Large contingent protests pool decision

Opponents of a decision to close the swimming pool at Mitchell Middle School must develop a plan quickly if they wish to save the aging pool, school board President Dana Price told a packed house Monday at the Mitchell Technical Institute cafeteria.

Opponents of a decision to close the swimming pool at Mitchell Middle School must develop a plan quickly if they wish to save the aging pool, school board President Dana Price told a packed house Monday at the Mitchell Technical Institute cafeteria.

Last week, Superintendent Joe Graves said he has decided to close the pool to cut costs within the school district. The decision raised the ire of boosters of the Mitchell Aquatic Club, which relies upon the 40-year-old pool as a practice facility. Without the pool, the club's future is uncertain.

At the board's regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening, nearly 150 parents, teachers and swimmers were in attendance. Public testimony against the proposal lasted an hour and a half.

Although Graves last week said he considered the pool's closure a "done deal," the board on Monday agreed that more time is needed to research options on whether to close the pool. No definite timeline was established.

The closure may be needed to counter a looming "fiscal cliff" for the 2010-2011 school year, said Graves. Cuts will be needed to head off budget shortfalls, said Graves, and the district will in all likelihood have to use budget reserves and possibly opt-out dollars.


In his report, Graves proposed the following for the 2009-2010 school budget:

  • Eliminate (by retirement) one clerical position at the middle school, $24,156.
  • Reduce the school board "dues and fees" budget line, $650.
  • A 50 percent cut to the OdysseyWare (distance learning) budget at Second Chance High, $4,500.
  • Reductions to library budgets, $14,175 (shared among all libraries).
  • Locking in the price of natural gas, $20,000.
  • Eliminate weekend building checks, $7,800.
  • Transition to a new telephone service, $5,952.
  • Reduce (by retirement) an industrial arts position held by Dennis Schnable at MHS, $24,696.
  • Reduce(by retirement) to a half-time position a building trades position held by Tom Starr at MHS, $33,961.
  • Close the middle school swimming pool by July 9, saving $67,219. That amount includes $1,200 for sewer; $3,557 for water; $2,600, for filters; $24,658 for state lab water testing; $29,408 for natural gas; $15,876 for electrical; $6,000 for swimming pool aide. Total savings: $83,219. Deducting contributions from the city of Mitchell and MAC, the net savings will be $62,219.
  • Reduce physical education by a half-time position, $18,298.
  • Move a maintenance position to include vehicle maintenance, $10,000.
  • Replace a retiring elementary school principal with a new, lower-cost administrative employee, $13,000.
  • Replace maintenance department cell phones with a two-way radio system, $1,000.
  • Reduce one elementary teaching position, $43,000 (salary and benefits).

The total savings for the aforementioned cuts: $288,407.
Despite the list of other cuts, it is the potential pool closure that has garnered attention. Graves' plan is to convert the pool room into a practice facility for the district's gymnastics program.

Monday night, Graves told longtime Mitchell resident Ken Baldwin that the cost of filling in the pool and creating a gymnastics practice space is unknown at this time, but some of the work would be done by district employees.

"I'd hate to lose (that pool)," said Baldwin. "It's the best exercise there is for those who are overweight. I hope we can figure out a way to save it."

Price defended Graves' attention to the district's bottom line. By stating his decision on the pool was a "done deal" Graves was giving his opinion and handing off the final decision to the board, he said.

Middle school physical education teacher Cheryl Miller said she respected the board's position but said closure of the pool could have "a dastardly effect on the wellbeing of Mitchell's youth." She said if the pool is closed, the physical education needs of students could not be met.

BankWest president and MAC parent Ryan Huber

comments that sounded a call to action.


"Announcing the pool would be closed raised some red flags," he said. "Can the district hold its breath a few more years?"

Several years ago, swim supporters found a way to keep the pool open, he noted.

"We would like an opportunity to find a solution again," said Huber.

Swim coach Chuck Baechler said the group was at the meeting out of concern and does not want an adversarial relationship with the board.

"Everyone acknowledges the pool cannot remain forever," he said. But all things considered, said Baechler, the old pool still works.

He drew laughter with his final comment to the crowd: "Everybody buy a lottery ticket on the way home."

Numerous other parents reiterated the benefits of the MAC program and Lori Baye reminded the board that MAC swim meets bring income to the city. While kids can use outdoor pools seasonally, the program "could not survive on an outdoor pool alone," she said.

Price proposed making a decision on the pool by the next board meeting, but other board members rejected that proposal.


Brenda Freidel said she favored the program but also noted that the pool's cost would pay several teacher salaries.

It also was pointed out that ventilation controls at the pool are in poor condition. It's important that if the pool is kept that it be maintained in a healthy condition, said Freidel. Replacing controls and other items could cost an additional $35,000, the board learned.

The board will tackle the budget dilemma again at a future meeting, but no timeline was developed.

In other business Monday, the board:

  • Held a public hearing on school district lease agreements with Dakota Wesleyan University.
  • Approved separate lease agreements for: L.B. Williams Elementary School; a third amendment to the original lease agreement; a cooperative education compact (with student teaching and dual enrollment plans), and an agreement for DWU's use of Joe Quintal Field and stadium. The leases will begin in 2018 and will run until 2038. The plan calls for the district to receive use of LBW for $1 a year, but it will pay DWU $29,736 annually, with a 2.5 percent increase after the first year, for use of land, playgrounds, and parking lots. DWU will pay the district $600 for each night game and $500 for day games, plus $100 for custodial care.
  • Approved a waiver of an administrative rule that will allow high school credit for a personal finance course. By law, a student must be in high school to get high school credit.
  • Renewed membership in the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
  • Approved MTI's purchase of two pieces of equipment: a trencher-backhoe for $47,116 and a power line truck for $94,100, for natural gas and power line classes. The amount will be deducted from a $2 million federal grant that was recently approved and which can be drawn upon for a period of three years.
  • Approved the following personnel items: Resignations (extracurricular): Allen Remily, co-director of MHS show choir; Mel Olson, co-director, MHS musical, both effective for the 2009-2010 school year, pending suitable replacements; Doug Greenway, head ninthgrade football coach. Retirement: Mary Wilson, Longfellow Elementary principal, end of the current school year; Gerry Tatina, superintendent's secretary, effective June 30; Transfers: Kimberly Gamber, fifth-grade instructor, to special education instructor at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary; Julie Gross, education assistant, Rosedale Colony, to educational assistant, Second Chance High. Reductions in Force: Jamie Henkel, halftime physical education, middle school; Kathy Kramer and Laura Shumaker, each a quarter-time 21st Century Grant building coordinator -- all at the end of the school year. Both Kramer and Shumaker will keep their regular, full-time positions.
  • Listed some playground equipment as surplus so it may be sold and used by the city of Mitchell in various city parks.
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