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Split vote means Frazee will keep teachers

The Frazee-Vergas School District is keeping several probationary teachers after board members split the vote 3-3 on cutting them from the budget.

The school district held a special board meeting Monday evening to vote on the termination and non-renewal of five probationary teachers. They included Olivia Hoff, a full-time high school English teacher; Cody Geiser, full-time high school math teacher; Tom Johnson, full-time high school social studies teacher; Bardie Skojonsberg, full-time psychologist, and Jamie Nelson, who would be cutting back to a part-time high school counselor.

Board member Steve Jepson said he feels the window of opportunity for right-sizing has passed and now that enrollment is stabilized he can't support the cuts.

"I'm opposed to the resolution," board member Rich Zeigler agreed. "I don't think this is the right thing to do, it's not right for our students."

Board member Dwight Cook said the cuts are student driven in the sense that students chose the classes they want to take and whatever classes are too small need to be cut.

"We can't ensure anybody's jobs,' he said, also asking what Jepson and Zeigler's solutions were to the need for budget cuts if they wanted to keep the teachers.

"What would this person be doing every day," he questioned if some teachers are kept and class size don't warrant them.

Board member Nancy Dashner said the district "will slide into deficit spending" if the budget isn't cut and balanced at this point. She added that she doesn't want to cut any teachers either because they are good teachers, but cuts do have to be made.

"It's got to come from somewhere, folks," she said.

Zeigler suggested using money from the passed referendum to pay for the teachers, but board chair Dana Laine said the district promised the money would be spent on technology, buildings and new books.

"This is where we have a disagreement," Zeigler said. "It doesn't mean I'm right and you're wrong or I'm wrong and you're right."

Laine said that the board had given the administration team the task of making cuts -- "they do it every year" -- and if the administration advises cutting the teachers and yet it still gives kids their electives, she said she doesn't understand the problem.

"We have to make these dollars last and be efficient," she said.

Cook agreed, saying it was the board that directed Stender and the rest of the administration team to find where cuts should be made, so the entire board is to blame, not Stender.

When it came time to vote, Jepson, Zeigler and Keith Janu voted against the cuts, while Laine, Cook and Dashner voted in favor of them. Although Janu didn't speak at Monday night's meeting, he said at a previous board meeting that he didn't feel it was right to cut the core subject teachers.

The resolutions to cut Hoff (English), Geiser (math) and Johnson (social studies) failed for lack of a majority vote.

The vote to cut Skjonsberg (psychologist) passed unanimously because someone with seniority had taken a leave of absence and is requesting to come back, therefore bumping Skjonsberg.

The resolution to cut Nelson (counselor) back to part-time passed as well. Nelson has worked as a full-time counselor, but with two counselors on staff, principal Brian Koslofsky said they were doing extra work to fulfill their full-time status like lunch duty and classroom teaching.

Jepson voted against the resolution to cut Nelson to part-time, and after a long pause, Zeigler abstained from the vote. An abstention vote is recorded as that, but is counted with the majority, making the motion pass 5-1.

A resolution to place school psychologist Linda Dissmore on part-time unrequested leave of absence also passed.

Special education Director Marcy Matson said she did an analysis of how many school psychologists other school districts along the Highway 10 corridor have, and decided that with the Frazee caseload, ".5 is really in the ballpark for what the Highway 10 corridor schools are doing."

Zeigler voted against the resolution, which passed 5-1.

Earlier in the day, the board held two closed meetings. One was to discuss the district's action on the Steve Montplaisir non-renewal. Montplaisir, a special ed teacher, says he had tenure at the district and shouldn't have been cut, while the district says since he was the last one hired, he should be the first to go.

"We will stay on course with that," Laine said, giving a brief synopsis of the closed session.

The second closed session was discussion on whether or not to take disciplinary action against Stender for commenting on The Forum Web site about a story done on Montplaisir.

After a role call vote in closed session, "no discipline was warranted," Laine reported.