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R-P places five teachers on unrequested leave due to budget cuts

Sun, Mar 22nd, 2009
Posted in Education

Five probationary status teachers from the Rushford-Peterson elementary and middle school were put on unrequested leaves of absence/non-renewal of contracts for the next school year by the Rushford-Peterson School Board at their March 16 meeting.

Given the nature of school budgeting, the practice of putting newer teachers on unrequested leave has become a commonplace precaution in recent years, with the teachers almost always being brought back the following year.

But this year feels different, particularly after the visit last month by state senator Sharon Ropes and representative Greg Davids who warned of significant state cuts in school funding.

Board chair John Nitecki said that "it is our hope as a district that we could bring these people back on," but that two factors, declining enrollment and the current economic conditions, have given the district extra reasons to be cautious.

Erickson and Davids recommend that school districts plan budgets representing 5%, 10% and 15% cuts.

Board member Greg Smith was quick to counter with some cautious optimism, saying that the district has a "strong fund balance," that he's encouraged by the possibility of the district obtaining Q-comp funds for faculty, and that he's "confident in our administration to make the right choices, and not to cut from essential teaching."

Those put on unrequested leaves are Luke Rye (grade 6), Shannon Kopperud (grade 4), Emily Charlebois (special education), David Lind (grade 6), and Becky Halvorson Lind (grade 1). They are eligible for first recall for any job openings for which they're qualified.

With preliminary kindergarten registration completed, the school looks to lose a net of ten students next year.

In other personnel news, the board accepted the resignations of Valerie Hasleiet (Librarian-33 years) and Rhonda Runkel (Elementary Special Education-31 years) with "thanks and appreciation for their years of service.

Pass the Broccoli

An initiative led by superintendent Chuck Ehler has secured a fresh fruits and vegetables grant to provide elementary students with a fresh fruit or vegetable snack every day, outside of meal times. The snacks replace cookie-type snacks brought by the students.

The staff has expressed surprise by how well the veggies are going over with the kids.

"I personally watched one 5th grader eat nine of the little cups of broccoli," said elementary principal, Joel Hovland. He added in his report, "Kids seem to enjoy eating fresh broccoli or apples slices just as much as cookies. Who knew?"

The purpose of the grant is to "increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption, to make a difference in children's diets to impact their present and future health, and to expand the variety of fruits and vegetables that children experience." Superintendent Ehler reported a delighted response to fresh pineapple, and said that some kiwi is "on the way."

Facilities Task Force

The board agreed to move forward with the establishment of a task force to examine and develop the future use of district school facilities. The proposed task force would include five staff members, two students, two board members (Eric Thompson and Kathie Ingram), six parents, and five community members.

The group would begin meeting in May and have a facilities use plan to present to the board in October.

The board is seeking a diversity of opinions and residents from all parts of the district. Anyone interested could speak with a board member or Mr. Ehler.

Open Public Forum

Following the monthy board meeting April 20, the board will host an Open Forum with the public from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in the theater. Topics are not limited to school facilities, but, as Ingram suggested, the board would "entertain suggestions for cuts to make" in the district's budget.

The hope is for a large turn-out, but comments were made regarding the preponderance of spring activities in the district that might conflict with meeting attendance.

Board member Roger Metz said, "The important thing is that the people of the community have the opportunity to have input."

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