A new set of K-6 playground equipment approved on Oct. 15 is already up and ready to go, Spring Grove Superintendent Rachel Udstuen told school board members on Nov. 19.

Originally slated for installation next spring, the equipment had barely arrived when helpers showed up to get the ball rolling, Udstuen said.

"We had some great crews coming in last week," she said, "it was an awful lot of fun."

The job required exact placement of 48 holes, assembly of the components and preparations for the arrival of ready mix trucks.

Beginning on Nov. 15, workers set their sights on getting the playground up in record time. Ready mix trucks poured footings around the new features as elementary kids lined up to watch on their recess break on Monday.

"We have some of the most patient, well-behaved kids under the sun," Udstuen said with a smile, "because they were out on the playground but they could not touch, which is pretty tough."

Udstuen said that the final landscaping details would probably be complete before Thanksgiving, leaving the new set ready for kids no later than Monday.

Kjome to retire after 37 years

Board members voted to accept the retirement of Dan Kjome. "I knew it was coming," Udstuen said, "But I didn't get the retirement letter until this morning."

Kjome has worked for the district for 37 and three-quarters years.

"He would like to be done by the end of this year," Udstuen said. "But there needs to be some transition time.

"I wish him the very best. This is bittersweet for him because he has been here for a very long time. I know everyone in the community knows how very valuable he is to us. He is going to be missed."

Kjome will be joining the Houston County board of commissioners in 2013 as the new representative from District 5.

Healthy snack machine allowed

The board voted later in the meeting to buy a "healthy snack" vending machine for the high school building. The new unit will be placed about where an old pop machine was removed from the building, Udstuen said later.

It will cost the district $5,778, including setup and delivery, training for attendants, a 15-month warranty and lifetime technical support.

The machine will be stocked with low-fat, low-sugar treats and may offer bottled water.

Principal gives report

Principal Nancy Gulbranson reported that fall parent/teacher conferences brought in 85 percent of the district's parents.

"I think that's good... I think it's wonderful," Gulbranson said. "We sometimes take for granted that this is normal for us. In a lot of buildings it's not."

Gulbranson also explained the upcoming process of state testing from ninth grade on.

"They need to take these MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) tests in order to receive their diploma," she said.

Early childhood screenings brought in 18 families with only six prospective students whose families did not participate, Gulbranson said.

Funding trends reviewed

Citing a report from the Minnesota Rural Education Association, Udstuen reported that education funding in Minnesota has fallen 17 percent in the last 17 years.

The data for that study originates from the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget and measures funding for education as a percentage of total personal income.

In 2013 dollars, Minnesota schools are now getting $2.1 billion less than they would have if personal income and school funding had advanced at an equal rate, the study claims.

The outlook for increased money for schools may have been influenced by recent elections, Udstuen noted.

One representative of a superintendents association said "We're kind of able to get off the defense and start to kind of push our agenda," she told board members.

"I will be serving on a committee with about four other superintendents getting ready for a February forum with legislators," Udstuen reported.

Other matters from the board

The board approved the first reading of "Policy 704," which addresses the development and maintenance of an inventory of fixed assets and a fixed asset accounting system.

The revision comes at the request of the Hiawatha Valley Education District for the purposes of the Special Education audit.

Members approved an early start for their Monday, Dec. 17, meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.