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Menahga School Board discusses safety, supervision

The deadly school shooting in Florida has had a ripple effect on the Menahga School District.

Security measures — including arming teachers — were discussed at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Elementary School Principal Jeanne Mayer said she received "a lot of phone calls since last week's tragedy in Florida" from worried parents.

"We will be reminding students of what to do in an emergency. We still have two to three lockdowns left that we are mandated to do this year. I have reassured parents that we have a plan in place for the school. I will also remind teachers to keep their crisis plan close by at all times," Mayer said.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen's recommendation to move the high school entrance and high school office to the south end of the new complex "to offer a secure entrance and immediate supervision of the commons" did not find support at the Feb. 3 meeting, but the board reversed itself Tuesday.

School board member Julia Kicker made a motion asking the architect to find space within the current building plan for a high school office or to develop an "alternate bid plan" for additional square footage in the southeastern corner of the new complex. An alternate bid allows the board to review the actual cost before making a final decision.

"In light of security issues and based on the number of students, you need adult supervision" in the new high school, Kicker said.

Board chair Andrea Haverinen repeated her assertion from last month that the high school entrance is secure and there's no need to move the principal's office from its present location. She noted the elementary principal's office isn't centrally located.

Board member Durwin Tomperi strongly disagreed, saying, "There's a difference between high school kids versus elementary kids." Younger students may cause behavioral problems, but older ones may have physical altercations, he said.

Board member Jon Kangas agreed with Haverinen that it doesn't matter if there are adult supervisors on the floor or cameras. Only fewer entrances and exits make a building more secure, he said.

Haverinen also opposed making the footprint larger to accommodate a high school principal's office.

Kicker noted there is an unassigned room in the building plan that could be used. "I think there's plenty of space down there to be shifting things around," she said.

Haverinen expressed concern about taking away classroom space because the bond referendum calls for 22 new classrooms.

"With what's happened in the last week, I cannot see one community member saying, 'Hey, you didn't give us the amount of the rooms," said board member Brad Goehrig. "I would think that giving up one room to get the high school office moved to where you've got a two-story building, elevator, atrium looking out with a balcony, we want to have supervision. For security, supervision and safety, I don't see anybody in the whole community saying 'You screwed us out of a room.'"

The motion passed 4-2, with Haverinen and Kangas opposed.

Teachers with firearms

Kangas asked whether there was board support to train, certify and arm staff members. "I thought maybe now's a good time to look at it," he said.

Haverinen suggested including the district's crisis team.

"It's always been my impression we should avoid that at all costs, but that was five years ago and that was the recommendation of Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) and Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA)," Wellen said.

He suggested that the full board and crisis team meet with law enforcement, emergency medical services and MSBA officials for guidance "because I'm sure this is a discussion that is happening at boards statewide and nationally now," he said.

Tomperi asked if there were any schools in Minnesota that have armed staff.

"None. But I don't know what's happening nationally," Wellen said.

Kangas said, "It doesn't necessarily have to be publicized, does it? Doesn't the superintendent or principal have authority in some cases to allow it?"

The principal has authority, agreed Wellen, adding he mentioned the idea of armed teachers to Menahga Police Chief Scott Koennicke about five months ago. "He said he would have special training if we ever went down that road," Wellen said.

"I probably could have suggested an add alternate bid for a shooting range to keep them sharp," Kangas said.

Hibbing has a shooting range in its school basement, Wellen said.

"So the topic will not be dropped. It'll come up again. We'll just have to figure out what's the best route for that," Haverinen said.

Chickenpox outbreak

As of Tuesday, Wellen reported that the school district has had nine probable cases of chickenpox since December. Some samples were sent to the Minnesota Department of Health for testing, where some were positive for varicella.

"Since the cases have been confirmed, the state has labeled this an outbreak. It is the recommendation of the state that the nurse send out a letter to all elementary and middle school parents informing them of the outbreak and listing what they can do to help contain the illness," Wellen said.

Letters were mailed Tuesday.

Building update

The board approved an alternate bid plan with bleachers located on three sides of the gymnasium. The other option was to orient the bleachers on only one end of the gym. Wellen said there was only a 50-seat difference between the two choices.

Kangas commented that the building plan originally added 38,000 square feet, but with recent changes it's now up to 44,450. "It's a huge increase," he said.

The motion passed 5-1, with Kangas opposed.

Wellen noted the district does not have a contract with Vercon yet. He is meeting with Nick Ylitalo, vice president of construction, on Feb. 26. Wellen encouraged a board member to attend.

"They still have a few areas of concern that we have yet to agree on. I have been assured we can work through these issues, but this is taking significantly longer than I anticipated," Wellen said. "I'm getting a little nervous."

The first bid package is anticipated to be released March 21, with quotes received by April 11. The second bid package will be issued May 2, with responses due May 24.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the Menahga City Council approved the school district's request for a variance to the city's shoreland district ordinance. The new school building will increase impervious structures with school property by approximately 45,000 square feet and is within the 1,000-foot shore impact zone. The variance passed 3-1.

Bond proceeds from the second sale have been wired and invested, according to Wellen.

Clay target club

Now that it has proper liability insurance, the board agreed to make the clay target club an official school activity, but route it through community education.

"Just like the state high school league recognizes the clay target, but they don't endorse it," Wellen said. "So this would allow it to happen under the umbrella of the school, use our logo, and be a part of school activities and fundraisers and we'd still be covered for liability issues should they occur."

Board member Durwin Tomperi asked whether clay target members would be allow to show their guns in yearbook photos or senior photos.

"If somebody requests it, I think we should discuss it then," Wellen suggested. "Districts are getting polarized with regard to that."

In other business, the school board did the following:

• Accepted a $6,800 quote from Les' Electric for LED lights at the bus garage.

• Approved spring coaching assignments as follows: Scott Petrowski, assistant baseball; Zach Kaiser, junior high baseball; Kristina Scheidecker, head softball; Lindsey White, assistant softball; Ashley Bachmann, junior high softball; Tim Wurdock, head golf; Kevin Sommers, assistant golf; Cody Pulju, assistant golf, and Paula Pearson, assistant track.

• Congratulated 2018 Menahga spelling bee winners. Fifth-grader Megan Hillukka took first place with the winning word "Chesapeake." Sixth graders Kinsey Skoog and Julianna Haataja placed second and third, respectively. Hillukka advances to the regional spelling bee March 7 in Staples.

• Tabled discussion about the 2018-19 school calendar for the March meeting. Wellen said he developed options, such as starting before Labor Day and getting out earlier in May. After receiving teacher feedback, he decided not to promote an early start to the school year. "I still believe we need to minimize breaks so we can still get out reasonably earlier," he wrote in his report to the school board.

• Learned that math/English teacher Randy Thompson was selected as a contributor to "The PBL Playbook," written by A. J. Juliani. A chapter will be dedicated to the projects done at Menahga Middle School. Juliani has written four books on Project-Based Learning, innovative learning and student choice.

• Approved a EMM paraprofessional master agreement for 2017-19.

• Approved agreements with custodians, cooks, bus drivers, secretaries and others for the 2017-19.

• Approved an agreement with Deanna Hillukka, effective Feb. 5, for the remainder of the 2018-19.

• Approved an agreement with Brend Shepersky as a long-term substitute, beginning on or about April 27, contingent upon proper licensure.

• Accepted the resignation of Virginia DeLisi, effective Jan. 19.

The next regular board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 19 at the media center.