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Fillmore Central School Board: Board adopts deficit budget, discusses problems with cell phones

Fri, Jun 29th, 2007
Posted in Education

HARMONY - At their regular meeting on June 25, the Fillmore Central School Board approved the budget for the 2007/08 fiscal year, which reflects an operating deficit of more than $200,000.

The actual budget that was adopted, with expenditures estimated at $8,007,105, has a deficit of $808,000. But of this amount, approximately $300,000 will be reimbursed for the day treatment program, although the district is uncertain as to when they will receive payment. An additional $260,000 will come out of the Capital Fund which is earmarked for building repairs.

When asked by board member John Torgrimson whether the district will need to make revisions as the year goes on, Superintendent Myrna Luehmann said, "Absolutely."

Luehmann also indicated previously that she expects that things may get worse in fiscal year 2008/09 due to declining enrollments and limited state funding.

Luehmann also mentioned that Title I funds did go down this year. A technology grant that the district used to receive was discontinued, and salaries have increased.

Cell phone issues

During his Principal's report, High School Principal Heath Olstad discussed some changes to the student handbook for the next school year. One of the issues that Olstad would like to address is the use of cell phones in the school. Keeping the students from using their cell phones during school has become increasingly difficult. Right now, when a student is caught using a cell phone in the classroom, the phone is confiscated and goes to Olstad's office for the day, and he calls the parent to let them know what happened.

"What are the kids missing?" asked Olstad. "There's a lack of concentration there." He also noted that students taking tests could be getting answers from a friend using their phones. Students can slip a small phone into their pocket and text message their friends undetected, making enforcing any kind of ban very difficult.

Olstad also addressed the reality that the phones are a sense of security for parents. "It's a comfort for parents to know their kid has a cell phone," he said.

Other schools in the area have banned the use of cell phones in the building, and some take the phones away and have the parents pick it up, or take it away for a week. Olstad mentioned that especially in winter weather, parents could get very upset about their child not having a phone while driving to and from school.

No action was taken on the matter.

Coaching Positions

The board approved the hiring of Health Olstad for the Boys Basketball coach for next year, and the hire of Sara Tollefsrud for Girl's Basketball. Board member John Torgrimson asked if there would be any problems with Olstad coaching basketball as well as attending to his duties as the principal, as basketball goes from November to March, and takes a lot of time and energy.

Olstad addressed the board in response, and said that he feels he can handle both jobs. "I think it's beneficial to the students to see me in a different role, and vice versa," said Olstad. "If the board feels that I am not doing my job, I will be the first to step down." He also mentioned that he knew of some other principals that have coached sports as well.

The hirings brought up some concerns about the process used for hiring coaches, and the possibility that Jane Montgomery, the Athletic Director, should attend the board meetings when discussing sports issues. There were questions about how coaches are selected, whether or not there is an application and interviewing process, and the qualifications of the hired coaches.

Board member Michelle Topness made the suggestion that the board receive a report around mid-season on how the coaches are doing.

Tennis Courts

The City Administrator of Preston, Joe Hoffman, attended the meeting last Monday evening to discuss the proposed tennis court location with the board. He brought with him the first draft of a lease drawn up by lawyer David Joerg, and mentioned that the city would like to take some action in July.

Hoffman explained that the lease is set up for 50 years, and that the district could have the property back if they were to need to build something there. Superintendent Myrna Luehmann stated that would probably never happen.

One term of the contract that was required by the district is that the city would be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the tennis courts. They will also be responsible for the lights and electricity usage, the insurance on the property, drafting the rules and regulations of the court that will be approved of by the district, and the restoration of the surrounding area. The school will also be allowed to use the tennis courts for physical education classes.

Luehmann explained that there is a default clause in the contract stating that if the city does not take care of the property, the district would act on that, and the city would be responsible for returning the site to its original state.

Hoffman described the tennis courts as a "win-win" situation, as the students will have access to the courts as well as the general public. Some board members had concerns about the upkeep of the courts, as well as the length of the contract.

"I feel confident that the city will have funds available for upkeep," sated Hoffman.

Board members agreed that they would prefer a 30-year lease. A final draft of the contract will be brought to the board for a decision at the July meeting.

Fees and Salaries

The discussion and setting up of activity fees, lunch fees and the salaries of support staff brought about some disagreement with board members. The rate of pay for substitute paraprofessionals and substitute secretary positions were raised to $8 an hour. The substitute teacher pay remained the same at $50 for a half day and $100 for a full day.

Building and Grounds Supervisor Blaine Moe had asked the board at the May meeting to make the substitute custodian pay the same as the base pay, $11 an hour. The rate was previously the same as the other subs at $7.75 an hour, and he was afraid that he would not be able to get anyone to work for that pay.

Board member Sue Ostrom expressed her concern with having the sub pay the same as the base pay, as no other subs receive that much, and custodians should not be thought of as more important than the others. Topness understood that the reasoning behind it was that sub custodians do the same work that the regular custodian would do, and maybe sub secretaries or paraprofessionals do not. When a motion was made to set the pay at $11 an hour, Topness, Ostrom, Sue Sikkink and Craig Briton voted against it. Torgrimson and Deb Ristau voted yes, and the motion failed. Another motion was made to set the pay closer to base pay at $9.50 an hour, and the motion passed, with Ristau and Torgrimson voting in opposition.

Student activity fees, admission fees and lunch fees will remain the same.

Another item that was disagreed on was the request by Dean of Students Chris Mensink for an increase in his stipend. He currently receives a $2500 stipend on top of his salary for extra duties done as the Dean. Luehmann said he made a list of things that have changed and his reasoning for the increase, and these things included staying later after school for detentions, opening the school in the evenings for other people and the general increase in these kinds of duties over the last year. The motion to give him a $500 increase failed.

"I feel that with the budget being so tight, he shouldn't get an increase," said Ostrom. "His salary is his stipend."

Torgrimson made a motion to increase the stipend $250 the first year, then another $250 the year after. The motion passed.

Staff Changes

The resignations of Ag Teacher Steve Rischette, Special Ed. teacher Michelle Breitsprecher and Van Driver Delly Heibel were accepted. At the elementary and middle schools, Jenna Whitaker was hired for the K-5 Music position, Jolene Nelson will be teaching third grade, and Ana Olson will take over the middle school science position. At the high school, the position of Ag Teacher has yet to be filled. Michelle Breitsprecher was hired as the Special Ed. director in charge of the Day Treatment Program.

Retirees Cynthia Hokenson, David Hokenson and Karen Draper were honored for their years dedicated to Fillmore Central.

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