Board gets ready for start of school year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 15, 2000

A new school year is about to start and the Austin Board of Education is preparing for it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2000

A new school year is about to start and the Austin Board of Education is preparing for it.

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At Monday night’s regular monthly meeting, the Austin school board approved little, but important things, such as milk, bakery and dairy bids as well as transportation contracts.

The school board also approved large things, such as the signing of staff and principals’, secretaries’ and custodians’ working agreements.

The school board met in Austin City Council chambers for the second time this summer as the experiment in cooperation between the local units of government continued Monday night.

David Simonson, school board chairman, introduced Dr. James A. Hess, superintendent of schools, and Bruce Loveland, school board member. Loveland and Simonson reported on the Minnesota School Boards Association summer conference.

But Hess reported, however delicately, on the brewing controversy over the possibility that school districts may owe millions of dollars in severance pay, insurance benefits and interest income.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes early retirement clauses in place for several years could be discriminatory.

For at least a decade, school districts have offered teachers early retirement bonuses to leave their teaching positions early in order to hire entry-level teachers and save school districts money.

Hess said the impacted school districts – more than 100 in Minnesota alone – have two options: a conciliation agreement or litigation.

"At this time, we are seeking more information from the EEOC," Hess said.

Meanwhile, the MSBA is advocating school districts pool their resources, but Hess was not personally confident that would be the case as the payback battle grows.

"That remains to be seen if there will, indeed, be a statewide effort to fight this," he said.

When Hess attended the recent MSBA summer conference, he personally asked Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk to assist the state’s school districts in the matter.

Also Monday night, Loveland urged the district to form an advisory committee to oversee the role digital television plays in the operation of the district-owned KSMQ public broadcasting station.

He said it was a "complicated issue" how school districts could benefit from digital television and one the district must continue to closely monitor.Also Monday night, the school board approved new working agreements with principals and other administrators, support staff and custodians.

Principals’ salaries increased 4 percent with newly hired Austin High School Principal Joe Brown topping the list at $79,800 this year and $83,000 next year.

Support staff pay will increase 5 percent in each of the new contract’s new years and custodians’ pay increased 4.5 percent each year.

New administrative staff hired include Laura Kuehl, community education and Early Childhood Family Education director, at $55,000 a year; Susan Roehrich, Cedar River Education District director and grants coordinator, $63,000; and Arla Klimesh, director of food service, $46,000.

Contracts with 12 new certified staff were approved, including a half-time for the district’s first-ever vocational agriculture teacher, Christie Shook. The 2000-2001 school year marks the first time in the history of the school district that the vocational agriculture program will be less than a full-time teaching position.

Also Monday night, the school board accepted the resignation of Sheri Allen, principal at Neveln Elementary School. Allen is leaving the district to accept employment elsewhere.

Lori Volz, management services director, will see her salary increase to $78,500 this year; Julie Jensen, director of human resources, will see a salary increase to $63,000 and her assistant’s salary increases to $33,304.

Also, Shirley Jendersee, business office accountant, will see her salary increased to $40,764; Judith R. Burtness’ salary as management services office assistant goes to $37,395; and Sharon Alms’ salary as board of education and superintendent’s office assistant goes to $41.629.