Nicholas pounds gavel for the final time; Bakken votes against higher pay in modified Wahouske contract.

    With no citizens attending the Crookston School Board's truth-in-taxation hearing, sandwiched into its final meeting of the year on Monday, the board swiftly certified the levy payable in 2013.

    The levy was approved at $3,355,510, a 2.1 percent increase over 2012. According to an informational packet provided by Business Manager Laura Lyczewski, this will bring an estimated $67,000 more to the district. The district's total proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year is approximately $15 million.

    This levy increase is the lowest in recent history. While the 2012 payable levy showed a significant bump of 48.5 percent due to voter-approved referendums, the two previous years had increases of 6.6 and 7.4 percent.

    Board Chair Nick Nicholas pounded the gavel for the last time, ready to step into outgoing Polk County Commissioner Bill Montague's shoes in January. Board members thanked Nicholas for his 10 years of service to the school district and wished him well in his new adventure.

    "I have really enjoyed working with all of you," he said. "A lot has happened in 10 years and I feel that we've accomplished a great deal, this board and previous configurations. The experience has been invaluable."

Personnel matters
    Several personnel-related items on the agenda were approved, as Superintendent Chris Bates said the district was "trying to get up to date on some of our employment contracts that had fallen behind." These include:

    • A new bus driver contract includes a bump in pay of $4 an hour, which Bates said they hope will make the jobs more enticing. Some of the job requirements, including an annual physical and work schedules – two hours in the morning and after school for regular drivers, nights and weekends for extracurricular transports – make it difficult to attract qualified applicants.

    "We felt the need to align this with other districts in our area, to be competitive," he explained. "It's really been a challenge to get substitute drivers. Even at $4 more, it's still about a dollar below the area average, about $13.61 an hour."

    • Larry Anderson, longtime math teacher at Highland, submitted his final retirement date as Jan. 21.

    • An employment agreement with Jackie Robertson, chemical dependency counselor for the district, was approved to cover an 18-month period that began Sept. 6 and ends in June 2014. Her pay per hour through the end of December is $27.33, going up to $28.15 Jan. 1. The contract includes  1,204 hours per school year. As an independent contractor, Robertson does not receive benefits from the district and must carry liability insurance.

    • Language in the administrative assistants' contract was cleaned up to better reflect their duties, with more technology coming into play, said Bates. A separate employment contract for Marilyn Wahouske, district office coordinator, was also approved, as the position has different components to it, including more confidentiality issues and web tasks.

    Keith Bakken opposed the latter contract, voicing concern over Wahouske's level of pay being significantly higher than her work experience with the district would place her.

    "I feel it's bad strategy to do this, and I am concerned about setting a precedent here," he said.
    In defending the wage level, Nicholas said Wahouske's extensive duties and qualifications warrant the higher pay.

    "It's not easy to step into that position, but she has done it well," he said.

    • The board approved hiring Jana Hodgson as the administrative assistant at Highland School to replace Robin Reitmeier, who is taking over for the retiring Debbie Hasbrouck at the high school. There were 16 applicants for the position, with seven interviewed.