Pipestone residents voice school concerns

PIPESTONE -- There were more questions than answers at the District 2689 Board of Education meeting Monday evening, and that's exactly what the board wanted.

PIPESTONE -- There were more questions than answers at the District 2689 Board of Education meeting Monday evening, and that's exactly what the board wanted.

The meeting was a listening meeting. Members of the public were allowed to ask the school board any questions they had about the school's operation. Answers to the questions will be provided in the form of a booklet and posted on the school's Web site at a later date, as soon as information can be compiled.

Questions covered a wide range of topics, from the district's staff policies to its bussing policies to the school's all-day, every day kindergarten program.

"I've read in several articles and studies that students who repeat a grade level have a higher chance of dropping out of school," said Sandi Steinhoff-Muller of Pipestone. "How many students have been retained at each grade level at Pipestone Area Schools in the past five years? What specifically are we doing to prevent students from having to repeat?"

Like others who asked questions, Steinhoff-Muller will have to wait for her answer. PAS Superintendent Jim Lentz said he was not sure when the booklet would be completed.


School officials have their work cut out for them: Although roughly 20 people attended the meeting, each person was allowed to ask a total of 20 questions, in sets of 10 at a time.

Heather Heidebrink just wanted to know if the all-day kindergarten program was in danger of being cut.

Pipestone resident Bridget Benz also wanted to know whether all-day K was on the chopping block. Benz had actually already open-enrolled her son in another district because the deadline had passed, and she wasn't sure whether Pipestone's all-day, every day program would continue.

"I'm still waiting -- waiting to see what we're going to do with our education here," Stout said ruefully after she told the board she "probably never would have chosen open enrollment" if all-day K in Pipestone was a certainty.

Diane Johnson wanted to know the exact amount of the budget cuts the district would be looking at for the 2007-2008 school year.

Michelle Niehus asked the school to be more informative the next time it asks for an operating levy so that taxpayers would know exactly what they'd be getting for their money and what programs would be endangered without it.

Steinhoff-Muller and Val Carmody both praised the school for its electives and stated they hoped high-schoolers would still have plenty of selection after the budget cuts.

One woman, Joan Stout, asked her 20 questions and turned in several sheets of paper filled with other questions, some from other members of the community who had not attended the meeting.


Stout's list of questions included several about staff policies: Does the district have a nepotism policy? Why don't all school employees punch in and out on the timeclocks? How much time does the staff have for a lunch break? What is the policy on work attire for PAS employees? Do we have a cell phone policy for staff?

The listening meeting, the first of its kind in Pipestone, was inspired by an Anoka school district that wanted public input prior to asking its taxpayers for an operating levy. Pipestone's attempt to pass an operating levy was unsuccessful at the polls in November, and the school will likely try again this year.

"If that doesn't pass, we'll probably have to make a huge round of cuts like we did last year," Lentz said.

Last year, nearly $1 million was sliced from the PAS budget. More cuts are projected for 2007-2008, thanks to declining enrollment, flat funding from the state that didn't compensate for inflation and the lack of special education funding from the state and federal government.

The school may have to spend down a portion of its fund balance in order to lessen the impact on students. The state recommends that each school have a fund balance large enough to keep the school running for several months without income from the state.

PAS has not yet finished its budgeting process for the coming school year and hopes to get input from the public about what cuts would impact students the least.

"Everything is important to someone," said board chairman Sue Kollmann. "Any ideas on what you want to have cut?"

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