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Verndale board tackles heavy agenda

Verndale - A busy District 818 board approved or tabled 20 items of new business June 25 as they cleared their summer calendar until mid-August.

With some summer projects in the school under way and more to come, the board will not be meeting again until Aug. 17, three days after a vote is scheduled for a $3.995 million building bond referendum.

Verndale Superintendent Paul Brownlow has plans to provide district residents with an informational brochure and arrange for meetings, prior to the Aug. 14 vote.

Approval of the plan will place a 20,560-square foot addition on the west side of the existing K-12 school. In addition to a new gymnasium, with seating for 900, the addition would include locker rooms, storage space, a concessions area and separate rooms for band and choir. Funding for the addition would be based on a 20-year plan. Existing rooms within the Verndale school would be remodeled as the new rooms became available for use.

Additionally, lunch prices will increase 10 cents next fall, as directed by the United States Department of Agriculture. An elementary student will pay $1.60 for lunch, a secondary student will pay $1.75 and adults will pay $3.30. Reduced lunch prices will continue to be 40 cents.

Breakfast and milk prices will remain the same as they have been the past two school years.

The board gave a green light to join the Wadena Food Buying Group. The cost of participating is $100 per year. The group consists of Wadena-Deer Creek, Staples-Motley, Bertha-Hewitt, Park Rapids and Sebeka. Brownlow recommended the action due to the bid response from its prime food vendors. Belonging to a food buying group gives each school more buying power.

According to Wadena-Deer Creek Food Services Coordinator Sandie Rentz, the food buying group will deal with Roma for the first time this year on a five-year contract.

"We're very excited," Rentz said. "It's a learning curve for all of us, but it's very beneficial."

Three of the four food vendors who gave RFP bids to the Wadena group had shipping costs that exceeded $1 per case. Roma came in with a bid of 86 cents per case.

"The big reason why we're going with that Wadena Food Buying Group is the difference in shipping," Brownlow said. "Each little dollar amount matters to me."

New activity admission prices were also approved. Student and adult season passes will both go up $5. Students will pay $15 for a season pass and adults will pay $40. Also, district residents older than 62 will maintain free admission.

"We're well below the season pass charges of surrounding districts," Brownlow informed the board. "Also, we don't have an activity fee."

Additionally, the board approved the resignations of literacy interventionist Gena Sperling and girls' track and field coach Dale Finck. They hired Emilie Kalvig to fill the vacant math teacher/interventionist position.

Secondary Principal Tom Riitters pointed out the need for a revision of the 2012-2013 student handbook to address the practice of "rigging" lockers. A majority of secondary students "rig" their lockers with a pen cap so they do not have to open them each time with their combination lock. While it saves students a step, it also gives others access to their lockers.

"My first question when someone says something (is) missing from their locker, is always 'was it locked?'" Riitters said.

Other business revealed that the freshman class will be starting an iPad pilot program this fall, and each of the small computers will have to be safeguarded.

"When you get more technology in the building, you have to have the framework in place," Riitters said.

Looking to the future, Brownlow is projecting a student enrollment of 475 students for the coming year. Last year's budget was based on 477 students.

The board also discussed the school's asbestos abatement project, which is slated to begin July 9. Asbestos tiles will be removed in high school rooms on the northwest side of the building, in the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) room and the cafeteria.

Another summer project could be the installation of new lighting in the main gymnasium. The board gave approval for the expenditure of up to $8,517 - the highest bid submitted - for the removal and replacement of 24 metal halide fixtures in the main gym, once a fair comparison of bids could be established. That task will be undertaken by Brownlow and the building and grounds committee, which includes Jeremy Schwartz, Tony Glenz and Scott Veronen.