At their Feb. 26 meeting, Independent School District #297 members finalized this school year's retirement incentive program.

The board had held a work session on Jan. 30 to look at what changes they wanted to make from previous offerings.

The district is under no obligation to offer such a program, explained Superintendent Rachel Udstuen, but after an initial interest from three teachers, members felt it was worthwhile to offer the program again this year.

Board member Eric Bjerke explained, "It is always beneficial (to the district) to make an offer. There is usually a big difference in retiring teacher (wages) and hiring new teachers."

He added that the district needs at least three retirements to see the most savings (on average), although it was pointed out that every retirement scenario is different depending upon the particular lane that the retiring teacher is in.

After a request by Udstuen, to gauge faculty's interest, three teachers - Bill Fried (33 years of teaching), Karen Stenhoff (25) and Laurie Moen (35) - expressed interest in further exploring the retirement option.

Udstuen had asked for the initial level of interest to help the board decide if they wanted to offer an incentive program this year.

Only staff members that were at least 55 years in age (but less than 65) as of June 30 and been with the district at least 15 years (full-time equivalent) were eligible to apply.

After much discussion, the board agreed to offer the following plan:

• If three teachers accept the incentive plan, all three will receive up to 36 months of medical insurance coverage;

• If two teachers accept the incentive plan, they will both receive up to 30 months of insurance coverage; or

• If only one teacher accepts the plan, he or she will receive up to 24 months of coverage.

Since it is unknown how "Obamacare" will affect premiums in the future, the agreement has a cap of $537/month for medical insurance premium with the retiree expected to pay the difference if it should rise above that amount. But it also states the employee may not collect the difference if the premium drops below that amount.

Teachers had until March 8 to submit their resignation effective the end of the school year, to take advantage of the program.

Udtsuen said the document would then go to the Spring Grove Education Association (local teachers' union) and RVEA (River Valley Education Association) for their approval.

If any of the three teachers take the offer, the resignation and application for retirement incentive program would need to be approved at the board's next meeting in March.

Other personnel matters

Based upon recommendation by Superintendent Udstuen, the board unanimously approved hiring Erin Gjere as a long-term sub/co-teacher in elementary special education to help with the large student caseload Mrs. Snell has this spring. Gjere's position will increase by .167 to .29 full-time equivalent.

A closed session to evaluate the superintendent was held after the regular portion of the meeting. A synopsis of that evaluation will be released at the March 18 regular meeting.

Open enrollment approved

The board approved an open enrollment request for incoming kindergartener Ashlyn Vickerman from the Mabel-Canton School District for the fall of 2012.

Board sets 2013-14 calendar

The board approved the 2013-14 school calendar upon recommendation from administration. "Graduation will be on Sunday, June 1 (2014), and the final student day will be Tuesday, June 3," Udstuen pointed out.

The calendar remains with a start date after Sept. 1 as required by law in Minnesota. In addition, it allows for a slightly longer Winter Break (Dec. 21 through Jan. 1) and shorter spring break (April 17 - 21).

Udstuen explained that this year several parents had asked for consideration of a longer spring break in the district.

She said that many staff and students like getting out earlier in June. "This calendar is based on a majority of staff recommending it."

Truancy always a concern

Principal Nancy Gulbranson discussed the school's ongoing truancy policy (as outlined in the district's handbook) and how she and staff work with parents whenever possible to keep students from reaching that point.

"If a child has missed 10 days of school, the parents get a letter," Gulbranson explained. With so much illness this year, a few more students than usual have hit that threshold.

Missing 12-14 days will require a series of meetings between parents, student and administration to come up with a corrective action plan.

Once a student has missed more than 14 days (with unexcused absences) "the difficult conversation has to be had." Houston County Social Services must be brought in for cases of continuing truancy, she explained.

"Our school is always ready to serve," she pointed out. "We have a very good track record overall with 96-98% general attendance."