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At Frazee-Vergas Schools, enrollment down, but cash surprise

Frazee-Vergas School administration members had good news and slightly less good news to share Monday night at the regular school board meeting.

The good news: Business Manager Diane Menz said that the state withheld $926,000 from the district, based on a formula and estimates. Once recalculated, however, the district was actually given back $577,000 of that money.

The not so good news: Last month, the school district lost 11 students. Superintendent Deron Stender said that's one of the lowest dips in enrollment in years.

At the start of the year, enrollment was estimated at just over 900 students, which is how the school receives funding from the state, based on enrolled students. Enrollment now sits at 879, a number that is continuously fluctuating.

Stender said he had until the start of February to go make the enrollment change with the state, which he put in as 875 to be safe.

Legal representation

Pondering the possibility of finding different legal representation, the school board heard a presentation from Pemberton Law managing partner Mike Rengel. The district's current law firm, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, wasn't able to attend at the last minute.

Pemberton was founded in the early 1900s, and now consists of 17 attorneys throughout its four offices -- Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Wadena and Alexandria. Six of those lawyers, Rengel said, specialize in school law, including Sam Rufer in the Detroit Lakes office.

Rengel also works with school law -- public entities, really, splitting his time between schools and counties.

He said that Pemberton Law is a good law firm because they "understand and recognize needs" of smaller communities because the lawyers live here and represent the communities.

"Schools don't succeed. Businesses don't succeed unless they're part of a team," he said.

And while no one wants to have to hire an attorney, "it's a necessary evil sometimes."

Rengel said there is a learning curve and sliding pay scale for the firm's services at first because "we have to get to know you, you need to get to know us."

The board listened to the presentation and will address the issue of legal representation in the future.

Age of admittance

The board sent a request from board member Kenny Fett to the policy committee to discuss the age that kids can start kindergarten.

The state set in place a Sept. 1 cutoff date for children to be 5 before being allowed to start kindergarten unless a school board has its own policy. Neighboring districts, including Detroit Lakes, have a policy that allows students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 31 to be accepted on a case-by-case basis. By not having a policy of its own, Fett said Frazee is "just giving a student away" to neighboring districts.

More media center hours

While some argued that budget cuts are around the corner, the board passed an extension of media center hours starting in September.

Board member Jim Nelson has brought the issue up each meeting since he's been on the board this year, and got the extra time passed Monday night.

The new hours would include extra time in the morning from 7:30 to 8, and in the afternoon from 3:15 to 4:30.

Because the district would have to post an opening for the job and then hire someone, it wouldn't be filled until March, so Nelson agreed that wasn't worth it to start the new hours yet this year. They were approved for the first 16 weeks of school in the fall to then be determined if it was worth the extra money spent on staff to keep the library open longer.

Just letting go

At the start of the Monday meeting, community member Heath Peterson was given the opportunity to address the board publicly, saying that while the district has turned a time of "jubilation" from the referendum passing into "fighting and bickering."

He criticized the board and staff from last month's meeting for being unprepared and not conducting any business that supported the mission of the school, which includes to "promote a secure and respectful educational environment which encourages the development of individual potential for life-long learning in a diversified society."

He said that it's both sides also. The business managers answered questions on the defense because they weren't sure what was expected of them, and he told the board, "micro-managed employees are not productive."

Instead he encouraged the board and staff to tell the truth and challenge each other.

"To move ahead, we must let go of the past," he said.