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Open enrollment debate continues at Menahga Schools

Menahga School Board members Durwin Tomperi and Jon Kangas, co-chairs of the new building advisory committee, recapped its first meeting.

They reported to the full school board on July 17.

About 25 to 30 people attended the initial building committee meeting, held the week prior.

"My impression of the first hour was pretty much a town hall meeting. Probably the hot topic of that phase was open enrollment issues," Tomperi said.

Those who voted "no" on the last bond referendum listed open enrollment, taxes, an excessive building plan, conflicting information, a divided school board and unnecessary gym space as their rationale for opposing the building plan.

"The 'yes' and 'no' people had different platforms they were working off from, bringing information forward that, if you put side by side, some were completely opposite of factual stuff," Tomperi said.

"I think it was a good meeting," Kangas said, adding there was "pretty good consensus" about the need for additional classroom space.

He noted that many people remained for nearly two hours to continue the discussion, even after the committee meeting was officially adjourned.

Kangas said two mothers from Wolf Lake want more restrictive open enrollment.

"They want a small school. If we can keep it at that 800-900, that's what they want," he

said. "They don't want an expanded school if it's not necessary, and that's where the open enrollment comes from."

With regard to open enrollment, Tomperi said, "The reality is these kids are here. You're not going to get rid of them. We have to address the needs of this district. You can't just kick them out and say, 'We solved our problem. We don't need to build.'"

Tomperi anticipated that the next committee meeting would tackle "the nuts and bolts of what we need to do and what we need to address."

Opposing sides may clash, "but I think we can find a consensus because I think everybody realized in that room that night we definitely need to address our space needs."

The needs are going to be different if you restrict open enrollment and you have 850 in your student body versus 1,100 or 1,200. Your needs are going to be totally different," Kangas said.

"We're already at 1,000 and, like Durwin said, those kids are in the system," pointed out Superintendent Kevin Wellen.

"Who knows how fast it would drop off if we restrict open enrollment?" Kangas replied.

"If we make it really miserable to have people in school, yes, they'll start leaving. I feel like our school district doesn't have that mentality," said Board Chair Andrea Haverinen.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the school board, Tomperi concluded.

"We've got to find the sweet spot so that both sides can come together," he said. "We need a 70/30 vote."

Kangas agreed there should be substantial agreement within the community.

In other business, the school board did the following:

• Kangas brought correspondence from former Superintendent Allen Stoeckman, dated Dec. 23, 2015, that showed Stoeckman planned to remove a no-trespassing order against Kangas, effective Dec. 31, 2015. In early December of that year, Kangas brought a folding utility knife into a school board committee meeting. The school district's weapons policy forbids all knives and blades. As a result, a "no trespass" notice was invoked against Kangas. The school board did not discuss Stoeckman's letter at Monday's meeting. In previous discussions about the matter, the school district's attorney determined that the board's action — a motion to overturn the no-trespassing order failed with a 2-4 vote at its Dec. 21, 2015 meeting — overruled the former superintendent's decision.

• Approved grades 9-12 science curriculum. The new textbooks will cost $22,367. Board Member Brad Goehrig said he reviewed the material with High School Principal Mark Frank, noting that both evolution and creationism are presented as theories. "I know that's one question that some people in the community ask about," he said.

Teachers have a "heightened awareness of community expectations," Wellen said.

"I feel what our teachers teach is actually more important than what's in the book," Haverinen said.

• Accepted a Menahga Community Education proposal to offer drivers education during summer, fall and spring. The combined classroom and behind-the-wheel program will cost $280 per student. Neighboring school districts charge between $275 and $310. Previously, the district offered the course for free and during the school day, but the drivers education instructor has retired. Kangas advocated providing the course for free, even though no other school districts in Minnesota do so and it would result in a $30,000 budget deficit for community education. The proposal passed 4-1, as presented, with Kangas opposed.

• Approved a $80,543 bid from Protection Systems, Inc. to upgrade the school's bell, clock and PA system. Goehrig inquired about postponing the upgrade until a new building is constructed. Wellen said that was an option. The board voted 5-0 (with Julia Kicker absent) to proceed with the upgrade.

• Approved transferring money from the general fund to food services fund in order to continue offering free breakfast and lunches to all students through Jan. 19, 2018. The program will be reevaluated at that time.

• Approved bread, milk and gas bids for fiscal year 2018, but rejected quotes for snow removal and sanitation services.

• Accepted a $1,277 donation from Essentia Health to purchase a third water bottle-filling station/water fountain.

• Reviewed and approved the district's 10-year, long-term facility maintenance plan. "It's a plan. It's not a commitment," Wellen reminded the board.

• Learned that a color photocopier was ordered for the Early Childhood Center/Head Start. Wellen said the machine will pay for itself in three years. The district paid $2,400 in color printing overage fees on its current lease contract. With those kind of overage fees, it makes more financial sense for the district to own a photocopier, he said.

• Accepted the resignation of Head Baseball Coach Charlie Dormanen, who is retiring after coaching for 21 years.

• Approved fall coaching assignments as follows: Asst. Football Coach Randy Thompson, Lee Shepersky and Charlie Hrdlicka; Junior High Football Josh Roiko and Kieler Skaro; Head Volleyball Isaiah Hahn; Asst. Volleyball Lindsey White and Lakyn Anderson; Junior High Volleyball Megan Huus; Head Cross Country Nichole Oyster; Asst. Cross Country Nick Jasmer; Junior High Cross Country Tom Smith and Fall Cheerleading Sarah Kuschel.

• Hired Pam Johnson to serve as a long-term substitute teacher, beginning Aug. 29 through Oct. 1.

The next Menahga School Board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21.

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