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Lake Park-Audubon School Board wrestles with pay raises, class field trips

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Teachers in the Lake Park-Audubon School District want a raise. They worry about paying the bills, and after several years of lean budgets, they are falling behind the pay scale of teachers in neighboring districts.

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Members of the LP-A School Board say the district can't afford to give raises, and to do so would mean cutting programs or staff.

They worry about a district budget that is on the tight side, even with a higher operating levy approved this month by voters.

The teachers' contract expired this year and the two sides are headed to non-binding mediation.

If there is no agreement by Jan. 15, the state will issue a one-time penalty to the district to the tune of $25 per student, or about $15,000.

It may look like administrators are backed against a wall, but Superintendent Dale Hogie says that isn't the case: If the district has to pay that money, it will come off the top of the next teachers' contract, he said following the school board meeting on Monday.

"Basically, we explained to the teachers that funds for raises are just not available this time around," said School Board Member Rick Ellsworth, who sits on the negotiations committee.

"They did not seem to agree to that, so we will be going to mediation in mid to late December," he added.

Counselor pays $1,500

After some debate, the board also decided to enforce a $1,500 penalty against Jayne Jacob, a guidance counselor who left mid-year to take a job in another school district.

The penalty is included in the teachers' contract to discourage staff from jumping ship during the school year.

"The professional advice we have received is to stick to the contract language," said Board Member Darrel Pederson.

"It's nothing personal against Ms. Jacob," said Board Member Bryan Anderson, "but I have a hard time wanting to vote to waive this fee. Why is it in the contractual language if we are always going to waive it?"

Board Member Mike McIntire agreed: "It would be against our better judgment to waive it."

To do so would set a precedent, added Board Member Rick Ellsworth. "I don't want to be revisiting it," every time a teacher violates the contract clause, he said.

"I struggle back and forth with this because I know Jayne and she has done a good job for the district," said Board Chairwoman Vicky Grondahl. "I think each of us personally would like to let her off," but the policy is designed to minimize the disruptions of a staff person leaving in the middle of the school year.

In this case, a replacement was easily found, but that may not always be the case, board members noted.

They voted unanimously to require her to pay the $1,500.

Field trip controversy

The board also discussed the need for a policy regarding school trips. The high school Spanish class will miss five school days this year for a student-funded trip to Costa Rica April 2-11.

Students have been raising money for two years for the trip.

Band and choir students have also been fund-raising for a trip.

Sixth grade teachers have canceled a student-funded spring trip to Duluth because of the poor economy.

Board members approved the Spanish class trip Monday, but they worry that students need to be in class in order to perform up to par on state-mandated tests.

"This is a really hard one -- there are lots of pros and cons either way," Grondahl said. "On the one hand, kids are missing school. On the other hand, you have to take into account the benefits of these trips to students. This is a poor district: it might be the only trip these kids make in their lives."

"Most other districts believe there is great value to students on these trips," Hogie said. "Others may believe there's a great benefit to their being in the classroom."

Anderson said he favors field trips, but students should have to meet grade eligibility requirements like athletes do.

Board Member Jeff Swetland said the issue does not seem to have caused past problems, "so why are we wasting our time setting a policy on it?"

Ellsworth strongly disagreed, and asked the policy committee to come up with a proposal by the end of the year.

Grondahl said it won't be done that soon, but the committee will produce a policy for board consideration.

H1N1 flu vaccine

Elementary Principal Sam Skaaland reported that H1N1 flu clinics have been completed through grade 4, and fifth-graders were scheduled to get their vaccinations Tuesday.

Hogie said the vaccine participation level has been around 65 percent of eligible students. In Detroit Lakes and Frazee-Vergas, the participation levels have been a little lower, he reported.

Parents have to sign and return a permission form in order for their child to receive the flu nasal mist vaccine. Children 9 and younger receive two doses at least 28 days apart. Older children receive one dose.

Food for the holidays

A Thanksgiving food drive was very successful, and 12 families were selected by the student council to receive holiday food boxes, which will include a turkey and toiletry items.

"We always do an Easter and Thanksgiving food bank," said third-grade teacher Marge Beaudine, who heads up the food drive.

The equivalent of 2,500 pounds of food was raised, that includes actual food donations and $700 in cash donations, which is figured at the rate of $1 equals two pounds.

The district is also going to participate in a "backpack " program, in which food is sent home with some students for the weekend.

And the district is looking hard at a breakfast program that would serve all students in the district. Because more than half of all students are now eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, the district could actually make money on the breakfast program, which would be modeled on a similar program in Perham-Dent.

Working session

The school board will hold a working session to discuss issues in depth from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 5.

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