By Linda Scherer
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A public apology was made by parent Arleen Boudreau to Lester Prairie Superintendent Greg East at the regular board meeting last Monday, for a letter she had sent to the Herald Journal editor accusing East of not accepting donations for the school’s band program.
Boudreau addressed the board, and specifically East, during the open dialogue portion of the meeting.
“At this time, I would like to apologize for jumping the gun with my misinformation about the music program,” Boudreau said. “My public apology to you, sir.”
In her letter which appeared in the April 20 issue of the Herald Journal, Boudreau wrote about her concern because she believed the band teacher’s position was eliminated for the 2009-10 school year.
It was also her understanding, according to her letter, East had refused to accept donations for the music program.
Since Boudreau’s original letter, Lester Prairie band director Tracy Cederstrom submitted a letter to the editor which appears in this week’s issue of the Herald Journal, trying to explain a number of misunderstandings some parents are having due to budget cuts affecting the band position.
In Cederstrom’s letter, she explains the band director position was reduced by 50 percent, but the position was offered to her.
She has refused it because she needs full-time employment in order to support her family.
When Boudreau told Cederstrom about a grant opportunity through the Heart and Soul Foundation, Cederstrom approached East and asked if she should apply for it.
East told her to forward the information to the principals and they would review it and decide whether or not to pursue it.
Boudreau interpreted that to mean that East turned the opportunity for the grant down.
“Mrs. Boudreau was not intentionally misleading in her letter, she simply misunderstood what I had said,” Cederstrom said.
East showed understanding as Boudreau made her apologies for the letter, sent in before she fully understood the issue completely.
East was appreciative of her open apology in front of the board.
“Thank you for addressing it,” East said. “I appreciate it.”
Cuts in education on everyone’s mind
Following East’s review of a “simplified” version of what is going on in the legislature, possibly requiring additional budget cuts for Lester Prairie for the next two years, he froze his own wages at the 2008-09 level for the 2009-10 school year.
“I said, ‘lead by example. If I can’t realize the issues, my words ring hollow,’” East said.
The superintendent’s self-imposed wage freeze was approved by the board unanimously.
East’s review was three different versions of what is going on in the legislature the governor’s, the senate’s and the house’s.
The governor’s version is the districts will get basically the same state aid, maybe a little bit more, but not in state dollars. It would be a combination of state dollars plus stimulus money.
“The governor is on record as saying for the second year, everything should come back to where it is now. He doesn’t want to make a cut,” East said.
The senate version is to give out some of the stimulus money and make a 3.2 percent cut.
“That is approximately $132,000 for this district,” East said. “What gets better and what they didn’t reveal is the second year, when there is no stimulus money, the 3.2 percent stays in place and there is an additional cut of another 7 percent,” East said.
East pointed out that the 10.2 percent equals his original theory of levels I, II, and III, which he had estimated back in February.
The third version, by the house, is to leave everything “status quo.”
On top of his three possible versions for state aid to education in the spring, East told the board that there is a pretty good possibility that a special session could go into the summer.
“Which means, when we are presenting our preliminary budget in May, we won’t know our funding for sure,” East said.
During the board meeting’s open dialogue, Amy Meyer, Lester Prairie parent, had comments to make about recent budget cuts.
She praised School Board Member Karla Heigl for listening to the public’s comments on how they wanted budget cuts to be made.
“I just want to express my appreciation to Karla because I think you listened to the public and heard the kind of changes that we wanted to be made,” Meyer said.
“Especially in regards to administration. I was quite disappointed that none of the rest of the board supported her actions in trying to make structural administration changes,” Meyer said.
During the school board meeting in March to decide on what budget cuts to make, Joe Miller had told those attending the importance of the superintendent’s position and both of the principals’ positions.
“If we really had two principals and a superintendent, I believe we could make larger cuts in this area, but we really don’t have that,” Miller said. “In most schools, there is only one principal, and somebody else is the athletic director, and somebody else is the curriculum director and in charge of special ed. In our school setting, our principals do those jobs,”
When Heigl asked to reduce the superintendent’s position to 60 percent at that meeting, Miller disagreed. His suggestion was to reduce it to an 80 percent position, which would save the school $20,000.
“My reason is that over the next two years, we are going to have probably some of the most serious financial discussions we have ever had to have,” Miller said. “If we don’t have somebody who knows how to handle finances, we will have greater problems.”
Plan to reduce food service fund balance
Because the Minnesota Department of Education has told Lester Prairie School it exceeded the allowable limit in its food service fund, the school board has approved a plan that will begin to reduce the balance.
The board approved temporarily reducing the cost of school lunches for elementary and high school students by 25 cents March 16.
At last Monday’s meeting, it accepted the lowest bid submitted from Reinhart FoodServices of Rogers to begin work on the following:
• updating the kitchen with new countertops, cupboards, and serving area, with required stainless steel fixtures.
• replacing the nonmechanical salad bar with a mechanical refrigeration unit.
• replacing deteriorating wood framing around the dishwashing machine window.
• monitoring the revenue received for breakfast, lunch, and milk, and deciding on a reduction in these areas for the 2009-10 school year.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• approved Michael Bjork’s contract for science teacher for the 2009-10 school year.
• approved the general fund unreserved undesignated balance at 6 percent of the previous year’s general fund expenditures.
• approved the amount to be set aside for the severance fund for the next two school years be reduced from $25,000 per year to $10,000 for 2009-10 and 2010-11.
• received an update on the student population, currently at 433 students. In September 2008, there were 432 students.
• learned from Secondary Principal Scott Fitzsimonds, and Elementary Principal Pam Lukens that Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) testing is underway.
• learned from Lukens that beginning the school year 2009-10, there will only be one main office for Lester Prairie School. It will be located where the high school office currently is.
The elementary school door will be open in the morning and locked after 8:30 a.m. Everyone will enter by the high school doors during the day.
• learned from Lukens there are 13 students enrolled in the K-plus Program for next year. Letters will be sent to all kindergarten students asking for a deposit to save their spots for next year.
• listened to a report by Heigl regarding the fourth annual Bulldog Bash being a huge success, and making more than $20,300. The first year of the bash, $9,000 was raised; the second year $14,000; the third year, $18,500 was raised.