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Kenmare School to buy new activity bus

Kids representing Kenmare schools for events in other communities could be riding in comfort and style, seated in a new activity bus.

5/23/12 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Kids representing Kenmare schools for events in other communities could be riding in comfort and style, seated in a new activity bus.

The Kenmare school board unanimously approved a motion to purchase an activity bus for the district, during the board’s regular meeting held May 15th. The Transportation Committee was also authorized to review the bids received and decide which bus to buy.

Business manager Renae Murphy opened bids from two companies during the meeting.

Trucks of Bismarck listed base bids of $91,000 for a 44-passenger bus and $97,000 for a 48-passenger bus. The bids included an option for overhead storage compartments at $11,375 and air conditioning at $7,500.

Harlow’s Bus Sales of Bismarck listed base bids of $92,960 for a 44-passenger bus and $108,765 for a 48-passenger bus, as well as $116,780 for a 46-passenger bus with a different style of seat. The air conditioning and overhead storage options would cost about $8,000 apiece.

Depending on the size and manufacturer, the buses differed in engine location and brakes. Transportation Committee chairman Craig Ellsworth noted the committee suggested choosing a 44-passenger bus without air conditioning.

Depending on the Transportation Committee’s final decision, the new activity bus will be delivered to Kenmare in October or November 2012.

Kenmare students riding one of the district’s buses are expected to act appropriately at all times, but cameras will now record their activities.

Board members approved a motion to install front and rear security cameras in each of the five route buses, following a recommendation from the Transportation Committee. Board member and bus driver Roger Johnson said he had seen similar cameras demonstrated at bus driver training workshops. “Minot’s got them in their buses,” he said. “It just eliminates problems.

Superintendent Duane Mueller agreed and noted the school administrators would be responsible for the data recorded by the cameras.

$4 million budget
includes new elementary
principal salary
The Kenmare school district is projected to spend over $4 million in the 2012-2013 school year, following approval of the budget on a 6-1 vote after an extended discussion.

Income for the year was projected at $3,954,381, resulting in a deficit of $125,809.

Estimated expenses for the year total $4,080,190, including a $68,000 salary for a new elementary principal position and adjustments to the special education staff salaries, following the resignation of teacher Kara Smalls.

Superintendent Mueller explained that Smalls would not be replaced directly. However, the recently-hired special education instructor will handle the preschool and kindergarten students who qualify for those services during two days each week, with that instructor taking over Smalls’ current load for the other three days.

In addition, the 2/5 speech-language pathology position that was approved earlier will now be extended to a full-time position. “We have kids with that need,” Mueller said, adding that a speech-language pathologist’s day typically begins at 8 am and includes home visits to meet with parents and work with students not attending school yet. “When children turn three years old, we’re obligated to serve them.”

Board members talked about the need for an elementary principal, with Lenny Rodin asking to hear each director’s opinion on the matter. Johnson said he’s had a concern about combining the elementary principal and superintendent positions since hiring Mueller to do both jobs four years ago. “I don’t care how fast you are, you can’t be in both places at the same time,” Johnson said.

“Our elementary classes are only going to grow in the next few years,” said Lars Christensen. “It’s a lot of money, but we’re in the business here to teach kids.”

Ellsworth agreed with Christensen, and Rodin added that he wanted the elementary principal hired to live in the community. Michele Nelson said a full-time principal at the elementary school could be a resource for the teachers there, as well as more readily available to handle disciplinary issues.

Jan Kostad emphasized the principals’ roles in assisting and mentoring staff members. “We’re going to have some new elementary teachers in their first or second year in a classroom,” he said, “and they need a lot of support with that.”

Zimmer expressed his concern about listing a deficit for the budget when the district is expected to again carry over more than $500,000 as a balance from the current year. “I don’t like the idea that every year we automatically take as much tax money as we possibly can,” he said. “People see their property taxes go up every year, and part of that increase is us.”

Business manager Renae Murphy explained the number of mills levied by the district dropped a few years ago when the state legislature offered property tax relief by increasing the amount of money the state provides to school districts. She noted that salaries accounted for 75 percent of the budget. “And we’re still not at the maximum mill level we could be, according to the state,” she added.

Kostad pointed out the district’s carryover could be spent on a new electric boiler still under consideration for the high school, along with the ceiling tile removal and replacement project and the hiring of an elementary principal, not to mention the activity bus purchase approved earlier in the meeting.

“I think with a budget like this, you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Johnson said. “When we have deficit spending on the budget, our administration and business manager look at things frugally.”

No changes were made to any dollar amounts listed in the budget, even though Rodin reminded board members they could do so. Zimmer cast the only “no” vote against the motion to approve the budget.

Board and staff
agree to raises
Kenmare’s teachers will receive a raise for the 2012-2013 school year, with the district’s base salary raised to $34,000 and increases of $2,000 made to the 30 teachers in the two schools. Those changes, along with increases in the district’s payments for health insurance, Social Security and contributions to the state’s Teachers’ Fund For Retirement (TFFR), resulted in a $85,440 addition to the district’s expenses for the coming school year.

The salary and benefit increases were agreed upon by the board’s Negotiations and Finance Committee and representatives from the Kenmare Education Association. The two parties also agreed on some revised language in the district’s contracts related to salaries, paid leave and working conditions.

The board approved the new negotiated agreement for the teachers, as well as raises of 6.8 percent (equivalent to the increase for the teachers) for the district’s administrators, bus drivers and non-certified staff members.

