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Fillmore Central School Board struggles with uncertainty over restructuring

Fri, May 30th, 2008
Posted in Education

PRESTON - The Fillmore County School Board tackled a long agenda at their nearly four hour meeting on May 27. Members grappled with changes to Superintendent Myrna Luehmann's job description. The blending of her job and that of the K-8 principal is clearly an adjustment that is in the early stages of restructuring.

A long unsettled discussion ensued when Luehmann asked the board to approve stipends for Dean of Students Chris Mensink and herself. Luehmann plans on meeting with Mensink for about ten days in June to more clearly map out both of their job descriptions and plans for the reorganization needed to reduce the district's budget by $200,000.

Brenda Lentz will no longer work as the K-8 principal. Luehmann will combine her duties as superintendent with those of the K-8 principal.

Luehmann requested approval of hourly pay for Mensink for ten days of work this summer. She also requested $1,000 per month for herself for the five or six extra hours per week that she anticipates working to fulfill her additional duties, including planning for the restructuring. She had a similar stipend request of $1000 for Mensink, in addition to the $2500 he already receives as Dean of Students.

Board member John Torgrimson questioned who [Luehmann or Mensink] was going to be responsible for what with the restructuring. Board member Michelle Topness wanted a job description for each position detailing their responsibilities.

Board member Deb Ristau suggested that Luehmann needs to give the board an idea of what percentages of her time will be spent doing each of her superintendent and principal duties. Ristau suggested that a decision on the stipend for additional after-hour work to be completed by Mensink over the next school year should wait until it can be determined what additional time he is putting in.

Board member Sue Ostrom moved that they authorize the pay for the ten day planning period in June only. The motion was approved. A change in Mensink's stipend will be decided at a later date. Board member Craig Britton added that a possible additional stipend for Mensink should be reevaluated before the new school year.

Ristau and Topness favored the board holding a special meeting to discuss how the restructuring will work, what is best for the school, and how Luehmann's time will be divided. Luehmann suggested that it will take extra time to plan the restructuring and to implement it. She expects that once this is accomplished, less time will be required to do the blended job of principal and superintendent. Luehmann said that she will update the board and keep them informed of the progress in the restructuring.

Topness noted that Luehmann's contract will be up in one year. Torgrimson said that the board needs to know her job description in the case that they need to find a replacement. Topness agreed that if she were to retire, her specific role will need to be detailed in order to look for a replacement. Board Chair Sue Sikkink added that with the requested $1,000 per month stipend, which is to be above Luehmann's salary, there will not be a need to open her contract. Torgrimson said that he was opposed to the stipend until it has been made clear how the restructuring will work. Ristau agreed that they would be adding money paid out without any concrete information or details.

Ostrom moved to pay Luehmann a stipend of $1,000 per month for six months. The motion failed for lack of a second.

Britton moved to pay Luehmann a stipend of $1,000 per month for the twelve month period as requested. Topness seconded the motion with the provision that the board have a question and answer session with Luehmann near the end of June to inform the board of the details of the planning. Ristau suggested that the issue be tabled until the end of June after the Q and A discussion. The motion passed four voting for and two voting against. Torgrimson and Ristau voted against.


• Luehmann discussed the budget from Taher School Lunch Management for the 2008-2009 school year. She noted that due to fuel prices, there is an added surcharge for deliveries. She expects there will need to be an increase in school lunch prices of about ten cents for the new school year. Luehmann noted that currently there are three different prices for each of the elementary, middle and high school lunches. She suggested price changes will need to be looked at, maybe going to two levels or even one. No action was taken on new lunch prices.

• A preliminary budget for 2008-2009 school year was approved. Luehmann admitted that more belt tightening may be required next year. She said that anything that is a petroleum related may be a budget problem.

The preliminary budget showed revenue at $6,876,856 and expenditures of $7,303,041, a potential deficit of $426,185. The figures don't reflect additional funding from the legislature of $51 per pupil unit, approximately $30,000 that the district will receive.

• Luehmann asked for and received approval of health and safety projects to be completed this summer, including sidewalk replacement for $70,000 and ceiling scraping of asbestos material for $45,000 at the high school; and replacement of the kitchen exhaust system for $65,000 at the middle school. The board also approved the advertising and sale of a Farmall tractor and belly mower that is no longer used.

Cell Phones

John Torgrimson raised a concern about the cell phone use policy and enforcement. He said that he had been approached by parents concerned with phone use during the school day. Topness also asked about use during school by teachers. High School Principal Heath Olstad explained that he has occasionally had a request from teachers to leave a phone on for special medical situations.

Olstad admitted that cell phones are a problem and that he has had to take some away from students. He noted that the phones are important to both students and parents. He maintained that they can be a distraction and cause students to miss out on their education.

K-8 Principal Brenda Lentz suggested that the biggest problem with them in the middle school has been cheating. Some teachers ask students to place their cell phones in a basket on the teacher's desk during a test. She noted that some teachers follow the rules and some don't and that the kids know those who do and those who don't. Lentz said that a few students were caught cheating last month with their cell phones.

Olstad emphasized that the misuse of the phones in class causes kids to loose out on their education. His high school policy is that phones can be used during snack break and lunch. He acknowledged that enforcement is difficult especially with text messaging. Torgrimson remarked that kids should be welcome to bring their phones to school, but that a penalty needs to be applied when they are on or being used inappropriately in the classroom. Ristau suggested a severe penalty with misuse. Sikkink added that policy would need to be spelled out specifically in the handbook. No action was taken on the matter.

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