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Menahga School District continues mail ballot preparations

Menahga School Boardmember Julia Kicker attended Monday's meeting via Skype -- until the connection froze around 8:30 p.m. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

The Menahga School Board authorized SeaChange to print and mail election ballots on April 19.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen said the company was better equipped to handle the mailing process more efficiently than the district office. There are approximately 2,200 registered voters.

Business Manager Liz Olson said the cost per ballot was about $2.50, plus postage.

Wellen recommended mailing the ballots on April 19 because it's close to the Tuesday, May 9 election day, so voters are less likely to think it's junk mail, yet they still have enough time to correct their ballot if they make an error in their submission.

In order to receive the ballot, the voter's address must be current on his or her voter registration card. An eligible voter who has not registered within 21 days of the election may apply for an absentee ballot, even on election day with proper identification.

In order to be valid, all mail ballots require the signature of a witness.

Completed ballots may be submitted by mail, in person or by a designated agent by Tuesday, May 9. No postage is necessary.

District office polling hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on May 9.

Boardmember Jon Kangas asked who wrote the language for the ballot.

Wellen replied that the school's attorney did, with his assistance.

Kangas expressed concern about putting language about Central Lakes College Career and Tech Ed courses on question 2, calling it "inappropriate."

In related business, the board appointed Kristine Spadgenske as head election judge, plus Carol Ann Cleveland, Leslie Ylitalo and Connie Juntenen (alternate) as election judges and mail ballot board judgest at a rate of $15 per hour.

Senior citizens are invited to attend a breakfast, building tour and middle school performance of "Peter Pan" on Thursday, April 6, beginning at 9 am. at Menahga School.

The board also an scheduled informational meetings for 6 p.m. on April 6 and Thursday, April 13 at 10:30 a.m. at the high school media center.

The board agreed Huntersville would be a good location for an informational session for the eastern side of the school district; Wolf Lake for the western side. Dates were not set at the March 20 meeting.

Wellen shared a letter from Central Lakes College stating their commitment to partner with Menahga High School to expand Career and Tech Education courses if the bond referendum passes.

"Frequently, such opportunities are not available to high school students, due to a lack of proper equipment and resources," wrote CLC President Dr. Hara Charlier. "However, Menahga's planned improvement and expansion of their high school CTE facilities opens the door for true concurrent enrollment courses in Career and Tech Ed."

Wellen said he was asked whether state aid equalization is guaranteed.

"According to Tom Melcher of the Minnesota Department of Education, equalization began around 1993, but it was not indexed against inflation and went down steadily while property taxes went up," Wellen reported. "Around 2001, the two tiers were added to provide additional help to property-poor districts. In the last couple of years, the legislature indexed it so if property values don't grow any faster than the state average, the equalization will remain the same."

The governor is currently proposing to increase equalized funding to qualified school districts.

If the legislature were to revoke state aid equalization after its 24-year history, some 65 school districts that have already completed projects would have to make up that financing.

"Your guess is as good as mine, but I find it hard to believe that with the level of impact on all of these school districts that, politically, legislators could survive such a decision," Wellen said.

Through his conversation with Melcher, Wellen also discovered that state equalization aid calculation is based on all students enrolled in the district.

According to Ehlers, that means if the bond passes, Menahga's open-enrolled students will generate just over $2 million in state aid "to pay toward the building over the life of the loan," Wellen said.

Attorney-client privilege remains

Kangas' attempt to access the school district attorney's investigation into his trespassing case failed at the March 20 board meeting.

Kangas brought a folding utility knife into a December 2015 school board committee meeting.

The school district's weapons policy forbids all knives and blades. He was subsequently issued a no-trespassing order. The board offered to lift the order if Kangas agreed to abide by school rules, but he rejected the offer.

Kangas claims the interim superintendent at the time, Alan Stoeckman, planned to lift the no-trespassing order before the school board took action on the matter. He alleges the school district is hiding information. Kangas was not on the school board at that time.

Last week, he asked the current school board to waive attorney-client privilege for new board members so he could read the opinion provided by the district's attorney at the conclusion of the investigation.

During discussion, Boardmember Durwin Tomperi inquired if new board members were bound by the attorney-client clause. He expressed concern about the legal information becoming public.

When they took the oath of office, Wellen said all board members are under an ethical obligation to keep the information private.

"It would be expected," Wellen said.

Tomperi said, in his opinion, the trespassing issue was settled, the board took action and a conclusion was reached.

"We've moved on," he said. "It's a closed matter, as far as I'm concerned."

Board Chair Andrea Haverinen wondered if waiving attorney-client privilege in one case would set a precedent for future requests. The Minnesota Association of School Board Association cautioned Haverinen about releasing legal advice in past matters. Such a decision requires the full board to vote.

"Why do you want this done?" Boardmember Brad Goehrig asked Kangas.

"I guess I'd like some resolution," Kangas replied.

"So you're saying once you get attorney-client privilege waived, it's done? It's all over?" Goehrig asked, adding that he was against the motion.

"I didn't say that," Kangas said.

Kangas made a motion to waive attorney-client privilege for all new school board members.

The motion failed 1-4, with Kangas in favor and Goehrig, Haverinen, Tomperi and Howard opposed.

In other business, the board did the following:

• Wellen said he misquoted a law regarding transporting open-enrolled students. "It is the non-resident district which needs to go to the district lines, not the resident district," he said. If the board wished to reverse its decision to continue to pick up open-enrolled students on existing bus routes/stops and not extend bus routes any additional distance, a member of the prevailing result must make a motion to add the item back onto the agenda. No one made such a motion, so no further action was taken.

• Approved an agreement with Interquest Detection Canines, in the amount of $2,565, for substance awareness and detection services. The agreement is for Sept. 2017 through May 2018.

• Created an additional special education teaching position for the 2017-18 school year. The position was requested based on the number of elementary students and caseloads.

• Accepted a $500 donation from Menahga Gateway Lions and a $1,000 donation from the baseball booster club toward a new batting cage.

• Pre-approved a Menahga BPA request to attend the national competition in Orlando, Florida from May 9-14. The district will pay travel expenses within the state.

• Approved a high school student council request to travel to Fargo and perform a service project at Ronald McDonald House, with the district paying travel expenses. The student council will prepare and serve a meal on April 12, tentatively. They received a $250 We Volunteer Now Grant from Allstate and We Day to help with the Share-A-Meal Project at Ronald McDonald House.

"This project is important to us because many Menahga families have used Ronald McDonald House," said High School Student Council President Brooke Yliniemi told the school board.

• Learned that Kerry White, Michelle Koch and others raised $2,000 at the Menahga Dollars for Scholars Boot Bash.

• Accepted resignations from elementary basketball director Chris Lake and bus driver Dave Trimble.

• Approved the hiring of chemistry/physics teacher Austin Storm for the 2017-18 school year.

The next Menahga School Board meeting is a joint one with the Menahga City Council at 5 p.m. Monday, April 10 at the high school media center.