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Frazee district looking at special ed options; disgusted with food service

The Frazee-Vergas School District is looking at options concerning special education services though the district.

At the Monday regular school board meeting, which was held in Vergas this month, the board heard a presentation from Jerry Nesland and Lori Murdock with Freshwater Education District.

"Our primary (goal) is to get to know what other options are out there," Superintendent Chuck Cheney said.

The board may decide to go with another service provider or it may decide to do nothing with the current setup. He said the staff at the Frazee district wouldn't lose their jobs either, but this is more about being able to provide kids with services that Frazee can't already provide.

"The purpose of the Freshwater Education District is to provide comprehensive services to member school districts by facilitating cooperation and coordination among its members, with post-secondary institutions and with other agencies and organizations," according to the organization's website.

There are 17 member communities throughout the state including Perham, New York Mills and Deer Creek.

"We are focused on being the problem solvers for our (clients)," Nesland said.

What Freshwater can do, taking special education services for example, is provide staff development, personnel, social workers or psychologists, emotional behavior services and more.

Murdock, who serves as director of the special education program, said Freshwater monitors the cost to the district for services and makes sure the services are efficient and of good quality to the districts using those services.

"There is constant emphasis on training," Nesland added.

Essentially, there is a "menu" of services Freshwater can provide for schools, and then districts can chose which services they would want to utilize. Each service comes at a certain cost to the district then.

Cheney said that way the Frazee district could retain its staff and just choose what pieces would benefit the district most.

For instance, if there is only one child who needed a certain service in the Frazee district, rather than employing a special staff member for that child's service (or not being able to address it at all), the district can contract with Freshwater to have the service provided for that child.

The board didn't discuss the Freshwater option because there is no rush to the make decisions, and it will likely be discussed in the future.

Food service upset

"I don't know how they can get away with it," board member Jim Nelson said of Chartwells food services.

Nelson, and other board members, expressed dismay Monday with the amount of money the district lost with the contract through Chartwells last year. The district agreed to hire Chartwells as last year's food service provider.

The district said that Chartwells promised a $39,000 savings to the district for using their services. Chartwells denies ever making that promise, and no numbers were ever made in writing.

Instead of the district saving $39,000 as board members thought it would, the district spent $50,000 more through the contract than in previous years when all food services were through district staff. The board terminated the contract this year and went back to hiring its own food service employees and food.

Nelson said that $90,000 difference angered him but felt there was nothing the district could do about it. Others agreed.

"We were lied to but there's not anything else we can do about it," Rich Ziegler said.

Nelson said he had read the New York Mills School District had a similar issue with Chartwells, causing the district a $46,000 increase more than anticipated.

Other area districts though, like Perham, have reported a good relationship with the food service provider and have continued to renew contracts with Chartwells.

Board member Steve Jepson said he wanted to thank administration for staying on top of the issue though and bringing the expenditures to the board's attention rather than letting it go and having another year of loss.

Meeting date change

The school board voted to change the date of November's board meeting to Nov. 13 because of the Veteran's Day holiday. At that same meeting, the district will also canvas the ballots from the Nov. 6 election. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the high school media center.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.