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District 518 joins Big South Conference

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WORTHINGTON — It’s official: District 518 is now part of the Big South Conference.

At its regular November meeting last night in the Worthington High School (WHS) Media Center, the District 518 Board of Directors unanimously approved withdrawal from the Southwest Conference and membership in the Big South Conference, effective with the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

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“It resulted because of a struggle with scheduling, especially for football and hockey,” Superintendent John Landgaard said. “This will also help us for soccer.

“There are some hindrances, but that’s part of the give and take of the whole process, and it solves a lot of things for us. Mostly, it creates a lot of win-win for our kids.”

The Big South Conference will be comprised of 13 schools from the previous Southwest Conference (six area schools plus Worthington) and the South Central Conference (Blue Earth, Waseca, Fairmont, St. James, New Ulm and St. Peter).

“Our mileage increases slightly for travel within the conference, but not a great deal,” said Landgaard.

Other notable action at the meeting included approval of the District Improvement Plan, approval of the WHS Trojan Marching Band’s request for a band trip to Florida from Dec. 26, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015, and a nod for salary adjustments for District 518 technology personnel.

“In this job market, it’s very hard to find skilled people for these technical positions,” explained Landgaard. “A year ago, we approved an additional technology position, but then one person left and we really struggled to hire people for those positions.

“We found our salaries in the tech area were too low.”

As a result, current technology staff will see a 10 percent salary increase and adjustment for the period from Jan. 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. For the 2015-16 school year, technology staff will receive an additional 2.86 percent increase in salary and benefits.

Additionally, Alternative Learning Center (ALC) Principal Nate Hanson (who also coordinates the district’s EDGE and VIBE programs) reported on his areas of supervision.

“We have high numbers at the ALC right now—we’re around 100, and previously we had between 60 and 75 students,” said Hanson. “We could have 30 graduates next spring, which would also be high.

“Things have been going very well.”

The online school Hanson oversees has close to 40 students enrolled overall.

“If they aren’t maintaining at least a ‘C’ grade point average, they have to come in to the ALC computer lab for help, and students must log on for at least an hour a day for each class they’re taking,” Hanson explained.

As part of the discussion surrounding the recent failed votes on the operating levy and bond referendum, Landgaard shared that District 518 enrollment figures continue to climb.

“Our enrollment update shows Prairie Elementary now at 1,174, Worthington Middle School at 770, Worthington High School at 763 and the ALC at 103,” reported Landgaard.

“Projected enrollment — which is usually conservative — for the 2014-15 school year show 1,186 for Prairie, 820 at WMS and 812 at WHS,” he added. “That’s due to smaller classes going out and bigger classes coming in.”

Despite the high student count and expected space crunch, the District 518 board members cautioned against an immediate return to a vote on the building bond issue as they weighed in with their perspectives on the special election.

“I want to note that our operating referendum was one of only a very few in the state that did not pass,” said board chair Linden Olson.

Said board member Brad Shaffer, “We threw too much at voters at one time, and we need to focus on what is most important. I personally don’t think we spent enough time explaining things to the public.

“They just saw ‘This will increase your taxes’ on the ballot, so we need to regroup, listen to the voters and decide where our priorities are.”

Added board member Joel Lorenz, “We need to pass the operating levy by itself, because it’s very unlikely both questions will pass at the same time.

“In the past, we listed specific, direct cuts we would have to make if the referendum didn’t pass, and we need to do that again so the people can decide if they want to keep those programs or not.”

Contributed board member Steve Schnieder, “Our top priority has to be the operating referendum. It needs our full attention.

“It will cost taxpayers no more, will actually save them money and will get the district more dollars from the state.”

The board is weighing the option of pursuing a mail ballot for the operating levy question versus putting the question before the voters again next November.

“The current excess levy amount is in place through Dec. 31, 2014,” said Olson.

All other agendas, minutes and items brought before the board received unanimous approval.

Besides the seven adult board members, a new WHS student representative to the District 518 school board, sophomore Quinn Bents, was welcomed to the table Tuesday night.

In addition, WHS student Brighid Hegarty was commended for an independent study project she conducted under the supervision of advisor John Singler. Hegarty researched what type of addition to WHS would be the best.

Finally, as part of Landgaard’s report, he presented to the board a plaque recognizing District 518’s MCA accreditation for the coming five years.

The next regular meeting of the District 518 board is set for 5:15 p.m. Dec. 17 in the WHS media center.

For more information about recent proceedings of the District 518 board of directors, visit www.isd518.net/schoolboard.

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