School board meeting marks end of an era

Monday’s Maple Lake School Board meeting marked the end of one era and the beginning of another, occurring on the last day of the tenure of retiring Superintendent Ken Engel and just hours before the start of the contract with new superintendent Mark Redemske.

The occasion sparked words of appreciation and best wishes for Engel, who had served the district for 40 years as a teacher, coach, high school principal and superintendent.

Board chair Arnie Michalicek worked on the board with Engel for 17 of his 18 years as school superintendent.  “I’ve seen him two or three times a week for the past 17 years,” Michalicek said. “He’s become a good friend of mine.”

Michalicek said he saw Engel change over the years “from a hot-tempered guy to a very intense, focused person who knew where he wanted to go and where he wanted the school to go. I think we are one of the top schools in the area and in the state and part of that has to do with Ken’s focus on what is good for kids.”

Michalicek said Engel leaves the school district in good shape, with quality facilities and a sound financial footing, all of which will help new Superintendent Redemske.

“I think Mark has a lot of good ideas and new ideas,” Michalicek said. “I’ve always been very comfortable with Mark that his leadership style won’t be the same as Ken’s, but will be laid-back like Ken’s. He seems to be fitting in very well.”

And Redemske credits the success of the transition to his predecessor.  “I think the thing that’s so obvious is that Ken is such an experienced superintendent and a kind-hearted individual that following him will be a challenge,” Redemske said, noting that Engel’s organized system of files and information will make life easier for the new guy.  “It’s nice to have things set up so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak,” Redemske said.

In other business, the school board:

Heard presentations from school staff on the changing graduation standards and the need to place a priority on staff development and curriculum leadership.

Sixth grade teacher Cyndi Jakel and high school teacher Dave Hansen, cochairs of the District Staff Development Advisory Team (DSDAT), told the board that since their group was organized in the spring of 2000, the focus has been on creating an extraordinary school for Maple Lake.

Jakel and Hansen outlined three DSDAT goals: To raise student achievement, to enhance healthy relationships, and to keep staff current on information within their positions. To achieve these goals, Jakel and Hansen urged the board to continue to fund staff development at current levels and that funding be set aside to hire a curriculum director.

Board chair Arnie Michalicek asked which of the requests should be considered a priority if shortfalls in funding would require making a choice of one over the other.

“Both are crucial to the curriculum writing process,” Jakel said. “The staff is committed to this process and we need that commitment to continue the process because without it, I don’t know what will happen.”

High School Principal Mary James followed Jakel and Hansen with a presentation on the effects of the state legislature’s decision to abandon the Profiles of Learning and create new standards for schools to follow.  James said the changes could be summed up as “a strong push back into learning about ‘what.’ You will know ‘what’ something is, but you won’t know what to do with it.”

But she said that the strong curriculum writing efforts in Maple Lake have left the district in a good position that will allow enough flexibility to incorporate any changes the state will require.  “The only change that’s going to affect us is that we’re going to have more testing,” Michalicek said.

Board members questioned the two school principals over the need for a curriculum director. “I think we need somebody,” said Elementary Principal Dan Olberg. “Mary and I have absorbed a lot of jobs over the years and this is one I’m afraid of.”

Redemske said that more information is needed about the curriculum director’s position and how it would fit into the budget before the board would be able to make a decision on that request.

Discussed the possibility of conducting a levy referendum this fall.

“My strong recommendation is to maintain the things you saw in the presentations tonight,” Engel said. “I certainly hope you’ll put some effort into a referendum rather than simply making budget cuts. There are so many great things happening in our schools that could be disrupted if you don’t.”

And Redemske agreed. “We should certainly give serious consideration to going to the taxpayers and looking at additional revenue.”

Board members calculated that just over $200,000 annually could be obtained for the school with a successful referendum.  “By doing nothing, taxes will go down,” Redemske said. “The point being, it’s a pretty good buy when we invest that money in our kids.”

Redemske said he would bring more information to the next meeting so that the board could begin its decision-making process and Engel added that to commit to a fall referendum, a decision would need to be made by August at the latest.

In an update on construction projects, Engel said an effort was being made to find the source of cold air coming into the school over the winter. He said recent testing showed that the air handling unit on the roof does close completely, but he added that it doesn’t mean the same results will be obtained when the weather gets cold again. “At least we know the controls work,” Engel said.

In other construction items, the board agreed with contractor recommendations that four-inch tile will be sufficient to remedy the drainage problem along the school’s north wing. Olberg provided an update on plans to tile and recarpet areas of the elementary office with a low bid of about $2,800 from Neil’s Floor Covering. There was also discussion on solutions to moisture problems on the south wall of the elementary office, with board member Greg Mooney suggesting that sealing the outside wall might correct the problem.

Heard from Engel that the school lunch program finished the year in the red and suggested that the board look at modest increases in lunch prices for the fall.

Business Manager Kristi Anderson asked that the board also consider limits on how much parents can charge for lunches, noting that about $3,000 in lunch charges remain unpaid.

Approved payment of bills in the amount of $90,757.22 and building fund bills in the amount of $8,172.64.

Approved adoption of a new policy to place any funds remaining in a closed student activity fund into the school scholarship fund.

Approved an expenditure of up to $2,000 for devices that would allow students to access their lunch accounts through fingerprint recognition. James said the equipment would make the process easier for students and avoid mistakes in account charges. Board member Chico Williams voiced concerns that parents would consider the process an invasion of privacy and voted against the purchase.

Approved the purchase of a Novell server and software for $5,000 to replace the school’s oldest computer network server which handles data recorded by school staff. Board members agreed that summer would be the best time to replace the server, but no money remained in the school’s technology fund for the purchase.

A suggestion that the money come from the building fund prompted concerns from Mooney that many building issues remain and he would like to see those addressed first. It was decided that the funding source would be determined later, but for the present, the purchase would be listed on the building fund account.

Approved a contract with Resource Training & Solutions for Health and Safety management assistance services at a cost of $1,044.60 as required by state statute.

Approved the resignations of Special Education teacher Donna Kliche effective June 30 and the resignation of Physical Education teacher Bruce Bakeberg effective January 1, 2004.

Heard that the Maple Lake Community Theater has purchased a trophy case to be used for display of theatrical production items.

Heard from Engel that Tom Frederick, of the Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake hockey organization, called the school to ask about property the district would be willing to provide for a proposed hockey arena, which would significantly lower the cost of building such a facility. Board discussion focused on the possible uses for such a facility and that it would find more financial resources in a larger community like Monticello. Mooney said he looked into figures for providing Maple Lake with a field house and found that even with hosting tournaments and fees and income from concessions, it was not possible to make enough money to service the construction debt.

Set the next school board meeting for 7 p.m. on July 14.    In attendance were school board members Dave Gohman, Ernie Puncochar, Arnie Michalicek, Greg Mooney, Connie Munstenteiger, Chico Williams, Chris Blade, Superintendent Ken Engel, Business Manager Kristi Anderson, Principal Dan Olberg, Principal Mary James, new superintendent Mark Redemske and Andrea Stuhr.

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