By Emily Bialkowski
The Caledonia School District will have another administrator come fall who will act as principal of the elementary school and curriculum director. The School Board voted in special session April 7 to add the position and will post the job as soon as possible.
The board has been entertaining the idea for close to two years because the current administrators, of which there are three, wear multiple hats. During the March 17 regular School Board meeting, the board agreed that the need was present but questioned whether the district could financially sustain the position.
“We’ve ran this through our Finance Committee and looked at every item related to revenue projections and items related to expenses. The Finance Committee feels they can support this decision and are recommending that you move forward,” Superintendent Ben Barton began.
Board Member Jean Meyer, who had reservations last month, said she now fully supports the decision.
“I was really hesitant about going in if we couldn’t sustain it, but based on the information the Finance Committee provided, I feel confident we could move forward,” she said.
Board Member Jared Barnes reaffirmed his belief that not acting on the need would strain existing staff.
“We have little to no control over state and federal mandates, and it’s unfair to put so much on a few people,” Barnes said.
The recommendation passed unanimously. Before switching topics, Barton added that the curriculum director aspect of the position will be a key benefit to the district.
“Curriculum is an area we have not been able to focus enough attention on. It’s one we rarely talk about but need to,” he said.
The district will undergo a thorough candidate evaluation process and “bring in as many stakeholders as possible,” to provide input on the selection. The board hopes to have the right candidate on staff by July 1.
Additional agenda items were covered during the special meeting, one of which included extending the early retirement option deadline.
In February the board agreed to offer teachers 55 years of age or older, who have served the district for 15 years or more, a one-time early retirement option that beefs up the individual’s post-retirement health care savings account.
Interested teachers were supposed to have submitted a resignation letter by April 1, but one educator needed a little more time to evaluate the option and sought an extension until April 30.
The board voted 6-1 (Kelley McGraw against) to allow the extension. Three resignations have already been received under the option, including:
• Sharon Schulte, a full-time high school Spanish teacher with 25 years of service.
• Carol Sweeney-Marnach, a full-time high school social studies teacher with 38 years of service.
• Judy Flaten as a full-time middle/high school counselor with 22 years of service.
The three resignations were accepted by the board. The educators will receive three lump-sum $2,500 deposits from the school district into the Minnesota State Retirement System post-retirement Health Care Savings Account. Deposits will be posted Sept. 1 of 2014, 2015 and 2016. The option gives retirees a boost while saving the district over $50,000 per year. Should the fourth individual submit their resignation, an additional $17,000 will be saved per year.
The district had hoped to attract a total of five retirees but conceded to the change in numbers.
Third section of kindergarten
All indications are that next year’s kindergarten class will be robust in numbers, and Barton sought permission from the board to add a third section of kindergarten – and the necessary staff – to keep class sizes manageable.
Concrete numbers won’t be in until after kindergarten round up on April 24, but Barton said it appears there may be 50 kindergartners ready to enter school.
“I would like to add a third section if we’re getting anywhere over 50 or up close to 50,” he said.
“When you get around 50, that’s about 17 students per class – that’s a lot of little bodies if you get that number,” Board Member Michelle Werner said.
Research indicates small class sizes in the primary grades increases student success.
“Fifty is too many to split into two,” Barton said.
“Any time you get over 20, it’s a lot of kids; even 20 is a lot kids,” Barnes said.
“When you get that many kids in one room, you watch that teacher and see them age more than president of United States,” Board Member Spencer Yohe said.
Meyer said she would prefer to wait until after kindergarten round up to give the go-ahead, but Barton said that would delay posting the job until the end of May.
A motion was made to add a third section of kindergarten if enrollment numbers hit 50. The motion gained unanimous support. Barton said he would come back to the board with the same request should the number get close to 50.
In other news, the board agreed to hire Krista Tri as a full-time speech and language pathologist for the 2014-15 school year.
It has been particularly difficult for the district to attract a speech and language pathologist due to increased demand for those qualified to provide this service. The district has been relying on an online speech therapy service in the interim.