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Running smoothly with new leaders: Frazee schools back to normal

With several new faces seated at the main tables of Frazee-Vergas School District, the August board meeting showed signs that things are running smoothly despite some major personnel changes this summer.

Interim Superintendent Charles Cheney, Business Manager Pam Pontius and Assistant Business Manager Ryan Hintz attended the meeting and conducted business as usual. They even made some suggestions for running the business office more efficiently, which were accepted unanimously.

Pontius recommended the district lower its impressed account cap from $15,000 to $2,500 because some of the checks going through that account can't be tracked as easily. She said, for example, some of the money paid out to paint the high school came from that account, so it will be harder to track three years down the road since it was just an imprest signature account.

She also recommended giving the business office the authority to make transfers from one account to another online rather than having to handwrite the changes and physically take them to the bank.

The board unanimously approved both requests.

Cheney's first week

At his first meeting, Cheney jumped in, guiding the district with recommendations and sharing how he has and will continue to get to know the district.

"It's been a good week so far," he said.

While he has been meeting people within the district -- parents, business people and staff -- and working to understand the process of this specific district, he told board members he wants to get together with each of them and get to know them as well.

He also plans to do something that "causes a little buzz in the community -- I ride buses."

The first week of school, Cheney said he plans to ride the school buses so he can meet kids, see where the children in the district are coming from and build a relationship with the bus drivers.

Being that time of the year, he is also taking a look at the budget, what's already been done and what he and the business staff still need to do.

He said it's too soon for him to know exactly what's been budgeted for and how, but he may have good financial news for the district already.

"I suggest we likely have $50,000 to $60,000 that isn't currently in our budget," he said. "If that's the case, that's good news."

But, he stressed, he's still looking into it.

The superintendent office manager position hasn't been filled yet, he said, because he is waiting to get input from other staff as to what the position should entail.

"It's a challenge," he said of not knowing where everything in the office is yet. "Not frustrating. I don't allow myself to get frustrated."

Lunch price increases

The board made a price adjustment to the cost of lunches in the district.

While the district was charging $1.70 a day for elementary-aged children to eat lunch, the district is getting reimbursed for $2.77 from the government for free and reduced lunches. That gap needs to be closed.

Also, the newly hired food service company, Chartwells, had guaranteed the school district a savings of about $39,000 a year, but that was based on an increase in school lunches. How much of an increase isn't clear yet.

Board members are fairly certain it was a five-cent increase, but Cheney said he would check to make sure, otherwise the district would have to raise the lunch costs 10 cents a day or the contract with Chartwells would have to change.

"With a nickel, would that become $35,000," he said. "If the dime is there (in the Chartwell contract), we'll make some adjustments."

The board agreed to raise the cost of lunches only to $1.75 for elementary students, $1.85 for secondary grades and $3.45 for staff.

Anti-bullying program

The district has roughly $60,000 in levy dollars in the Safe School fund, which is used for such items as security cameras, a drug dog and Instant Alert. The district plans to use some for a bullying program as well.

No decisions were made, but administration has been directed to determine what is needed for the district to review the current policy and make some changes, especially in the social media area, to prevent bullying.

Area schools already have a bullying program in place, so administrators will talk to other district heads to see the benefits, and they may even consider hiring a half-time counseling position or restructuring existing personnel to accommodate an anti-bullying program.