Pierz Board increases preschool fee slightly

By Lorae Vardas, Correspondent

The Pierz School Board put its stamp of approval on a slight increase in preschool fees beginning next year. The state of Minnesota does not provide any funding for the program the district initiated about 15 years ago at Pioneer Elementary School to better prepare children for the kindergarten experience. Staff, building and bussing costs are associated with the program that evolved from six weeks to its present daily format, Supt. George Weber said at the March 28 meeting. Other than user fees, the general fund underwrites the program.

The new sliding fee schedule has parents of preschoolers paying $55 per month regular rate, $40 per month for families qualifying for reduced lunch and $25 per month for families who qualify for free lunch. Formerly, the latter was free. It’s only fair to charge something, the Board said. In addition, all families are expected to pay a $20 per quarter bussing fee, which was instituted this school year.

Administrators said the fees under the proposed schedule would still be significantly less than day care or neighboring preschool programs. Including the $80 quarterly bussing fee, the full price for a year of preschool at Pioneer Elementary will total $575; the reduced price comes to $440; and for those qualifying for free meals, the price goes to $305.

While everybody is up to date on the bussing fees, administrators voiced concerns that some families were not making payments for preschool services amounting to almost $2,500.

“Are we going to carry the bills forward to kindergarten? Are we going to dis-enroll kids? Where are we going with this?” asked Weber in seeking guidance from the Board. “We need parents to work with us to be successful. A partnership is needed or we set up the child for failure in the future.”

“We don’t want to hurt the kids,” said Board Member Mike Wilson. “If we don’t help kids at this age, it will cost us two years later.” He recommended a follow-up phone call in regard to the letter the superintendent recently sent out to defaulting families. Other board suggestions included setting up a payment schedule for families behind on payments or actually contracting with parents for preschool services in the future. Nobody favored dis-enrolling children in lieu of payment.

“Pierz has a strong cultural and ethical value to do whatever it takes to help all children succeed and also reach out to any child, no matter what the financial circumstances might be,” the superintendent wrote in his letter. “So in that light, we truly want to work things out with you to give you every opportunity to continue services.”

Pierz School Board Briefs

In other agenda items at the March 28 meeting, the Pierz School Board:

• Accepted the school calendar for the 2012-2013 school year as previously reviewed. Students in both the elementary and high school will have 173 teacher contact days. School begins Sept. 4 and ends May 31, 2013. Winter break runs Dec. 22 – Jan. 1, 2013;

• Accepted a scholarship donation in the amount of $400 from Federated Co-op;

• Approved a request from the Pierz Area Coalition (PAC) to use the school logo on brochures. The Board had some concerns since the PAC isn’t really a school activity, but rather a partnership with Morrison County Public Health funded by a multi-year state grant focusing on underage alcohol, drug and tobacco use;

• Approved advertising for bids for partial replacement of the roof at the high school through the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA), a regional school cooperative. The area involves the old gym/Performing Arts Center and is estimated to cost upward of $120,000. The rubber membranes and crushed rock will be replaced and the sky lights removed. Sealed bids are being accepted until 1 p.m., April 24. The job should be completed during the summer months;

• Under personnel, granted a lane change request of BA+10 to Jessica Rocheleau, elementary teacher, and hired Danielle Poster as a long-term substitute teacher in social studies for the remainder of the year. High School Principal Karrie Boser said 52 applications were received for the social studies position vacated by Waldon Brown on his retirement and interviews would begin soon;

• Heard Supt. George Weber announce that Pioneer Elementary School has been approved for participation in the AmeriCorps reading program next year. A half-time person will be hired by the program to work with students in the building on improving their reading skills. A teaching license is not required for the position. AmeriCorps volunteers receive a small stipend, tuition credits and other benefits;

• Were informed that the computerized sign in front of the high school was on the blink and the software company that installed it is out of business. Staff is working with other companies to restore the electronic message board at an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000. The girls locker room project is on schedule with bidding under way for its renovation. Band room improvements are also being considered for this summer. “It may be possible to renovate the room without much cost,” said Weber. “We could organize the space a little better by using the old stage room to store musical instruments;

• Made spring coaching assignments as follows: Track – Craig Johnshoy, Rey Zimney, Karla Jensen, Rich Teske, Kelly Sauer and Ruth Stuckmayer. Baseball – Dan Saehr, Rick Sczublewski, Dave Rocheleau, Corey Egan and Dylan Pittman. Softball – Rachel Werk, Greg Pohlkamp, Kelly Gangl, Tina Boser and Jolaine Varner. Golf – Steve Holbrook, Chris Dobis and Jessica LeBlanc; and

• Heard that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) testing gets under way at the high school April 17 – 18 during first and second hours. Makeup dates have been scheduled for April 24, 25, 26 and May 1-2. Online testing in math and science is also available in May.

The School Board next meets Wednesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. in the High School Board Room.