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R-P moves closer to asking for new school

Fri, Jan 25th, 2008
Posted in Education

RUSHFORD - The Rushford-Peterson school board unanimously approved a 20-page letter to Commissioner of Education, Alice Seagren, prepared on behalf of the district by ICS Consulting, Inc, of Spring Lake Park.

The document outlines a "skeleton" of a plan for building a replacement elementary/high school in Rushford and a complete overhaul of the Peterson middle school building.

Superintendent Chuck Ehler and the board emphasized that this is in no way a commitment to any project on the part of the district, but that in order to ask the state for special funding for a project, there must be a plan to fund.

Last month the board approved Ehler's request to have ICS prepare the report which includes statistics about the district and current facilities, enrollment projections, rationale for the proposed plan, proposed timelines and a ballpark figure of $25 million needed for the building and upgrade project.

The seventeen acres owned by the school east of the ballfields has long been a source of contention between those who do and do not think it would be a suitable site for a school. Ehler, who has made several trips to speak with representatives from the state education department and various legislators, said that since the August flood, the previous site looks less appealing to those at the state level. He said officials seemed relieved and "appreciative" when told that the district is considering property just across the road, and at a higher elevation than the old property, and that officials indicated they would not have been receptive to building on the old site.

Ehler reiterated to the board the state's requirement that the school property include 40 acres. With the current school athletic fields, the seventeen acres (possibly to be used for a parking lot and/or playground) and the 11-acre Richard Holle property across the road, the district would have the required 40 acres.

Holle has previously offered to sell his property to the district. The board approved the creation of a committee responsible for gathering information and negotiating a tentative price for the land, if the rest of the project moves forward. The committee will also need to work on issues related to the property, such as water run-off and a nearby private driveway. Greg Smith, Dan Munson, John Nitecki all volunteered to serve on the committee.

The project would require a voter-approved bond referendum to possibly take place in May 08, according to the letter, if the district is first able to obtain a Cooperative Facilities Grant as detailed in Minnesota Statute 123A.442, which Ehler is currently working on with local representatives and members of the state senate.

Ehler has stated publically in the past that he hopes to obtain a commitment of 75% of the cost of the project from the state.

Where are the snow days?

There's a new sheriff in town and he thinks snow days are for sissies.

That may have been the thinking of some district parents and staff in recent weeks. The R-P district has, in recent years, become accustomed to being one of the first, and sometimes the only, district in the area to cancel school when winter weather strikes.

But all of that has changed this year. Although we've had plenty of snow and cold weather, the district has, to date, had just one two-hour delay.

Ehler reported that a number of parents have expressed opinions regarding his reluctance to call snow days; he told the board that one thing he has learned is that some townships in the district have a policy of not plowing until a storm is over and even then, not before 7:00 a.m.

"Had I been aware of that (varying township policies), we would have given serious consideration to a 2-hour delay this morning (Tuesday, Jan. 22)," Ehler said.

While acknowledging that safety is the number one consideration in making such decisions, Ehler also made it clear that he has no intention of continuing the previous "liberal" policy of cancelling school.

Ehler asked that the board, and district parents, be patient and "allow me to get a little more familiar with all the situations."

Several board members spoke up in support of Ehler's more conservative policy. Jim Kitchens, who's driven bus for the district for years, said that in his experience, if roads aren't plowed by 7:00 a.m., they're not plowed by 10:00 a.m. either.

"I tell people the only difference between starting school at eight or ten is that by ten it's daylight and I can see the roads that aren't plowed," he joked.

John Nitecki said he was uncomfortable letting Ehler take all the blame for recent decisions about closing schools since Ehler has been given directives by the board. Nitecki felt the district took too many snow days last year, and said he favors a balance between keeping students and staff safe, but also using taxpayer money wisely and not canceling school when it should really be in session.

Ehler said he consults with Bernard Bus Company when making school-closing decisions.

Not everyone is unhappy with fewer snow days. Ehler and several board members reported hearing from parents and staff who were pleased with the new more conservative policy, too.

In other business, the board-

• chose as new officers the following: Chair-John Nitecki, Vice Chair-Dan Munson, Treasurer-Greg Smith, Clerk-Roger Metz.

• kept board members' salary the same as it has been in the past, and meeting times will continue on third Mondays at 6:30, in the high school biology room.

• learned that it is actually the school's main boiler that needs repair, not the back-up boiler as had been previously reported. The board had authorized up to $14,000 for the repair of the back-up boiler, but needed to approve an addition $2,525 given a new estimate.

• heard in the "Generosity Report" of approximately $6,600 in new donations to the district from the following organizations: Minnesota State High School League Foundation; Telecom Pioneers; the Minnesota Vikings; Caledonia Area Middle School and High School; Herff Jones; Chisago Lakes High School Boys Basketball team; Merchants National Bank of Winona and La Crescent; Plymouth Creeks Student Council; Decorah Public Schools.

• congratulated Gary Wade for being chosen the Minnesota 2007 class A girls' track Coach of the Year.

• set the next meeting for Monday, February 11 at 6:30 due to the President's Day holiday the following week (third Monday).

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