by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School Board was to vote Monday, Jan. 27, on a host of proposed changes, but at least one board member said she doesn’t agree with all of the changes.
School Board Director Jolene Jorgensen raised objections at a Jan. 22 meeting to scaling back on physical education, music and art to add an elementary school technology course. She said the district needs to continue its effort to embed technology and come down tougher on teachers who resist.
She also said she opposes the elimination of two quarters of middle school health to add a technology coding course and an exploratory foreign language class.
“My gut is telling me these are not good changes,” she said. “I think they can be done in different ways. I’m not saying start over. I’m saying look at these items.”
School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting said it comes to down to a philosophical question, and, as a board member, she said it’s not her role to get involved in that level of detail related to the proposals.
“My philosophy is we commissioned the Collaborative Leadership Team,” she said. “We directed them to do the delimiters. I don’t pretend to be a teacher, administrator or curriculum specialist. I play at the policy level and fiscal management.”
Bunting added that teachers will get brought into the fold to develop the new classes and to tweak some of the old ones.
Jorgensen said the district and the board has heard from the public and its parents, and many are upset with the delimiters.
“We’re representatives of the pubic,” Jorgensen said. “I trust the CLT and administrators, but after researching this, I am not comfortable with this.”
Board members disagree about whether changes at the elementary school and middle school will bring out the systemic change the district is seeking on the matter of technology.
“If we don’t embed, we won’t get the systematic change,” Jorgensen said.
School Board Director Shane Steinbrecher also expressed a desire to get a few more questions answered about a proposed expansion of Discovery Learning Extra, a program for 54 at-risk 4-year-olds, which was piloted in Elk River and Zimmerman this past year with great results, according to district reports. District 728 Community Education Director Charlie Blesener said he’s willing to increase its financial commitment out of its fund from 54 students to 72 for a total of $216,000, and the district is being asked fund another 36 students out of its general fund at a cost of $48,000.
Steinbrecher questioned the potential added costs that could be created by growing a program that the district is already struggling to space in the north and especially in the south.
One idea would be to grow in the program in Zimmerman and Elk River and wait until Rogers has the room through a lease levy or an expansion of facilities.
Some School Board members said they are leery of the district supporting the program and would like to see it funded by early education alone. Director Sue Farber said she is in favor of proceeding.
The bulk of changes, or delimiters, as they are called, have unanimous support, especially after they came in $37,145 less than previous budget projections tied to delimiters for the 2014-15 school year.
The Elk River Area School Board will still have to cut $2.7 million from its 2014-15 school budget in the spring as expected.
The delimiters, an offshoot of the strategic planning process that involved more than 300 people from the school district and community, are the proposed parameters for which the Elk River Area School District is proposing to use to accomplish a transition and transformation of its educational delivery model. The list of them is long and includes all District 728 departments, and they are all interrelated rather than considered separately, like previous administrations organized them.