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Board OKs plan to cut teacher's job

Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves requested and received school board approval Monday to cut one high school teaching position for the 2010-2011 school year.

Graves said the move, called a "reduction in force," is being made due to changing high school graduation requirements and anticipated budget constraints.

"We expect no more RIFs," Graves said, but he added that state funding for schools remains a concern.

Graves said "you know it's a bad year" when the state's schools are satisfied to have no, or minimal, funding increases.

The board approved the RIF of Mitchell High School physical education teacher Brigitte Casavan, effective at the end of the current school year. Graves said Casavan has taught three years at MHS. He also said Casavan will be re-hired if a teaching position opens in the district. He said Casavan is an excellent instructor who simply had low staff seniority.

Beginning with next year's freshman class, the state Board of Education has reduced physical education requirements from two semesters to one semester.

Graves said the additional slack will give college-bound students more opportunities to take advanced classes and electives.

At best, said Graves, the state's school districts will get a 1.2 percent increase in state funding, but a zero increase is a more likely scenario. The state's technical schools could face 2 percent cuts in funding, he said, which will be difficult to make up. Actual funding shortfalls won't be known until the end of the current legislative session, he said. The MHS staff reduction will save the district around $50,000 in salary and benefits, he said.

Graves said he will recommend tapping school district reserves and the district's property tax reduction opt-out money -- up to $700,000 -- to make up for any budget shortfall.

Teacher salaries will not be cut. The district is in the second year of a three-year contract that guarantees teachers a 3 percent increase annually.

In other business during Monday's board meeting, Graves told the board that construction is back on schedule for the new Longfellow Elementary School.

Delays to exterior work that were caused by extremely cold weather have now been completed, he said. Not only will the district be able to move in on Aug. 4, said Graves, but it now appears that all second-floor classrooms will immediately be able to receive equipment. Downstairs equipment will be stored in the school's unfinished gym until first-floor rooms are ready.

The quick move-in will allow contractors to raze the old Longfellow quickly and to begin boring wells on the old site for the new school's geothermal heating system.

The district will also receive bids Thursday for construction of a new stadium at Joe Quintal Field.

Puetz Construction will evaluate all bids and make a recommendation for board approval. Graves said a pre-bid conference was held last week to answer questions regarding the job. All bids are due this Thursday.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is March 22, but Graves said he might request an earlier meeting to speed construction. That will allow it to put the wrecking ball to the old football stadium at Joe Quintal Field. Graves said a special board meeting could be called to speed stadium demolition.

The original goal was to have demolition completed while the ground was frozen, said Graves, but that may no longer be possible.

Also Monday, the board:

• Heard that Graves has had two meetings with parents discussing his recommended shutdown of the high school gymnastics program. A third meeting is scheduled for March 15. "The meetings have been very productive and positive," he said. "We're going to see if we can come to some solution that will make everyone happy."

• Approved, 4-0, Graves' recommendation to cut Brigitte Casavan's position at the end of the school year. Board President Dana Price was out of town on business and Vice President Brenda Freidel presided.

• Approved several other personnel items, including: New hire: Patti Brewster, full-time secretary, Mitchell High School, eight hours daily at $10 an hour, as a temporary replacement for an employee on sick leave. Transfer, extracurricular: Esther Richmond, from eighth-grade assistant volleyball coach, to eighth-grade head volleyball coach.

• Approved, on first reading, the deletion of items that pertain to MTI from the district's K-12 policy manual.

• Approved one homeschooling and one open-enrollment request.

• Approved the appointment of board member Theresa Kriese to the local board of equalization.

• Heard Freidel congratulate the MHS Friend de Coup show choir for a "Grand Champion" win at a Council Bluffs, Iowa, competition Saturday. She also wished the group luck at a national competition in Orlando, Fla.

Freidel also acknowledged MHS sophomore Brent Havlik for an undefeated wrestling season and his state championship win in the 160-pound weight class. Freidel congratulated the wrestling team and its coaching staff for a fine season.