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School board moves quickly to identify, strive for 'visioning' goals

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Morris Area School Board will act quickly to achieve goals identified during "visioning" sessions with school officials and community members this winter.

The board on Monday agreed to meet with staff to review the list of priorities, and then will form "priority committees" consisting of district residents, board and staff members by April 1. The committees will develop goal work plans and begin formulating specific action items, with the ultimate goal of making Morris Area the top school district in Western Minnesota based on academics, extra-curricular involvement, pride and community support.

The district's top priorities are accountability at all levels, increasing community partnerships, increasing participation in co- and extra-curricular activities, increase trust and communication, prepare students for future success and develop a long-term financial plan with the community.

The committees are expected to review their progress with the school board in April, again review information with staff, finalize work plans in a second April meeting and present them to the full school board in May.

Work will continue over the summer and will include a monthly review. A strategic plan is scheduled to be in place to start the 2008-2009 school year.

In other board business:

• The board received an enrollment update from Superintendent Scott Monson. District enrollment has increased one student since the beginning of the year. Last month, Monson presented early enrollment and budget figures that indicate the district can expect a deficit of about $88,000 for fiscal year 2009.

Total revenue is projected to be $8,268,492 with projected expenditures at $8,356,390.

Enrollment decreases this year haven't been as prominent as has been the norm in previous years. Should those figures remain relatively stable, the budget process may not be as onerous as in the past.

In the last three years, the Morris Area board has approved almost $1.4 million in cuts to erase deficits due mostly to stagnant state funding, rising costs and declining enrollment.

• The board approved a proposal for block offerings in 7th and 8th grade that would reinstate industrial technology and agriculture classes in those grades.

Now, art, FACS, Spanish and speech are offered in 7th grade and meet for one quarter. In eighth grade, the offerings are art, business, FACS and Spanish.

The new block offerings would add industrial technology to the 7th grade classes, and agriculture to the 8th grade offerings.

The five courses in each grade would be offered in seven-week schedules.

While introducing the plan last month, MAHS Principal Mike Coquyt said the offerings would expose students to the industrial tech and ag fields earlier and might lead to increased interest and possibly career paths.

• The board accepted a letter from teacher Francie Turner stating she intended to retire May 31.

• Coquyt and Morris Area Elementary School principal Brad Korn presented a letter initiating negotiations for contracts covering the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. Korn and Coquyt are members of the Morris Area Principals Association.

• The board met in closed session to discuss strategy in contract negotiations with the Education Minnesota Morris Area Support Staff (EM-MASS) union. The district and EM-MASS are in mediation.

• The board approved the district's 2008-2009 school schedule. The most significant change will be scheduling parent-teacher conferences from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during Nov. 4, Nov. 6, Nov. 10 and March 30.

The board agreed to try the time change, but noted that it could present conflicts for parents who work evening hours and teachers who coach sports or other activities.

But, Coquyt said, "staff will go out of their way to meet with parents if they're not available at those times."

District students and staff will have full days off Oct. 16-17 during Education Minnesota conferences; Nov. 27-28 for Thanksgiving; February 16; March 20; April 10 and April 13; and May 25. The Christmas vacation period begins following classes on Dec. 19 and classes resume Jan. 5.