Full-time preschool coming, Torgerson will be full-time assistant principal at CHS, a full-time music instructor will be hired, and retiring counselor Lutovsky's position won't be filled.

After a 4-2 vote in favor of the resolution at a special Crookston School Board meeting this week, when the 2020-21 school year opens in the fall, Crookston Public Schools will have full-time, five-day-per-week preschool, a full-time assistant principal at the high school, but one fewer school counselor at CHS.

Staffing-wise, the reconfiguration is cost-neutral in regard to the budget, Superintendent Jeremy Olson has said.

Board members Dave Davidson and Adrianne Winger voted against the proposal first brought to the board last month by Olson. At that meeting, the board voted in favor of Davidson’s request to table the matter until March so board members could research the matter further and get feedback from district residents. Davidson said in February and reiterated this week that he’s a big fan of expanding to full-time preschool and that he thinks it will make the school district better, but at the same time he thinks reducing the counseling staff at the high school could potentially have a negative impact.

“I support the idea of five-day preschool 110%. I think it’s one of the most important things we can do and we need to do it,” Davidson said at this week’s special meeting. “…But I’m still concerned about the counseling situation at the high school. I’m afraid we’ll make things way better on one hand and maybe make them worse on the other.”

Davidson said he wished there was a way the board could vote in favor of full-time preschool but put the CHS administrative reconfiguration on hold “for a while.” But the proposal put forth by Olson was an intertwined package, so there was no further discussion about breaking it into pieces for separate votes.

The reconfiguration seems to have been spurred by the retirement of longtime CHS counselor Ray Lutovsky, which the board accepted last month. Saying that Lutovsky is not a mental health professional and is more of an “academic” counselor who helps students with high school graduation readiness, testing issues and college preparation, Olson proposed to not fill Lutovsky’s position. Also at CHS, Matt Torgerson, who was once the full-time band instructor but then scaled back to part-time in that capacity so he could become part-time dean of students at CHS, would in the fall become a full-time assistant principal at the high school.

With Friday added as part of full-time preschool, teachers at Washington School would lose class prep time, so Olson’s proposal has a music elective would be added to the preschool schedule, giving their teachers time to prep while the children are in music class. As part of that schedule change, a full-time music instructor would be hired, which would split his/her time between preschool and the high school.

The proposal doesn’t alter the counseling presence at Washington, where a counselor focusing on mental health and emotional well-being visits the school on a part-time. At Highland School, there are just short of two full-time social workers on staff, working as part of a partnership with Northwestern Mental Health Center. At CHS, Leah Zimmerman in the fall will be the only counselor on staff.

“If this doesn’t work, we can add a counselor next year,” board chair Frank Fee said, adding that the board had minutes earlier approved a district-wide LED light replacement project, with RBB Electric submitting the winning bid. It will take barely a year to pay off the project cost, and from that point on the district will save $60,000 to $65,000 a year in electrical savings, through Otter Tail Power Company’s rebate program. “The LED savings alone, we could add a counselor next year if we have to,” Fee added. Then, referring to Zimmerman, who was in the audience at the meeting, Fee said it’s not anticipated that she will have a larger counseling workload next school year compared to now. Looking at Zimmerman, he said, “If you do, let us know.”

Davidson, also referring to the savings from the LED light replacement project, said Olson’s reconfiguration plan doesn’t have to be cost-neutral. “So what if we have to add a position if it makes us better, improves our school climate and makes the high school better?” he said.
Winger agreed. “Counseling is a huge issue all over,” she said. “There’s a lack of counseling everywhere.”

Board members who voted in favor expressed an openness to track the impact of the reconfiguration once it takes effect, and explore the hiring of an additional counselor if need be.
“I don’t think anyone on the board would be the least bit shy in looking at this again,” board member Mike Theis said. “We’d just need to come up with the money.”