A newly approved early retirement program could save the Mabel-Canton School District more than $58,000 over the next three years.

At Tuesday's meeting of the Mabel-Canton School Board, Superintendent Michael Moriarty said the Education Association had approached him several weeks ago about offering an early retirement incentive in the district this year.

"When I talked to the group, I did not think it was worthwhile for the district to do this for one person. They indicated there will be at least three people if the board is willing to approve this," said Moriarty.

Moriarty explained the criteria for early retirement included certified, licensed employees who are at least 55 years of age and have worked in the district for at least eight years.

"There are four teachers eligible to retire. If all four of them did so, it would save the district $58,518 over the next three years. If three take retirement, it would be $48,536," said Moriarty.

Moriarty added while he is not always in favor of such things, "this one makes sense because it allows us to make some moves to probably better our curriculum as we moved forward down the road."

He said the initial cost to the district is $22,000, but it will save the district $48,000. Retirees will be paid health care benefits, in the form of a contribution to a health savings account for the next three years.

The Board unanimously passed a memorandum of understanding on a motion from board members Cristal Adkins and Chris Loppnow.

Those eligible had until Monday, April 1, to submit their request for the program.

In other personnel matters, the board approved a .3 full-time equivalent superintendent contract for Jennifer Backer.

Backer will be paid $30,000 per year of the two-year contract.

Senior request

The board approved a request from seniors Christy Welscher and Kristina Mengis to allow the senior class to end its school year early.

The students promised the class would come Tuesday of the final week of school for awards and graduation practice and would not have a senior skip day.

Budget amendment

The board also approved the district's revised budget as presented.

The previous budget passed by the board had a negative spending amount of $64,680.

Moriarty said the district has had some unexpected expenses, such as some boiler expenses and building repairs.

The new budget shows a spending deficit of $69,479. It passed on a motion from board members Mark Weidemann and Jane Hall.

School calendar

In other matters, the board approved the school calendar for next year.

There will be two late starts per month, where school will begin at 9:10 a.m. to provide for teacher professional development time.

"We're actually going to end up with 176 student contact days while actual teacher days stay the same at 184," said Moriarty. "The state is requiring districts to do a more consistent job of staff development."

He said Spring Grove is practicing a similar schedule now and several more area districts are transitioning to this type of schedule next year.

The first day of school is Sept. 3, 2013, and the last day is May 20, 2014.

The only change could come if the teachers take an additional day off for a SEMLAC staff development day.

In a related matter, the board discussed the need for making up snow days for this school year.

"We have run out of luck this year," said Moriarty, adding the district has had six snow days, three more than allowed in the calendar.

Moriarty said because the district has an earlier start time (8:10 a.m.) than other districts, they still meet the requirements for total number of school hours in a school year without making up the days.

The board approved changing a half-day of school on April 19 to a full day, and otherwise leaving the calendar as is.

Business services contract

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

In December, the board approved a three-year contract with SMS after a presentation by Todd Metzke, who has worked in school finance since 1998. Metzke formed SMS in 2006. A certified public accountant, Metzke has a staff of 15, which serves 27 districts statewide.

SMS will be paid $54,000 a year for three years, with the option of revisiting the agreement after six months, a year and each year after.

Metzke intends to have a representative in the district office on a part-time basis most days of the week. He will also spend one to one and one-half days per week in the district himself.

The board also approved a two-year contract for school audit services for Smith, Schafer and Associates of Edina.

The district has been using the firm for a number of years and has "been quite pleased with their service," according to Moriarty.

They will be paid $11,100 the first year and $11,400 the second year of the two-year contract.

Field experience

The board also approved a field experience contract with Luther College to allow teachers in training to gain real-world experience in the district.

"It serves them well and it gives them a place to place their students so they can get some experience. As teachers and administrators, we owe it to those who come behind us to help them get their feet wet," said Moriarty.

In a related matter, the board also approved a long-term substitute contract for Amanda Wiger of Decorah.

Missed opportunity

Near the end of the meeting, Board Chair Mary Pat Kuhn said she had received numerous concerns about the lack of publicity the annual turkey dinner, held last Sunday, had received.

The event is an annual fundraiser for the senior class trip to Washington, D.C.

"I received a lot of complaints after the turkey dinner that no one knew about it ... It's a big fundraiser and it's important," said Kuhn.

Loppnow said she doesn't think the students are taking the responsibility for promoting it like they used to.

"There has to be follow-up beyond the children," said Kuhn. "I'm putting this out there for the public to know we're discussing it."

Loppnow added the dinner "isn't just a school dinner, it's a community dinner."

Kuhn added tickets to the dinner should be the "easiest ticket to sell. Everyone loves turkey dinners."

She said the students used to have ticket-selling "territories" and turned it into an informal contest.

"There's only 21 kids in the class and not all of them would do it," said teacher Susie Monroe.

Kuhn added even if the students don't go door-to-door selling tickets, there should be some advertising done in the local media and on the sign on the edge of town.

"I don't think the kids understand these people are paying their way to go," added Kuhn.

"There are people who will come whether a kid comes to their door or not, but at least if its in the paper, they have the option to go ... I want the community to know we're addressing this issue, not ignoring it," she said.