one last comment before the vote. He stated that he felt ambivalent about the decision, especially after hearing concerns from parents whose children will be affected.

"We can't afford not to send them over, but listening to Heath, we can't afford to do it, either," said Torgrimson. He suggested that the school is reaching the inevitable. He said the improvements being made to the buildings are to keep the options open for the future. He added that it was a very tough decision.

Britton said when the schools first combined in 1993, there were 1,000 students. The enrollment is now down to 550 students. "There may be some drawbacks, but I still feel the more we can offer the better. I believe in our administration."

Luehmann said she has faith in the faculty to do the right thing with the kids.

Budget Updates

Torgrimson updated the board on the latest budget committee meeting and the proposed cuts. He said in the past three years, the board has had to cut $500,000 from the budget. This year they are facing cuts of 3-5 percent from the budget. Due to Governor Pawlenty holding money from public schools this year, the committee has targeted their cuts to three percent, which is $200,000.

The committee looked at several options. The largest one is moving the seventh and eighth graders to the high school, which Luehmann stated will save the district $150,000. Readjusting the administration by having a part-time superintendent and a K-12 principal will save $25,000. Adjusting the duties of the athletic director could save about $10,000. Having less heating at the Preston site can save from $10-15,000. This comes to a total of around $195,000 in savings.

Torgrimson said if the cuts turn out to be more, they will have to look at saving money elsewhere, such as getting rid of a bus route or restructuring the media center.

"It's all speculative," said Torgrimson. "It depends on the legislature and the governor."

HVAC bids

Aaron Hess from A&F Consulting presented the board with the bids for the HVAC project at the middle school. The winning bid was from Schwabb, LLC, at $1,025,400. This price includes some related side projects, such as tile and doors.

The board also approved the hire of a construction manager for the project. Hess explained this person will make sure the project is carried out and qualifications are met. He recommended Greg Fogarty and Associates at a not-to-exceed amount of $52,500. Hess said with this cost added on, the project is still eight percent under the original budget.

Staffing

The board approved the hire of Jessica Marzolf as a preschool paraprofessional. They also approved the hire of Traci Ward as a para at the Root River Program, and Heather Grinnel as a daycare lead teacher.

There were a few resignations that were accepted as well. The board approved the resignation of Elaine Armstrong, the van driver for preschool. Laura Armstrong, who has been an elementary teacher for the district for 37 years, is retiring after this school year. The choir director Sara Blessing has put in her resignation, as she is moving away to continue her education.

Spring coaches were approved as well, on the contingency that the numbers are sufficient. Athletic Director Jane Montgomery has recommended Nate Carlson for B-squad softball, and Travis Malley for junior high softball.

Other Business

A draft of the calendar for the 2010-2011 school year was given out for the board to look over. School will be starting on September 7 and going through June 3.

Jackie Whitacre was approved as the director of the spring play, which will take place on May 7-8.

The administrative contracts for both Luehmann and Olstad were approved. Olstad will be the K-12 principal, and Luehmann the half-time superintendent.

The board approved getting bids for lawn mowing at the Harmony site. The district will take care of the lawn at the Preston site and keep track of the costs.

Luehmann said the students brought in 18,000 box tops during the contest in January. This will bring in $1,800 for the school.

The meeting was closed at the end to discuss a personnel issue and a termination.

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