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Menahga School invites consultants to assess facility

The Menahga School District is seeking professional help to address space shortages, improve bus traffic flow and tackle 10-year facility maintenance needs.  At Monday’s school board meeting, Interim Superintendent Allen Stoeckman reported that he invited five architectural/engineering firms to conduct a walk-through of the school campus.  The companies will introduce themselves and present their recommendations at 6:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9 at the high school media center.  Each company will be given 25 minutes; however, the board will not take action at this meeting.  

The school board also discussed the need for a minimum of four new classrooms next year, due to a large sixth grade – currently numbering 97 students – moving through middle school.  “I hope the people looking at the facility plan understand what we’re up against,” said Board Chairperson Ernest Huhta Jr.  

In related business, Stoeckman calculated the cost of transporting the district’s 227 open-enrolled students.  School buses drive 1,333 miles per day. Thirty-six percent, or 480 miles, are outside of the district. At a cost of $1.18 per mile, those 480 miles cost $500 per day. Over the course of 172 school days, the total cost is $86,029 per year.  In terms of revenue, open-enrolled students bring $1,350,186 in general aid to the district, based on $5,948 per pupil.   Revisions to public participate  

The board approved the “first consideration” of dropping school policy 103L regarding  public participation and addressing complaints at school board meetings since it’s duplicated in policy 206L.  The motion carried 4-1, with Board Member Al Peterson voting nay.  Based on Stoeckman’s recommendation to  use policies from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA), the board also held the first reading of revisions to policy 206L.  The amendment requires citizens who wish to have a subject discussed at a board meeting to notify the superintendent’s office, in writing, three business days prior to the meeting.  Under the new procedure, citizens wishing to address a particular subject on the board agenda would notify the superintendent two business days before the meeting.  The school board retains the discretion to limit discussion on any agenda item. New language would be added, suggesting a time limit of three minutes for individuals and 5 minutes for groups.  The motion carried, 3-2, with Peterson and Andrea Haverinen opposing.

Search begins for new superintendent  The board approved Stoeckman’s recommendation to post the job opening for a new superintendent with MSBA, Minnesota Association of School Administrators and EdPost.  “Sustainable leadership within a school district is paramount to school success,” he said, describing himself as a “short-timer.”  “Right now, there are so many exciting things on the horizon, it’d be good to have someone here to guide you from spring into fall,” Stoeckman said.  “Seems like you just got here,” quipped Board Member Curtis Hasbargen.  Applications are due Nov. 18, with the first round of interviews on Nov. 30. A second round of interviews and site visits would be held in early December. The new superintendent’s term would begin Jan. 4, 2016.  Stoeckman said the pool of candidates is getting smaller and smaller, so it’s best to begin the search earlier. He commented that Menahga needs a candidate with a long-term commitment to the district, not someone who sees the position as a mere stepping stone.  If no qualified applicants apply, the board will repost the position at a later date. Job postings don’t incur any costs for the district, noted Business Manager Liz Olson.

Board adopts formal response to Kangas’ complaint  Last month, the board directed Stoeckman to meet with Jon Kangas and develop a formal response to his complaint about Vercon’s estimated costs versus final costs for the school’s recent remodeling project.  Vercon explained that significant changes in the design and scope of the work, plus a compressed construction schedule, resulted in higher expenses.  Kangas also accused the district of “questionable compliance with competitive bid laws.”  As a matter of course, the district’s legal counsel reviewed Vercon’s lump sum bid proposal of $62,063. The district also sought competitive bids from general contractors, but received none.  “In hindsight, the school district should have waited and completed these renovations as part of a comprehensive facilities plan,” wrote Stoeckman in a formal response, which the board accepted on a 4-1 vote, with Peterson opposed.  

“A trusting relationship with Vercon, based on past projects, appears to have led to the continuation of the renovations even when Minnesota competitive biddings statutes were in question,” Stoeckman continued. “I find no evidence of a ‘sweetheart deal’ between Vercon and ISD 821. To alleviate future challenges on projects over $100,000, other construction management firms must be approached for consideration.”  

In other business, the council:   Congratulated the UNC Warrior football team on its 6-2 regular season. For the first time in UNC history, they finished as the number one seed in the section.  As this Enterprise was going to press, the Warriors were scheduled to play against the Barnesville Trojans at the Section 8AA championship game Friday, Oct. 23 in the Fargo Dome.   Heard a recommendation from Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer to decrease the open enrollment cap from 90 to 85 students in second grade, which would match the current cap for third grade.  There are 87 third graders enrolled for the 2015-16 year.  There is no cap for preschoolers. Kindergarten and first grade are limited to 80 students.  Huhta noted that this year’s kindergarten class exceeds its cap by seven due to in-district student enrollment.  Mayer’s recommendation will be discussed at a board work session.  

Held a closed session for attorney-client communication regarding “assessment, defense of status of settlement negotiation in a threatened lawsuit by a parent.”  

Recognized a $1,000 donation to Bingo for Books and $500 donation to FFA national trip from the Gateway Lions.  

Learned that Menahga third graders raised money to buy an American Girl doll for a classmate undergoing treatments for her growing brain tumor. The students and Menahga staff also raised money to help her family with travel costs to medical treatments.  

Approved David or Tracee Lindquist as concession manager at a rate of $31 per home event for the 2015-16 school year.