NEW ULM - The District 88 School Board on Thursday approved a relatively high number of new contracts and combined and deleted policies to streamline operations.
The board approved a one-year agreement with the New Ulm Area Youth Soccer Association (NUAYSA) to provide a high-school soccer program and a contract to provide lunch services to the River Bend Education District.
The district has many new staff members to start the school year, said Superintendent Jeff Bertrang. With additional sections, retirements and some resignations, the district hired 20 new teachers.
In this mix are four new counselors to the district. Previous counselors happened to live outside the district and found positions closer to home.
"The principals will work with their counselors to mentor them and get them up to speed on our service programs, intervention plans and site initiatives," said Bertrang.
Due to increased enrollment, the district needed to add an eighth section of kindergarten before the school year began, Bertrang specified, noting resultant space issues.
"It will cause us to manufacture a room for the section. We have already added a second grade and third grade section. We have limited options for space and will be using the annex for a pre-school program, high school classes and Kids Connection."
The agreement with the NUAYSA is similar to agreements from past years.
The program is of no cost to the district. The association pays for the program (up to $15,000), while the district administers it.
The program is available on a cooperative basis to students from public and private schools.
One difference in this year's contract is that the district will charge the NUAYSA less upfront - $6,000 rather than $8,000 - which is more in line with the actual costs allocation.
Bertrang also observed that soccer numbers are growing, and the program pays for itself with fees and gate proceeds.
River Bend concern
Board member Matt Ringhofer, who represents District 88 on the River Bend Education District Board, reported that numbers at the River Bend Area Learning Center (ALC) are down quite a bit from last year.
River Bend is a cooperative that provides both special education and alternative high-school programming to several member districts. The ALC is the alternative high-school program.
ALC numbers have been dropping for the past three years, said Ringhofer. Currently, enrollment is at 38. About four or five years ago, 90 students were enrolled, with many on a waiting list to get in.
Ringhofer reported that this trend is generating a great deal of "unrest" and "apprehension" at River Bend.
He also stressed that such concerns are registering statewide, with "many avenues of thought about why this may be."
Possible reasons include increased online learning options and successful intervention programs in home districts, such as Response To Intervention (RTI).
While it is good that many students' needs are being addressed in their home districts, curtailing the alternative program may take away the only option available to some others students, worry ALC proponents.
"This is something to keep an eye on,"said Ringhofer.
At the start of the meeting - the board's first since the passage earlier this month of a bond to build a new high school - Board Chair Duane Winter thanked the community for its support and trust.
He said the Board will do its best to justify the community's faith.
Bertrang noted that educators are meeting with construction planners, architects and financial advisors, to draft a planning sequence of tasks, timelines and requirements. Meetings to talk about needs in terms of programs, safety, landscape, blueprints, infrastructure and many other aspects are coming up Sept. 16.
Time will be allocated for staff and community input into the process of designing facilities for all programs.