In the wake of the May 11 referendum loss, the Upsala School Board discussed possible reasons for that result as well as a wide range of possibilities for completing the maintenance and replacement projects that were included in the proposed package at its monthly meeting, Wednesday. Board members shared that they received minimal feedback from the community.
“Feedback I got was vague,” said Marvin Wensmann. “One thing that was said was that people thought the entryway was going to be some elaborate thing.”
It turns out that some of the people who thought that had not attended the informational meetings that the district had held prior to the vote, which gave a clearer picture of the pieces of the project.
“I told people it’s not some huge fancy thing, but we couldn’t get them to show up (for the meetings),” said Stephen Roerick.
“The public needs to be assured that things are done in a common-sense way here,” said Board Chair Dean Peterson. “People were afraid we were spending like we didn’t care. We are looking for quality work done at an affordable price.”
Then, there was the fact that just short of 300 voters of a registered 1,300 voters came out to the polls.
“I’m disappointed in the voter turnout more than anything. With such a low turnout, I’m not sure we can accurately gauge how the community feels about the project,” said Supt. Vern Capelle. “One comment I heard was from someone who was confident that the issue would pass so they just didn’t vote. Going forward, we will do some surveying to gather more information. We definitely have many maintenance needs and the improvements we are planning will reduce maintenance costs and enhance our facilities for many years to come.”
Ryan Thomas noted that the polling window was pretty short – only four hours from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. — and maybe that had an impact on low voter turnout.
Board members suggested that more pictures and diagrams of the proposed projects could have been distributed.
Peterson wondered if there wasn’t a misperception of the project due to wording. Whereas the vote was technically called a “referendum,” it had nothing to do with operating expenses. The entire project encompassed only capital improvements, including necessary maintenance and replacement of HVAC system and the roof. He pointed out that in years past, the wording “bond issue” was used for similar projects.
All in all, the board members set their sights on the future and what can be done now.
Preston Euerle of RA Morton, the contractor for the proposed project, said, “I’m encouraged that you’re interested in continuing the conversation.”
He shared information regarding the high number of youth in Upsala, compared to the state as a whole.
“In Upsala, 30.2% of residents are under 18,” Capelle said. “The average in Minnesota is 23.7% and the national average is 23.5%. That ranks us 18th in the state.”
Euerle pointed out that there are a number of seams in the roof that are starting to break. It’s possible to continue with repairs, but the chances of damage occurring in the underlying materials such as insulation are high. That will increase the cost of any replacement.
He suggested that the facilities committee look at the project and reprioritize the pieces of it, then look at new pricing. Putting out a community survey was discussed. The pros and cons of various dates and timelines for another vote were also talked about, such as August or November.
Board members discussed possibly doing a couple of the smaller projects locally in the meantime, such as improvements to the bus garage.
Upsala School Board Briefs:
In other business Wednesday, the Upsala School Board:
• Heard from Principal Nick Klug that several fifth and sixth graders have reached and/or passed the 1 million word milestone. Allison Cymbaluk has reached two million words. The students reading 1 million words are Vincent Eggert, Annalee Gerads, Caleb Guthrie, Brenden Mack and Matthew Tschida;
• Learned from Supt. Vern Capelle about upcoming repair projects that are necessary, including replacement of the tennis courts, fencing on the north end of the football field needing gate changes due to road construction, and the retaining wall by the loading dock. “We’re seeking estimates, but one of the common themes I’m hearing is they are really shorthanded,” he said;
• Approved the following donations for Dollars for Scholars: $100 from Upsala Motors and $100 from Michels Trucking; $2,500 from the Lions Club for FFA; $300 from the Lions Club for the greenhouse and 82 donations for the playground fund totaling $8,009.51;
• Approved leave for Anna Wolbeck from Oct. 1, 2021 to Jan. 17, 2022;
• Approved a motion to rescind Policy 808-COVID-19 Face Covering policy per conditions set forth in Executive Order 21-21;
• Approved 2021-2022 school calendar changes to include moving early release day from October 1 to October 8 for homecoming, and adding fall parent-teacher conference dates of November 11 and 15, and spring parent-teacher conference dates of March 24 and 28;
• Approved continuing contract status for Aaron Fisher and Patrick Ross, based on administration recommendations;
• Approved contract renewal for Jacob Drimel, Elizabeth Thell, Hannah Tiffany and Sara Herzog, based on administration recommendations;
• Adopting a resolution relating to the termination and nonrenewal of the teaching contract of probationary teacher Carla Welle. The roll-call vote won with one “no” from Marvin Wensmann. Board member Trevor Soltis was absent. “I have two relatives who were let go in the past and I have questions about that,” Wensmann said. “I can’t, in my right mind, vote for something I don’t know about;”
• Approved the 2021-2022 bread and bakery products quote from Pan O Gold (the only one received) and the milk and dairy products bid from Kemps (the only one received);
• Approved the conflict of interest statement from Dean Peterson, who abstained during the vote;
• Approved the quote for fleet and vehicle maintenance from Upsala Motors. Only one other quote was received, but it did not address the district needs as advertised;
• Accepted resignations from cook DanLynn Kolstad, paraprofessional Abigail Ripplinger, custodian Joey Fuchs and custodian Mason Lange;
• Approved the hiring of new elementary teacher Karisa Justen;
• Learned that Head Cook and Co-Food Service Director Alice Westrich has been chosen as a NutriStudents K-12 Food Service Hero. “She started her position less than two years ago without a background in nutrition – and has effectively transformed the district’s food service program,” the award notice stated. “She has done a fantastic job coming in and taking over,” Capelle said; and
• Approved the Sourcewell program and services agreement for the coming school year.
The next regular meeting of the Upsala School Board will be Wednesday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the high school media center.