Negotiations Committee members Kostad and Johnson said they also agreed with KEA representatives that the two parties could meet during other times of the school year to address concerns related to the negotiated agreement. “It would be a way for us to address some of their questions on some items,” Kostad said.

Zimmer was opposed to the idea. “I think if they have an issue, they should talk to their direct boss,” he said. “If they take something to the administration and it’s not solved, then we can come up with some procedures about that.”

Johnson and Kostad noted the KEA concerns were related to contracts, which are the board’s responsibility. Ellsworth added that grievance policies and procedures are already in place for any staff member to use if needed.

Bullying addressed
in new policy
The board adopted four new policies on first reading in the ongoing work to update the district’s policy handbook.

Board members approved the Acceptable Use policy, regarding appropriate Internet use and online behavior. Several prohibited uses were listed in the policy, and all staff and students are required to sign their consent to the policy before using district networks and/or computers.

The board approved the revised Extra Curricular Participation policy, which addresses behavior expected of all students who represent the school district and community in various school events. Tobacco, alcohol and drug prohibitions, academic requirements and suspension procedures from activities are all covered in the policy.

The revised extra-duty salary schedule was included in the board’s policy approval action at the meeting, given the changes made following negotiations with the KEA. The salaries for various coaching, advisory, coordinator and other duties are based on a percentage of the base salary and listed by activity or event in the policy.

The six-page Bullying policy, required to be adopted by July 1, 2012, by the North Dakota state legislature, was the only policy that generated any discussion among the full board. The policy includes several sections of information, including definitions, prohibitions, reporting procedures to school staff and law enforcement, documentation, investigation procedures, disciplinary and corrective measures, and victim protection strategies.

The school district is also expected to develop and implement bullying prevention programs for all students, as well as professional development activities to educate staff members about the issue.

Board members asked about the definition of bullying. “Is bullying determined from a single incident or an accumulation of incidents?” asked Michele Nelson.

Superintendent Mueller explained the old way of defining “bullying” involved a number of repeated incidents. “You look for patterns,” he said, “but depending on the situation, it could be a one-time thing.”

Rodin suggested, with the policy in place, the superintendent and principals would determine whether or not an incident would be defined as bullying. “It should always be at the discretion of our administration,” he said.

In other business:
• Board members approved the minutes of the regular and special board meetings held in April, as well as the district’s bills for payment as presented.

• The board agreed Nelson, as Wellness Policy committee representative, should coordinate efforts with high school principal Robert Thom to develop questions for a parent/student survey to be given next year. The survey will address each component of the district’s Wellness Policy.

• Nelson expressed an interest in holding the school board meetings in a new location, rather than the classroom used as a technology office and for meetings at the high school. “Maybe we could have these meetings somewhere there is more space available for the community,” she said. Other board members noted the lack of attendance at the monthly meetings.

Board president Lars Christensen said the meeting location could be changed if necessary. “If we have a large crowd, we can always move to the auditorium,” he said.

• Murphy reminded board members the school board elections would take place Tuesday, June 12, in conjunction with the city, county and state election. The Kenmare Memorial Hall would serve as the local polling site, with the polls open from 7 am to 7 pm.

• Board members accepted the resignation of special education teacher Kara Smalls, effective May 21st.

• The board approved open enrollment applications for two children whose family recently moved to Tolley from Kenmare.

• Principal Thom announced the high school teachers and students would finish the semester under the new cumulative final exam procedures in place, which allowed students to be exempt from the tests in some classes if their semester grades were high enough.

• Thom noted the successful season of the girls fastpitch softball team, which won three of four games played at the East-West Tournament held in Grafton May 11th and 12th.

• Thom also reported on the success of the KHS choir and band students who qualified for the state music festival, held May 5th in Bismarck, including the Trumpet Ensemble which received the Superior Performance award announced by the judge for trumpets that day. “I equate that to winning state in that competition,” Thom said.

• Board members asked Principal Thom about supervision for the KHS post-graduation party, scheduled for Sunday, May 20th, at City Limits in Kenmare. Thom said he would be in charge of supervision and was confident in the plans for the evening, referring to a post-graduation party held several years ago at the old 52 North establishment. He also noted the students and their parents had concerns about traveling back and forth to Minot for the event, as previous classes had done.

• Superintendent Mueller reported that despite the high number of students moving in and out of the school district through the year, final enrollment at the elementary school stood at one student higher than when classes started last fall. “My question is, how many kids did we really go through?” he said.

• Mueller announced he would hold a year-end meeting with the bus drivers on May 16th, with discussion about ways to fill driver and substitute driver positions in the future. He also planned to review a draft “bus conduct” letter with the drivers that would be sent to all parents next fall outlining rules and acceptable behavior for riding the district’s buses. Parents will sign and return those letters.

• Superintendent Mueller reviewed the district’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report for the 2011-2012 school year, based on standardized test results in reading and math for students in grades 4, 8 and 11.

• Mueller asked for at least two board members to participate in interviews scheduled for May 19th for the elementary principal position. He noted three candidates would be considered that day. Nelson committed to the interviews.

• The Transportation Committee, with members Ellsworth, Nelson and Christensen, will meet Wednesday, May 30th, at 8 am at the high school to discuss the activity bus bids.

• The Building Committee, with members Zimmer, Kostad and Rodin, will schedule a meeting after they receive preliminary sketches from the architect for the proposed gymnasium and wellness center addition to the high school.

• The next regular meeting of the Kenmare school board will be Tuesday, June 12, beginning at 7:30 pm at Kenmare High School.