Caledonia Area Public Schools’ board members met Monday, September 26 at Caledonia Elementary School in room #162. Board member Mike Peterson called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. and led with the pledge of allegiance. Board members present included Derek Adamson, Tim Gunn, Leigh King, Melissa Marschall, Peterson, Daniel Small and Spencer Yohe. Also, in attendance were Superintendent Craig Ihrke, Middle/High School Principal Nathan Boler, Elementary Principal Sue Link, K-12 Dean of Students John Wahlstrom and Business Manager/Finance Director Barb Meyer. Community Education Director Gretchen Juan was absent.
Mabel-Canton School District Superintendent Gary Kuphal, Dover-Eyota Public Schools board member Ron Pagel, HVED (Hiawatha Valley Education District) Special Education Director Clover Schmitt, and HVED Executive Director Deb Marcotte each addressed the Caledonia Public Schools’ school board regarding a motion made at the August 21 regular board meeting to not approve a Joint Powers Agreement involving a proposed building purchase by HVED. HVED seeks from its 12 member school districts approval for a Joint Powers Agreement to purchase the Winona Mall in Winona, Minn., and renovate such to provide special education related services.
Pagel thanked the board for reconsidering the Joint Powers Agreement and stated he did not approve of the board’s prior decision.
Board member Gunn started off by expressing his appreciation for the services special education workers provide. Gunn took what HVED sought seriously. He toured the current Hokah facility, met with Executive Director Marcotte, looked into financials, looked more into program costs, and toured the proposed Winona location with Superintendent Ihrke. Gunn was not impressed with the location. He felt the Winona Mall to be in a dangerous location in regards to student safety. Gunn was concerned with the building’s exits and the level of construction needed to transform the mall into rooms fit for special education services. Gunn also expressed concern for the students that will be impacted by this purchase as their commute time would increase as Winona is a further distance away. Currently seven students are transported outside of Caledonia’s school district for services, six students are transported to Hokah, Minn., with one student being transported to Kellog, Minn. Gunn included there to be a lot of unknowns for a lot of money involved, which will impact taxpayers. After consideration Gunn stated he still votes no.
Resident Chuck Schulte voiced his opinion on the matter stating, “You start this, you’re starting a bureaucracy you have no control over it” (this referring to the Joint Powers Agreement). Schulte concluded stating the taxpayers cannot afford such.
Superintendent Ihrke offered his input. He stated a central location – Winona, Minn., will provide employees a stable workplace as the current SPECTRUM staff often do not know where they will be working each year. Ihrke felt the location to be employee rich, and to allow transportation of students to be more at ease as the site has no college congestion to worry about nor do any tracks cross through. Ihrke stated the cost will be divided out among the 12 participating districts, in turn lowering individual district costs. Ihrke addressed the commute time concern brought up in that 100+ students within the district buildings already travel more than 40 minutes due to Caledonia’s rural location. He informed that over the last nine years, HVED has looked at 40 some sites within the education district boundaries, with the Winona Mall being the best option.
Marcotte explained how the Winona Mall location will be used and answered questions related to such. She stated the 12 districts have been a team for 35 years and reassured the site in Winona is the best option. Marcotte concluded, “We need to act now,” and that kids need to be served. Kuphal added, “This is the best solution we’ve come up with. I think we’re getting a great deal for the cost.”
Board member Marschall stated, “I’m taking their recommendation” as she felt it is important to listen to what HVED experts said.
In Caledonia, ABLE (A Brighter Living Experience) owns a six-year-old building shortly up the road from Caledonia Middle/High School located at 1004 Loeffler Ave. Board member Peterson shared that ABLE expressed interest in partnering with Caledonia School District in leasing space within their building.
Marschall moved, second by Small to rescind the motion taken at the August 21 regular school board meeting. In a 4-3 vote, motion carried.
Marschall moved, second by Small to Approve a Joint Powers Agreement for the Acquisition and Betterment of an Education Facility in Winona, Minn.; and Taking Other Actions with Respect Thereto. Board members Small, Marschall, Adamson and Yohe voted yes while board members Peterson, Gunn and King voted no. In a 4-3 vote ,motion carried.
The board unanimously approved to adopt the agenda, the consent agenda after one correction be made, minutes from the August 21 regular board meeting, minutes from the September 6 special board meeting, and the treasurer’s report.
The board graciously accepted a generous monetary donation from Lindsay Hershner and the Girl Scouts to support the Sprague Woods School Forest.
No old business was discussed.
In new business, School policies 518-523, 525-531, 533, and 535 were reviewed.
The board meeting adjourned at 8:26 p.m. The next regular meeting of the Caledonia Public School board will take place Monday, October 16 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Caledonia Elementary School in room #162. The public is invited to attend.