WORTHINGTON — During Tuesday's regular meeting of the Independent School District 518 Board of Education, board members recognized the district's teachers who have newly reached the designation of tenure.
"This is not how we like to do it," said board chair Brad Shaffer, referring to the Zoom platform. "We like to hand them their awards and shake hands."
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic has made face-to-face board meetings impossible, newly tenured teachers were invited to join the meeting virtually to hear their names read.
The complete list of newly tenured teachers is as follows: Austin Bauer, Zachary Brandt, Rebekah Campbell, Lori Dierks, Ashley Doeden, Kayla Cowan, Sherry Gaalswyk, Kelsey Hartzler, Brooke Hermsen, Casey Hertz, Taylor Huwe, Katelyn Lee, Jeremiah LeTourneau, Quan Loi, Elizabeth Lowry, Tammy Markus, Dana Motschenbacher, Nhi Nguyen, Lisa Nissen, Rachel Peters, Kelsey Robling, Kirsten Sinnamon, Katherine Spurgin, Anazthasya Standafer, Maria Thier, Rebecca Tims, Alissa Utesch, Tanner Utesch and Emilia Witthuhn.
"Thanks for being part of our community," Shaffer told the teachers. "You are truly appreciated."
While the board was unanimous in its praise for District 518 educators, members were divided on another matter. Superintendent John Landgaard and other administrators have worked hard to negotiate new two-year contracts for certain district employees, and the salary and benefits increases needed board approval.
Board member Linden Olson expressed concern that with the state of Minnesota now projecting a budget deficit, perhaps it makes sense to wait to increase salaries until more information is known. Olson emphasized that his hesitance was not based on the performance or effectiveness of district employees, but "100% a matter of budget and what this district can afford going forward."
Board member Adam Blume agreed. "I'd like to see what the future holds.," he said. "I can't support a salary increase tonight."
Other board members saw the issue differently. Lori Dudley noted that in order to be fair, all district salaries would need to be frozen if the few in question were not approved.
Shaffer suggested a compromise of only approving increases for the coming year, then revisiting the next year after the state's budget is established. While open to the solution, Landgaard explained that he would need to go back to the employees and let them know about the change prior to a board vote.
Olson made a motion to table approving the salary increases until next month, giving Landgaard time to discuss a one-year option instead. However, the motion failed, and the board proceeded with the vote.
Board member Joel Lorenz advocated for approval of the salary increases.
"I don't agree with holding back now," he said. "We'll have to deal with next year's budget next year."
Board member Steve Schnieder said that in the interest of respect for district employees, he felt it was important to approve contracts before they expire. He noted that simply waiting a month or two to vote would likely not yield any additional information about state budget projections.
"We've worked hard to establish a fund balance," Shaffer said. "This is exactly the kind of thing it should be spent on."
When it came to a vote, the salary increases were approved 5-2, with Blume and Mike Harberts opposed.
In other benefits updates, Landgaard explained that due to COVID-19, many district employees have not been able to use their medical flex spending. There's normally a time limit regarding when those dollars may be spent, but the board unanimously approved allowing more flexibility given the circumstances.
The board approved revised dates Tuesday for the 2020 summer school program. Credit recovery will take place via distance learning June 8 through July 1, and targeted services (EDGE) will be from July 13-30 if face-to-face instruction is allowed then.
Landgaard explained that state statute requires targeted services to be offered in person, and under the circumstances the Minnesota Department of Education is allowing more hybrid instruction, with a mix of online and face-to-to-face meetings. MDE is requiring that for face-to-face sessions, there must be a maximum of nine students to one teacher, and class members must social distance.
Citing the impracticality of enforcing social distancing on a bus, for example, Landgaard said that offering targeted services may be too big a liability for the district, and as July 13 gets closer, he is likely to recommend cancelled the program this year.