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GFW board delays closure decision to Feb. 24

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Greg Hartmann of Gibbon urges people at the GFW (Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop) School Board meeting to work together to save the school district Monday in the high school auditorium in Winthrop.

WINTHROP — The Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) School Board Monday rescheduled a decision to close a district school building to Monday, Feb. 24.

Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said he received a financial offer from the City of Gibbon last Thursday, consulted the school district legal counsel, and urged the board to reschedule the closure decision.

“It’s getting really close to transition time,” Seifert said.

He said further details on the City of Gibbon offer were not yet available.

The school board was originally scheduled to act on a proposal to close a school building to save money beginning this fall as part of the school district’s three-year statutory operating debt (SOD) plan recently submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education.

A deadline for city financial offers to the school district was set for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the GFW District Office.

At a recent Fairfax City Council meeting, the City of Fairfax offered up to four years of free utilities (costing about $64,000 a year) at the GFW Intermediate School in Fairfax if the school board decided to keep it open next fall.

In addition, the Fairfax City Council offered to assist local fund-raising efforts to buy new school playground equipment estimated to cost $50,000 to $100,000.

Early in the meeting, Fairfax board member Marisa Lee described her recent high school visit in Winthrop.

Lee said she spent the day with her niece who is a senior.

“I got to experience college classes, online classes and regular classes. It was an impromptu visit. They didn’t know I was coming,” Lee said.

She said she ate lunch with senior high students and asked them how they thought teachers were doing and visited the high school principal.

“I just want everybody to know we have a lot of really great things going on at the high school,” Lee said. “I’d encourage all board members to get out in our school and see what’s really going on.”

At the start of the meeting, Otto and Greg Hartmann of Gibbon addressed the board and audience.

“First, I want to thank you for being a school board member,” Otto Hartmann said. “Looking back, it was a rewarding job. Everyone on the school board has tough decisions. We’ve all been affected by them in some way or another. All I ask is that you’ve done your homework, got your facts and figures together. Think about the students. If you’ve done that, I think the majority of the people will respect you and stand behind your decision.”

Greg Hartmann urged everyone to fight for the GFW Thunderbirds.

“We all pulled together in 1987 and made one good school,” Greg Hartmann said. “Nobody wants to lose their school, but somebody will have to lose their school for the GFW school district. That’s what we have to think about here. A referendum failed (last fall) that would have meant two towns would lose their schools. Sacrifices. We would have had to pay more taxes. Sacrifices.”

Greg Hartmann said all he asks from the school board is to make an unbiased, well-educated decision and for people to stand behind it.

“Can you imagine not having the Thunderbirds here? Can you imagine not having a school district here?” Greg Hartmann said.

The school board unanimously approved:

• A certified teacher contract agreement with the teachers’ union for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, motion by board member Phil Klenk, seconded by board member Becky Vos.

The 4.13%, two-year increase includes only step and lane increases for the first year, a .75% salary hike and a $100 a district health insurance coverage hike for the second year.

• A 2020-2021 school calendar adjustment with the teachers’ union reducing the total number of staff days from 185 to 183 and 174 student days, as of July 1, motion by board member Mike Kuehn, seconded by board member Kelsey Odegard.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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