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Paynesville Press - February 15, 2006

Board approves new attendance policy

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area School Board took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

*The board approved a new attendance policy. The policy, first read and discussed by the board in January, defines excused absences, unexcused absenses, and tardiness; defines administrator, teacher, parent, and student roles; and establishes make-up and appeals processes.

One significant change is setting a maximum absence rule, whereby a student cannot receive credit for a class with more than 12 absences in a semester without an appeal.

This rule was added to complement the exemplary attendance rule, which rewards students with perfect or near perfect attendance at the end of the year. The maximum absence rule is meant to deter absences in chronic cases, as without good reasons and a winning appeal they would have to retake the class to gain academic credit.

The new policy changes the definition of exemplary attendance slightly. Previously, exemplary attendance was anyone not missing more than one day per semester. This has been changed to no more than three days the entire year.

Students with perfect or exemplary attendance can still opt not to attend school the final two days of the year. The board voted 5-1 to keep this reward rather than changing it to all students must take the exams but the perfect and exemplary students would only have to count their scores if it improves their grade. Board member Deb Glenz backed this change.

The other board members, though, opted to continue with the current practice of allowing students with perfect or exemplary attendance to not come the final two days of school. (They can opt to take a test on the final two days and can still count the score only if it helps their grade.)

Board member Gretchen O'Fallon noted that not having to take these tests is especially a reward to students who are very diligent in their attendance but do not test well. Glenz suggested that other rewards could be given to students who have perfect or exemplary attendance, such as a certificate or having that listed on the diploma. Another deciding factor in allowing these students to miss the final two days of school is the atmosphere in the building. All the students are excited at the end of the year, teacher Deb Ficek told the board, and having fewer students - around 80 students last year had either perfect or exemplary attendance - really leads to fewer distractions. A concern was that forcing students to come to school, knowing that their test scores did not count, would lead to distractions.

Board chair Allen Schmidt said that if Paynesville really had final exams, meant to cover the entire year, he might reconsider and want all students to take the tests.

*The board heard a report from teacher Dawn Knoll, who is coordinating updating the school policy manual for her field experience in gaining her administration license. Knoll and the new policy committee will focus on mandated policies first. Of 27 mandated policies, the district has all but five. One, a wellness policy, is already in the process of being written. Others are: Disability Nondiscrimination Policy; Search of Student Lockers, Desks, Personal Possessions, and Student's Person; Bullying Prohibition Policy; and Student Disability Nondiscrimination.

The district typically starts with the model policy by the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) and then tailors the policy to the specific needs of the district.

Ideally, district policies could all be contained in one three-ring binder and posted online at the school district's website. Also, the district could begin a periodic reevaluation of these policies. The oldest policy that Knoll has found dates back to 1962.

In addition to mandated policies, the district also has optional policies in place.

*The board approved purchasing financial software for the district office from PMA. The price is $7,500 for 2006-07 and $6,000 each for the next two years, though the district could opt out of the contract.

The package also includes training and other financial consulting help. Superintendent Todd Burlingame said the office staff expects it to be very beneficial and would like to try it and then evaluate it next spring (2007).

Once information is inputed (such as pay scales, employee experience and training, enrollment, etc.) the software can run financial projections, even out a few years. The board frequently asks about the financial impact of their decisions in future years, and the district office staff hopes this tool will provide better answers.

The district has received a $76,000 settlement from Microsoft (from a class-action suit due to overcharges), Burlingame told the board. Of that 50 percent needs to be spent on software, for which this program would count. (The 50 percent for hardware will be used to help update the student computer labs.)

The district can spend $4,300 on this software from its debt service account (which has a surplus). With $1,200 from the Microsoft settlement, then it would only need $2,000 from other funds to purchase this program, Burlingame said.

*The board approved a leave of absence for the 2006-07 school year for elementary teacher Dave Randgaard, who also is on leave this year (2005-06).

*The board approved an employee assignment for Kim Johnson as a special education paraprofessional.

*The board heard reports about sixth grade winter camp from teacher Connie Wimmer and about the recent Spanish trip to Spain from teacher Dave Wilke.

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