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GFW: Move to cut positions dies

Staff photo by Fritz Busch James Theis of Gibbon, a self-described farmer and electrician, advocated for trades courses at the Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) School Board meeting Tuesday. Theis was one of six people to make public comments at the meeting.

GIBBON — A resolution reducing and discontinuing educational programs and positions at the Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) School Board meeting died for lack of a motion Tuesday.

“I don’t feel I have enough information,” said school board member Marisa Lee of Fairfax.

Applause followed from dozens of people at the meeting in the Gibbon Elementary School gym.

Had it been approved, the resolution would have cut 6.75 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions including three full-time elementary teachers, a social studies teacher, counselor, choir director and a .75 FTE technology teacher.

“We should have done this (cut programs, positions) before we did the (curriculum) guide,” Lee said.

“No, not necessarily,” said Superintendent Jeff Horton.

The board agreed to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 22 to consider the resolution plus resolutions to place a continuing contract/tenured teacher on unrequested leave of absence and non-renewing a probationary teacher.

“We have to cut $290,000 from our budget,” said Horton. “The decision has to be made soon. Teachers need time to get a job.”

Earlier in the meeting, six people gave public comments about budget cuts, scheduling and course offerings.

“I’m here tonight because I’m worried about the direction of our district, as it relates to programming and student opportunities,” said GFW Education Association President and special education teacher Heather Bakke. “I have to look no further than the March 3 (Standard-Gazette & Messenger) letter to the editor signed by more than 70 of our students to see they are worried too…We read in the letter that they are craving more hands-on educational opportunities in fields they see themselves finding careers in like agriculture, fabrication, and technology.”

English language learner instructor Cari Panitzke, who said she’s been a teacher and active community member for 21 years, said everyone she spoke to said if the school district lets go of a technical education teacher, they won’t find another one.

‘Reconsider that decision,” Panitzke said.

Gibbon farmer/electrician James Theis said wood (shop) and welding is what the community does.

“If we’re going to right the ship, stop throwing people over the side of the boat,” Theis said.

Horton thanked people for providing input and said the school district implemented Minnesota Department of Education framework for what students need.

“We held listening sessions,” Horton said. “Unfortunately, we’re in statutory operating debt (SOD). I’m sure there isn’t a night people don’t think about it. We’ve been identified by the State of Minnesota for Latin community reading. We’ve expanded offerings next year. We need to think about equitably using resources. I’m excited about future partnerships with BOLD and BLH for regional CTE (career and technical education) courses.”å

Horton said the school district approved a $290,000 SOD plan budget reduction.

“We’re working for more opportunities for all students, no matter what you like, we love you and want you here,” said Horton. “We have to get out of SOD and it’s hard.”

Several board members voiced interest in meeting with and collaborating with the BOLD (Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian) and BLHS (Buffalo Lake Hector Stewart) school districts. Board members were particularly interested in career and technical education (CTE) and possibly other course offerings.

The meeting began with the Gibbon Lions Club receiving school and community recognition for donating banners with the words of the Star-Spangled Banner that were placed in all three school district gyms and for donating to other school projects.å

The school board heard a WE group presentation on a possible summer trip to Australia and New Zealand from We leader and second-grade teacher Melissa Hanson.

“The WE group, a service learning organization, has been working on taking a trip for some time,” Horton said. “We know Australia and New Zealand are closed to visitors now, but a group there has stated a visit may work this summer.”

Service-learning is an educational approach that combined learning objectives with community service in order to provide a pragmatic, progressive learning experience while meeting societal needs.

The group involves students in service projects to apply classroom learning for local agencies that exist to effect positive community change.

The board approved a $170 donation from the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce for staff appreciation bags and $500 from the Charities Aid Foundation for the Zack Rose 3M Foundation Volunteer Match, motion by Drew Schmidt, seconded by Casey Prochniak.

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

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