Brian Aberg
Brian Aberg
The Mabel-Canton School Board is bidding farewell to a longtime friend of the district.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board recognized Brian Aberg for 14 years of service to the district.

"We would like to thank Brian for all his years of service on the board," said Board Chair Mary Pat Kuhn.

"Fourteen years is a long time," added Superintendent Michael Moriarty.

"It's been really great to be on this board. It's been a great learning experience and I appreciate that we could always talk, even though we sometimes disagreed a little. I really appreciate that," said Aberg.

Aberg, who chose not to run for reelection, will be replaced by Mark Weidemann, who will be sworn in at next month's meeting.

Truth in taxation hearing

In other matters, the board held its required truth in taxation hearing, which Moriarty said was required by the state to allow the public to comment on the tax levy.

There were no comments, either written or spoken, on the subject.

In a related matter, under new business, the board unanimously approved next fall's tax levy of $847,457.88, which Moriarty said was a decrease of about $150 from last year.

Payroll contract

The board unanimously approved a contract with School Management Services (SMS) of Rochester for district payroll services.

Longtime district payroll specialist Bev Bakke, who had worked for the district for 50 years, recently retired, leaving the position open.

Todd Metzke of SMS visited with the board regarding the particulars of the proposed contract.

Metzke, who has worked in school finance since 1998, formed SMS in 2006. A certified public accountant, Metzke has a staff of 15, which serves 27 districts statewide.

"The concept is that managing a school's finances is a unique skill," said Metzke.

The contract approved by the board is a three-year commitment, which includes a review every six months.

"If at any time, the district feels we are not meeting its needs, we just require a 60-day notice. The last thing we want to do is hold a district hostage," said Metzke.

Metzke noted Christina Abrahamson of SMS has remotely done the lion's share of the district's payroll for December.

Moriarty said he feels using SMS for payroll is "a safe way to go. It requires a payment semi-annually of $6,000, which works out to be $1,000 per month for their services."

In light of the upcoming retirement of District Business Manager Chris Hansen, SMS is also planning to put in a separate proposal for those services. The district will also post the business manager position for other applicants as well.

"It would certainly be a small savings to the district from what we are doing and SMS would be bringing a lot of expertise to the job," said Moriarty

Following the meeting, Metzke explained his organization is usually able to save districts around 30 percent with regard to business management costs.

Class trip

After receiving only one quote back for the senior class trip, the board approved the quote from Zimmer Tours for $1,447 per student.

"It's a bit higher than last year, but we're a little down on numbers," said Moriarty.

There are 21 students planning to take the trip.

Personnel and enrollment

In other matters, the board approved the seniority list for district personnel and Moriarty discussed enrollment projections for next year.

Moriarty said the district is currently at around 257 students, which is about the same number as last year at this time.

"We did have one student withdraw and open enroll out of the district and had a couple come in," he said.

Moriarty said unlike other areas of the country, in Southeastern Minnesota, superintendents have a "pretty open policy" about open enrollment.

"We've all kind of agreed without agreeing to let students open enroll whenever they want to," he said.

Moriarty said by state law students have to apply by March to open enroll for the next school year and that is enforced throughout much of Minnesota.

"I think we need to be reexamining this policy. It's getting to be like a whim. Not the way the law was designed to work," he said.

Regarding staffing for next year, Moriarty said he does not anticipate many changes. The graduating class will be in the twenties, with an incoming kindergarten class of 16 or 17.

"I think the following year will be a drop. That will be about the right time to do some realigning of staff. At this time we don't know about any other retirements, but that's always a possibility and we will deal with that at the time," he said.

Upcoming projects

The board discussed a recent inspection from the state fire marshal, which only found one small item in need of change.

"The staff has done a real nice job with repairs and keeping the district up to fire code," said Moriarty, adding the district has been asked to replace some magnetic hardware on the two gym doors on the west side of the building.

"We're going to take a look at the cost of replacing the hardware versus replacing the entire doors," he said.

Moriarty added the district's surveillance camera system could use some updating. The district currently has an older, analog system. A new system would likely be digital.

Moriarty said he has also posted his position as a part-time superintendent and has received a few applications in the mail. The application deadline is Jan. 15.

Principal's report

Principal Jeff Nolte said his staff is currently taking a fair amount of special education referrals.

"We're at the point in the year that if there are issues in the classroom, we're working to meet those student needs. We're also streamlining the third-party billing process to recover some revenue. The state asks us to pursue that with families that do have medical assistance that we can bill services for," said Nolte.

Nolte also complimented the school's music department.

"December is very busy and we recently had two concerts at the elementary and high school that were very well attended. I'd like to thank Mrs. Larson and Mrs. Becker for the hours and hours of support that have gone into the students. The students really enjoy it and the concerts really helped put people in the Christmas spirit," said Nolte.

Safety concerns

Nolte said in light of the media coverage surrounding school safety in recent days, "As a school, it certainly makes us look at what we're doing here, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We've had several lockdowns and fire drills. It does make us reflect and look at what we could do to make our building even more safe. We should implement a camera system when it is fiscally appropriate," he said.

Nolte reminded the board that Mabel-Canton is an "open building every day."

"We do have a single open door at the main entrance. This is just one of those moments when you examine what you do. Is that what the community wants? Has it fit our needs for a long time? Yes. It is certainly something for the board to think about. Hopefully it will never happen here, but it does happen in places you wouldn't expect," he said.

"We're very trusting Midwestern folks. Nothing has ever happened to impact that, and it's very convenient at times to prop a door open, but I think this is one of those things where we've really got to examine what's best for students ... We just have to do our best to keep them safe," he concluded.

Moriarty said the board needs to look at updating the district's camera system in the near future.

"We need to take some time and design a system that's going to be best for the school. This digital technology is improving so fast, every day you are going to be able to get something better than you could the day before," he said.