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Verndale School Board approves equipment, discusses policies

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In December, the Verndale School Board approved most of the bids for a $5.8 million school addition and remodeling project, scheduled to open next fall, which will include a new gym, locker rooms, science rooms, administrative office and storage space.

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Of the nearly three dozens bids, it rejected two - for food service equipment and tilework - deemed too costly.

At its monthly meeting Monday, the board approved food service equipment for the concession stand, leaving tilework as the lone unresolved bid. It also accepted a quote for the new gym's audio system from Stromberg Technologies of Wadena.

"This is a really nice sound system," said board member Bill Blaha before the unanimous vote on the $15,500 project.

Blaha told the board that Stromberg has indicated "there's room to save a few more dollars."

Culinex, a Sartell-based company Verndale schools has worked with in the past, submitted the low bid of just over $6,200 for food service equipment in the new concession stand. That's more than $2,700 lower than the rejected December bid.

Given the limited food preparation at the stand (pizza, hot dogs, nachos, etc.), several board members questioned whether a separate hand-washing sink was necessary in addition to the other three sinks, one each for washing, rinsing and sanitizing. Eliminating the fourth sink, they reasoned, would reduce cost and increase food preparation space.

Before unanimously approving the bid, they directed Superintendent Paul Brownlow to talk to the county health inspector about what's required by law.

In other business, the board:

• Modified this year's school schedule to make up for the Jan. 27 cancellation for extreme cold. Students will have school April 17, the Thursday before Easter originally slated for teacher workshops. The board moved workshops to June 2, but is allowing teachers the option of completing the obligation through professional learning communities outside of contract hours. The Jan. 6 school day canceled for extreme cold was already made up on Jan. 21, another scheduled workshop day. Nearly all teachers have completed eight hours of professional learning community time to make up for lost workshop time.

• Approved the first of three readings for 10 district policies, most of which pertained to school board operations and procedures. Only one policy, concerning the use of epinephrine autoinjectors (commonly known as epi pens), generated notable discussion. The policy, which was prompted by a 2013 Minnesota statute, would make it possible for schools to maintain supplies of epinephrine, used to treat allergic anaphylaxis mainly from bee stings, on hand for emergencies. Previously, the drug required a prescription to be used. "It more or less becomes part of the first aid kit," Brownlow said. He said about eight Verndale students have a prescription and health aide staff makes sure it is available to them, but the new policy would allow the drug to be used in students not previously identified as allergic to bees. The policy would absolve the district and its employees from liability "for any act, or failure to act, made in good faith," when it comes to administering epinephrine. Board members and Brownlow agreed the superintendent should talk to the district's attorney, Dan Carlisle, to determine the scope of the policy before second reading.

• Hired Shawna Poncelet to fill the vacant speech coach position. "Mrs. Poncelet has prior experience and knowledge regarding this activity," wrote Brownlow in his recommendation letter to the board. "This will serve our students and school district very well." She will begin immediately.

• Discussed how the district will implement the Affordable Care Act. Despite paying Eide Bailly $3,500, Brownlow said the district has yet to get clear direction on what it needs to do regarding health-care for employees who work 32.5 hours a week. "It's still a mess," he said. Board members talked about the issue and consulting options without taking any action.

In his report to the board, Principal Tom Riitters reported that two Verndale employees, math teacher Sheri Brewer and social studies teacher Sam Schmitz were among 128 throughout the state who accepted nominations for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Riitters called the women "two very deserving people in our district."

He noted they are not competing against each other at the local level, but rather are among the statewide finalists.

During his report, Brownlow said construction on the school addition is two weeks behind schedule, but contractors "hope to make the time up once they get the building enclosed."

He also noted the latest enrollment numbers, which show Verndale schools with 505 students. That's nine more than the beginning of the school year.

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