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Nevis receives fruit, veggie snack grant

Popeye revered his spinach for the nutritional boost in energy.

Nevis elementary students will be joining the ranks of fruit and veggie fans, thanks to a $20,025 grant from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Fresh fruits and vegetables will be served during the day as a snack, not with lunch or dinner, but during a milk break after recess.

Head cook Pat Havnes will administer the program.

"These are wonderful, healthy non-fat snacks," said Katie Nelson, an Extension nutrition education assistant who assisted in the grant writing. "Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and fiber with no fat and low sugar. It's a healthy alternative."

St. Joseph's dietitian Mari Willy will be heading into the classroom to discuss safe procedures for eating produce and conduct taste testing. Avocado, kiwi, jicama and other fruits and veggies - including spinach - will be added to the kids' dietary vocabulary.

Willy also hopes to get parents on board, "so they realize they can afford fruits and vegetables - and put the potato chips away."

The nutritional snack education will be embellished with field trips, Carter's Red Wagon and a green house possibly on the docket, superintendent Steve Rassier said.

The funding will run through the end of the school year.

In other action, the Nevis School Board:

-Accepted the resignation of Carol Collins, who most recently served as a career counselor at the school.

Her tenure with the district spans 35 years, as a special education teacher and K-12 principal before working on a part-time basis as a counselor.

"I have enjoyed working with all staff and will have many fond memories, but will move on to new endeavors," she wrote.

"Mrs. Collins has a large percentage of her work done for this school year, giving us time to make arrangements on covering her various duties," Rassier said.

-Ended the practice of renting school buses to outside groups to transport passengers to non-school related activities.

The motion came at the recommendation of Rassier who cited possible legal and liability concerns.

In the past, the school has rented buses to church groups, Boy and Girl Scouts and for the Taste of Dorset transport. The district charged 25 cents per mile plus the actual expenses of fuel and driver.

Board member Kris Sauser noted the decision will pose a problem for small groups, such as Boy Scouts.

"It's a community service," Marv Vredenburg said. "This makes me mad."

If the practice continues, it becomes a bus for hire, Rassier said. The vehicle would require inspection and the district would become responsible for drug and alcohol testing. "Worker's compensation is a big issue. It's a show of good will, but there are a lot of hurdles," he said of renting buses.

Gary Stennes questioned Park Rapids' stance on the issue; the district provides bus service for the Legion's fishing derby.

Sherm Anderson made the motion to end the rental policy, with the caveat that the district looks for feedback from organizations that want to rent a bus. "I don't want to slam the door."

Ed Becker suggested Minnesota Rural Education Association take the issue to the Legislature.

-Approved, without public comment, the 2010 tax levy of $705,077.

Rassier prepared a memo to district taxpayers regarding the levy, down 13 percent from last year's $812,572.

The three major areas where reductions occurred were the handicapped accessibility levy (for the ramp and vestibule), health and safety projects (to replace gym light fixtures) and debt service (due to refinancing of the general construction bond).

There were minor reductions in the referendum levy and in the equity and transition levy as a result of declining enrollment.

-Will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11 to discuss teacher negotiations (with a settlement deadline of Jan. 15), a teacher retirement incentive and possible application for federal Race to the Top funding.

The proposed retirement incentive would give teachers at the top of the salary schedule 65 percent of a year's salary that would be paid into a health savings account over a five-year period, Rassier explained.

"This is a good year for the district to have people retire," Rassier said. No one accepted the retirement proposal last year, he noted.

Retirements would allow the district to retain less senior teachers who are paid less, Vredenburg said. "This will avoid layoffs and save money in the long run."

Earlier in the meeting, the board reviewed state revenue timelines. The district has received 29 percent of revenue as of Dec. 31 compared with 35 percent a year ago and 39 percent two years ago.

Expenditures to date are in line with recent years, at 36 percent.

Rassier estimates 17 percent of revenue may not be merely delayed, but cut, and "not paid back in this generation of students."

The fund balance will continue to erode if the expenditure and revenue ratio is similar to this year, he cautioned.