By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
In an effort to make space for several teachers and classrooms, the Houston School Board approved the purchase of two off-campus buildings at its regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 6.
Superintendent Mary Morem said Houston does not currently have enough instructional space for all teachers on staff, leading some to share spaces, and in one case, having three teachers share a room and move around the building throughout the day. Morem said that needs to be a priority.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the ABLE building were both up for consideration. Morem said both are very different from each other and would serve the district in different ways.
She said the district needs a strategic plan of what to use it for and be purposeful in how to use them. She encouraged the board to get input from a committee and constituents.
The district does have lease levy authority to purchase the buildings, which they have not tapped into in recent years. This would not place a burden on taxpayers.
The board moved into closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss the purchase. When they came back into open session, the board agreed to try and purchase the buildings, Morem told the Argus later.
The board approved the purchase of a new projector for the high school gymnasium, as the current one broke down during in-service at the beginning of the school year. The new one is a big upgrade, with a laser lens and new capabilities, Superintendent Mary Morem relayed.
In preparation to abide by Minnesota OSHA standards, the board approved a motion that will implement policy 491. That policy states any employees who are not fully vaccinated for Covid-19 must mask and/or do weekly testing. OSHA said employers with over 100 employees need to implement a similar policy or require all employees to be vaccinated. Because Houston has the Minnesota Virtual Academy, they are required to implement a policy.
However, the approval was contingent upon the Supreme Court decision on Jan. 7 that discussed the OSHA standard adopted on Jan. 3, 2022.
The board elected Tom Stilin as chair, Josh Norlein as vice chair, Mark Swenson as clerk and Gene Lundak as treasurer. They also approved a motion to combine the treasurer and clerk position in the office of business affairs.
Bremer Bank was designated as the school’s official depositor, and The Caledonia Argus was designated as the official newspaper.
New this year, the board will only meet once a month to conduct board business. They will schedule second meetings or study sessions as needed. Board member Mimi Carlson expressed concern that without a second meeting, she did not want to be surprised on “something new and big and decide on the spot.” She added she wanted time to talk to people and get feedback on topics. Board chair Tom Stilin agreed and asked board members to bring the topic up in a study session if they wanted more discussion on it.
Nevertheless, the board approved the new schedule. Regular meetings will take place on the first Thursday of each month, barring any holidays. If a second meeting is needed, those will likely be scheduled for the third Thursday of the month.
The board also increased its board pay, from $40 to $50 for two assigned board meetings in one day, per meeting for any additional meetings beyond the first measure and then $50 for a half-day meeting as well.
The board also approved the 2021 audit.
The next regular meeting of the Houston School Board is scheduled for Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. in the high school library.