By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

While volleyball and football fans are excited to see the teams return, the Caledonia School Board was less excited to learn the state high school league increased membership fees by nearly 400%. 

Last winter/spring, the school was informed Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) would increase fees for the 2020-21 year. 

Those include an annual membership of $160 for each MSHSL activity (a total of $2,720), which had not been previously charged. The league would also charge $1 per student based off enrollment, so $235 and another fee not previously charged. That portion is a total increase of $2,955, a $975 increase from the 2019-20 school year. 

Then the board was notified earlier in September there would be a $7,000 membership fee for this year, payable in two installments (November and February). This was unexpected. 

Board chair Kelley McGraw said when the board entered into the agreement with Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), it didn’t have a $7,000 fee on it. In his report to the board, superintendent Craig Ihrke relayed several schools decided they will not make payments until they receive further explanation on the fees. 

Caledonia’s new total for a membership in MSHSL will be $9,955 for the school year, or about a 403% increase. 

The board said that’s not a number they have in their budget right now. They may be able to ask booster clubs to help pay for the fee, but the board did not make a motion on the issue. 

Hiring freeze

Last month, the board discussed whether or not to implement a hiring freeze, due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and if students would stay in the same learning model. Ihrke said they’ve done a good job of filling in where they could, but there are still some positions unfilled. 

“We want to keep the ability to hire somebody,” he said. Middle/High School Principal Nathan Boler said he is in need of one full-time special education paraprofessional and a media specialist, while the elementary school is looking to fulfill a title and preschool teacher position from within.

After a short discussion, the board passed a motion to continue with caution on hiring people. 

Other news

The board accepted two Warrior Pride donations from United Methodist Women for the purchase of elementary school supplies and Waterloo Ridge Lutheran Church for a donatoin of school supplies. 

The board accepted the resignations of special education paraprofessional Nikki Konkel, gymnastics head coach Jackie Johnson, gymnastics assistant coach Helen Olson, title and preschool teacher Leslee Oakes and student council advisor Susan Link. 

The board accepted the hire of Matt Stemper as the full-time facilities director/safety director to replace Lee Morem. 

Fall coaching contracts were approved for football and volleyball. Football staff includes head coach Carl Fruechte, assistant coaches Brent Schroeder, Mitch Mullins and Brad King, ninth grade coach Ryan Pitts, eighth grade coach Reese Wait and seventh grade coach Zach Hauser. 

For volleyball, head coach Scott Koepke, assistant coach Dan Reinhart, and junior high coaches Kari Rusert, Tori Burmester and Emily Schroeder were approved. 

The board approved co-curricular coaching/advisor contracts for the musical, jazz band, marching and pep band, one act play, national honor society, yearbook co-coaches, FFA advisor, junior class advisor, senior Knowledge Bowl, two student council co-coaches and the robotics program. 

However, the board did not approve band or choir contracts because those were assumed to be part of the teachers’ contracts. They approved a motion to wait with those contracts until it had been looked at further. The remainder of activities was approved. 

2021 Proposed Levy

The board approved the 2021 proposed levy at the maximum level at 2,412,360, which is an increase of $218,685.12. The board can decrease the final levy in December, but cannot increase it, thus the reason for the maximum level. Business Manager Barb Meyer said there was a decrease in the general and ocmmunity service funds, but increase in the debt service fund to make up this increase. It’s also due to the abatement bond that was approved for the parking lot projects. 

Crossing guard agreement

Approved on Monday night was a revised crossing guard agreement between the city and school. 

The city added a provision that if the school goes into all distance learning and the governor says all school employees are to continue to get paid, the school would need to pay 100% of crossing guard wages, and not the typical 50% share between the City of Caledonia and the school district. 

Administrative reports

Elementary Principal Susan Link said the start of the school year transitioned smoothly.

“Our entire staff has put forth a team effort to make the transition back to school a positive experience. Our parents also have been supportive in making sure that our children are rested and equipped to prepare them for the school start of school and for each school day,” she wrote. 

Currently, 19 students are doing online, off-site learning. Samantha Kruse is the teacher of record for grades K-2, while the school is currently looking to fill Leslee Oakes’ position internally, as she was the teacher of record for grades 3-5. 

Parents were also pleased with the new configuration of drop off and delivery of students on Main Street. Parents whose students are bused also appreciated their kids did not have to transfer buses when they get to the middle/high school. 

Boler said students have moved into hybrid learning with two different groups attending different days. 

Student board reps Sam Privet and Emma Ideker reported they were getting into the swing of things and kids were excited about football and volleyball starting. Most students were able to log-in to sites they needed. 

Boler added he was grateful for the block scheduling, especially when contact tracing was required, which reduced the number of contacts. About 31 students in grades 6-12 are doing online, off-site learning. 

Community Education Coordinator Gretchen Linzmeier said early childhood screening is scheduled for Nov. 13 and 14, while School-Age Care (SAC) and Surround Care have been going well. About 29 students will take the ACT test in October at the city auditorium. 

Ihrke reported he and Business Manager Barb Meyer worked on COVID relief funds, in which several purchases have already been approved. 

He also thanked Lee Morem for his three years of service to the district as facilities director. 

“He served the district well and accomplished a lot of things and saved the district a lot of money,” Ihrke said. “I’d like to welcome Matt Stemper and I’m confident he will do a fantastic job going forward.”

In board member reports, McGraw also thanked Morem for his work.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Caledonia School Board is Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium, with masks and social distancing in mind for those wishing to address the board. 

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