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Senator addresses R-P School Board

Fri, Oct 2nd, 2009
Posted in Education

Senator Sharon Erickson Ropes was present at the Monday, September 21st, meeting to provide the board with a legislative update. Her message reiterated the current economic status, but it also held some hope in regards to the new school initiative and the recent legislative bonding tour.

In regards to the economy, Ropes opened by acknowledging recent news, "The plummeting and downward spiral has turned. Still, it will likely be a couple of years until Minnesota feels the full effect. People aren't working (contributing to a drop in income tax revenue) and people aren't spending (the same effect on sales tax revenue). There's a $7 billion hole, a predicted deficit, waiting. We're in the eighth year of eight (in the governor's term) and I can't imagine he'll change his strategy." Laying it on the line, she continued, "It's not good news, but realistic news. I want to be honest, not sugar-coat it, so you can make the most of what you have."

The conversation turned to the Legislative Bonding Tour of the district in early September. Superintendent Chuck Ehler noted how gratifying it was to have so many legislators taking a look at the situation first-hand. Coming right out of the chute, those in attendance wanted to know why the district should be the recipient. Ehler's contention was that the impact of a natural disaster was out of everyone's control.

Ropes encouraged the council saying, "You've made the case to me ten times over and I'm in your corner. It's key when you get your legislators down here on site. They're looking at a stack of projects, but I'm hoping this will heighten the urgency."

Chairman John Nitecki also indicated that he felt the tour was positive with several senators speaking to him on a one on one basis. "There's a perceived value that we need to do something. The question of 'Would you send your child or grandchild to this school?' really hit home. It's good that they could put a face with a name and see why we're speaking as loudly as we are."

Councilor Dan Munson, who was in a different group than Ehler and Nitecki, commented that he felt it was not quite as positive. "They (including Representative Greg Davids) said, 'I know you don't want to hear this, but you need to try a few referendums.' I feel it's irresponsible to ask our taxpayers." The district did attempt a new school referendum in 2002, only to be defeated by over 80 percent of the vote.

Citing the cost to prepare such a referendum, Nitecki questioned, "What does that failure gain us?"

Ropes responded, "I don't know what purpose it would accomplish. It's pushing it down to the people. That works for some things, but it's not a sustainable way to pay for local services."

Eager to pursue the issue further, Ehler sought the senator's advice on how to procure interest of assisting the district within the house, especially with a house bonding tour on the horizon. Most certainly, the district will attempt to get a slot on the tour.

Nitecki, seeking a feel for the state's stance questioned, "Do you feel the majority of the house and senate, feels as Representative Davids does? A referendum of this type is rough on a community."

Ropes answered honestly, "I don't have that answer. It's a passionate issue. It can divide a community and create lingering feelings."

Ehler added, "We pride ourselves on a common sense approach. I'm not comfortable bringing this type of referendum in front of our community. It's just not fiscally responsible. We see the impact in our families and our community. It's still a recovery process two years later."

In optimistic fashion, Senator Ropes encouraged the council. "Our parents and grandparents have gone through worse and survived."

Councilman Dan Munson quipped, "And we're still in their school."

The discussion continued with Ropes seeking financial status of school. Ehler noted that there, "are a number of things in the hopper," such as the Q-Comp (Quality Compensation for Teachers) application. If approved, it will be a great asset to the district. Stimulus and grant funds have also played a key role in the district's ability to offset costs while continuing goals and addressing learning issues. Another recent piece of the budget puzzle has been a proposed $100 increase in the school's operating levy. That referendum will go before voter's November 3rd.

As the discussion progressed, the senator heard that enrollment in the district is up 15 students from the anticipated number and that the fund balance is in relatively good shape. "We're going to try to keep that a positive amount. We're quite concerned, but optimistic that if we watch our p's and q's we'll withstand that."

With discussion turning back to state funding, the effect unallotments would have on local districts was coupled with the 27 percent withholding that the district is subject to this year. "The impression I get is that the 27 percent will be there at the end of this year. Are you suggesting otherwise?" asked Nitecki.

Ropes shook her head and answered, "I am deeply concerned that the revenue will not be there and anxious to see where the governor will get the revenue to pay for that. I'm extremely worried."

Levy Open Forums

Two open forums have been scheduled to address any concerns from district residents in regards to the operating levy referendum. The first is scheduled for Monday, October 12th, at 7:00 pm, in Peterson at the middle school lunchroom. The second is Monday, October 26th, at 7:00 pm, in Rushford at the high school theatre.

Chairman Nitecki polled the council to see if any had yet been questioned about the levy by district residents. The silence and random head shakes indicated that the answer was a resounding negative from council members present. Nitecki added, "I'd hate for people to say it's a surprise, no matter how much information you try to get out."


The state is expecting virus outbreaks in schools in the area to peak in six to eight weeks (end of October through November). So far in the district, 27 different families, all at the elementary level, have been affected. In addition, Superintendent Ehler announced that he had received word that afternoon of the district's first confirmed case of H1N1. He was hopeful, however, noting that the family involved indicated that the symptoms weren't as severe as expected.

The district is educating students and staff on preventative measures and has taken additional precautions. While the fourth grade class has historically attended Good Shepherd Nursing Home to visit with residents, that program has been discontinued until further notice. Also, districts have discontinued handshaking after athletic events. With the virus being contagious 24-48 hours prior to symptoms developing in the host, Ehler added, "Where do you start and stop in a school where children are touching everything?"

Still, the district is taking all necessary steps to ensure the health of the student body and staff personnel. If 5 percent of the student population is out, the district must report it to the state. Also, districts are advised to strive to keep doors open and schools functioning, with students being exposed to more situations and circumstances while out of school than in.

Get Involved

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting is Monday, October 19th, at 6:30 pm. The public is encouraged to attend.

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