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Class sizes kick off school board meeting

Kyle Farris

Larger-than-usual class sizes at Minnehaha Elementary School were an object of concern among board members of the Lake Superior School District at the board’s monthly meeting last week.

Recent projections put the two incoming fourth-grade classes at 28 and 27 students, respectively, according to the board, which questioned whether the students -- especially those with special needs -- could be supported under the current arrangement.

“One of the many attractions of the Lake Superior School District is the small class sizes,” board member Tom Burns said. “The norm is 19 to 22 students. We’re looking at 28, 29, 27, 26.”

The board declined to take any action on the matter, citing the possibility that the numbers on paper might not match the number of students who show up for the first day of school.

Board member Dwight Moe acknowledged the inconsistencies that can exist between the number of students enrolled and the number of students who actually attend school, saying families are constantly moving in and out of the district without having it reflected by class rosters.

“That happens all the time,” Moe said. “I would like to know the physical headcount of the students who are actually there.”

Compounding the potentially large class sizes, Burns said, is the relative inexperience of the fourth-grade teachers. One is a new hire, according to the board, and the other is a returning but non-tenured employee.

Also at issue was the size of the second-grade class at William Kelley Elementary School, which Principal Joe Nicklay said is around 27 students.

The board said it plans to address the issues at its September meeting, at which time the class sizes will be more clearly defined.

Merging the athletic director jobs at Two Harbors and William Kelley high schools is once again a topic of debate among board members.

The board passed a motion approving a one-year contract for Roger Koster, who continues to serve as athletic director at William Kelley despite being retired. Burns and other board members argued that making the job district-wide or opening the position to other candidates would make more sense.

“We’ve been discussing this for the last few years and nothing has been done about it,” said Burns, who was the only board member to vote down Koster’s contract. “I get asked on occasion why we need two athletic directors for the district. All I can say is I don’t know why. We only need one.”

Koster has been offered a similar contract each of the last three years, which has kept the athletic director jobs separate and also prevented the district from posting the job for others who might be interested.

“Maybe (with) a fresh set of eyes from somebody on the outside, things would be different,” Burns said. “This one more year stuff is -- I don’t know. Something has to change.”

Nicklay said other employees at the school have not inquired about the job, and anyone who does would need enough free time during the day to handle the additional duties. That might require cutting back on time spent in the classroom, Nicklay said.

“I can think of a number of employees up there would could probably do the job,” Moe said. “Whether they’re interested, that’s a whole other ballgame.”

Moe said a merger of the positions would follow a recent trend of Two Harbors and William Kelley programs coming together, with the schools’ hockey teams being the most recent.

The board passed a motion establishing a sick bank in which non-union school employees can donate sick days to other non-union employees.

Originating from a request filed by an individual who went unnamed, the conversation centered primarily around whether union employees could transfer their sick days to other workers.

“The concern there would be you have to equate … what’s the value of a teacher sick day compared to the employee sick day,” Superintendent Bill Crandall said. “We have to balance that out.”

The board held off on any action regarding union employees, expressing doubt over whether union-district contracts allow for the board to rule on the issue.

It appeared, the board said, that a memorandum of understanding would need to be reached to override the contract.

Crandall said the district is seeking legal counsel as to how to move forward.