School board discusses cutting building and grounds position

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

The Caledona Area School Board spent considerable time during the Feb. 21 meeting discussing a proposal to eliminate the building and grounds position and put current building and grounds custodian Joel Hesse on notice of layoff.

Prior to discussing the resolution Joel Hesse addressed the board and asked several questions concerning why and how this decision had been reached.

First, the board confirmed to Hesse that the decision had to do with the budget and did not reflect on his performance.

Hesse then told the board that he had only been informed of this resolution the previous week and stated he would have appreciated further warning. Hesse asked the board why he had not been informed sooner, as it would have allowed him to apply for positions that were open earlier in the year.  It was later explained that the board had been considering cutting an employee from the custodial staff, but no decision had been reached at the time.

Hesse further questioned why the board chose to hire two additional custodial staff if they were considering cutting an employee from the custodial staff.

This raised further questions from Hesse, who technically had seniority over several members of the custodial staff, having worked at the school for eight years.

It is the district’s policy to cut the employee last hired, but Hesse had not been grouped with the other custodians, but rather with secretarial staff, where he had no seniority.

Hesse asked for clarification on why he had not been grouped with the other custodians, thus giving him seniority.  The board did not have an answer, but believed it was a decision made by the former Superintendent Bruce Thomas. Hesse later explained that he had never intended to be grouped with the secretarial staff, and would have been promoted to a different grouping if not for budget issues.

Hesse also asked what the school would do without a building and grounds custodian?

According to the board the duties of the building and grounds position were to be absorbed by the remaining custodial staff. Hesse was concerned that the remaining staff would not have enough experience to take over his duties as well as their current duties.

Hesse wanted to know why four employees had received raises this year if the budget was bad?  Board Member Scott Longhorn explained the reason for the raise was that those four employees had not received a raise in six years, longer than any other staff members.  “We made a decision,” said Longhorn “and it wasn’t an easy decision.”

Brad Hesse, the son of Joel Hesse, also addressed the board following his father. Reading from a speech Brad Hesse spoke on behalf of his father’s work as building and grounds custodian, citing the hard work his father put into the position and that he could not be easily replaced.  Brad Hesse urged the board to keep in mind his father had worked at the school for eight years, longer than the staff that now was being asked to absorb the building and ground duties.

Following Brad Hesse’s speech, Carl Fruechte also commented that Joel Hesse had done a great job with the school fields and hoped something could be done to keep Hesse on until at least the end of the year.

Following the public comments the board moved onto the resolution to eliminate the building and grounds position. Chair Michelle Werner asked if a board member would introduce the resolution.  The board members were reluctant to make a motion on the resolution.

Board Member John Klug said “This is a difficult situation and I think it is one we’ve had to do every year for five years.”

Board Member Kelley McGraw went forward with the motion in order to allow for discussion, which was seconded by Longhorn.

McGraw stated that he was under the impression that the board planned to cut the building and grounds position last year and wished to know if there were other positions that fell under the same situation.

According to Superintendent Marcia Love, a technology position had been planned to be cut last spring, but was not cut until December. Love admitted the school was working on a revised budget, but was not coming up with extra funds in the budget.

“I wish we all had the opportunity to be on the school board when there was money and we could be doing things,” said McGraw.

Longhorn requested the issue be tabled for the next month in order for the building and grounds committee to give a detailed report on how the duties of Joel Hesse would be absorbed by the remaining custodial staff.

Hesse’s wife Connie was also present at the meeting and questioned the board’s decision to eliminate her husband as he was the most experienced custodian working at the school. She said those duties were going to be taken over by three employees that had less than five years of collective experience at the building, and wanted to know why two custodians were hired if the board planned to layoff Joel later in the year.

Klug defended the decision by saying they did not know Hesse’s position would be cut at that time.

The board chose to go with Longhorn’s suggestion to table the vote until next month and figure out how the staff intends to absorb the building and grounds duties.

Hesse will remain on staff until that time.