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Seneca approves 2011-2012 contracts
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The Seneca School Board approved contracts at their meeting Monday night with the district’s professional and support staff, including a 1.6-percent raise for the 2011-2012 school year.

The board adopted the contracts, which had been negotiated earlier with the unions. The 1.6 percent raise was the maximum allowed by law under the budget repair act passed by the state legislature earlier this year. The contracts were adopted retroactively for the school year, which is set to expire on Friday, Aug. 31.

Later in the meeting, the board passed a change in the employee contribution for health insurance raising the contribution for full-time equivalent  teachers to 12 percent of the cost for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. That’s up from three percent in the previous year. The 12 percent contribution was also set out in the budget repair law passed by the state legislature last spring.

Board president Mark Johnson explained to new board member Carol Crusan and others that it had been the board’s intent to raise the contribution to a smaller percentage and move it up in increments year by year until the 12-percent increase was attained. However, a 10-percent increase in the cost of health insurance to the district this year had forced the board to move to 12-percent immediately.

Johnson pointed out that even increasing the staff contribution by nine percent still left the district absorbing one percent of the increase. 

In a related matter, the board agreed to raise the part-time bus driver’s contribution from 25 percent to 30 percent. There was some discussion among the board that the drivers should be moved up 10 percent to 35 percent like the teachers who saw their contribution go up nine percent. Howevder, some board members questioned whether that might so badly impact the drivers that the district might face experienced staff quitting.

Board member Shawn Lenzendorf moved to raise the drivers’ contributions by just five percent to 30 percent. It was seconded and passed.

A residential property owned by Bud Kramer that lies southwest of the school property on the northeast corner of Highway 27 and Taylor Ridge Road is on the market. The owner has offered the district a chance to bid on the property and the board took action at Monday night’s meeting to schedule a special meeting of district voters for Tuesday, Sept. 4. The sole purpose of that meeting will be to vote on whether to authorize the board to negotiate to buy the property.

Board member Larry Kelley said that all the responses he had heard from the public thus far were positive toward having the district look into buying the property. He noted that he had not set out to survey the district and wasn’t hearing from everyone. However, he did note among those approaching him there was a very positive reaction toward acquiring the property.

After a brief discussion, the board approved a proposal developed by Seneca teacher Deborah Filas-Benish to begin a ‘Backpack’ Food Program at the elementary school level.

The purpose of the backpack program is “to supplement….meals for needy students that may otherwise go hungry over the weekend,” Filas-Benish wrote in her proposal presented to the board Monday evening. The teacher noted in her proposal that the school has a large percentage of students that rely on breakfast and lunch provided by the school.  She went on to explain students cannot focus on Monday morning if they have not had proper nutrition over the weekend.

The program will initially be available to elementary students who qualify for free or reduced lunch with a signed parent request. The program would also be made available to any Seneca student or family if the need arises and a request is made.

Funding will be through donations of individuals, groups and businesses. The food for the program will be purchased from Johnson’s One Stop through an account set up with the school.

The confidentiality of students using the program will be maintained by a numbering system in the packs and knowledge of who is participating in the program limited to the coordinator and assisting staff.

Sample items in the food pack may include canned soup, fruit, bread, peanut butter, nutritional cereal/cereal bars, juice packs, crackers, macaroni and cheese, tuna, noodles, rice and apple sauce. Nutrition will be a priority with protein, fruit/vegetable in each pack.

The board unanimously approved starting the program as proposed by Filas-Benish.

In other business, the Seneca School Board:

• approved changing the extracurricular bus procedures to encourage  drivers to run routes they choose by providing incentives for not changing after the choices are made

• agreed to pay half of the requested dues to belong to the Rural School Alliance following Seneca School District Administrator Dave Boland’s report of a recent meeting of the group he attended in Stevens Point

• approved purchasing 20 computers at a cost of approximately $17,000 to replace units in one of the computer labs

• rejected a bid for sealing the school’s parking lot because it was too high

• approved extending the contract of Seneca School District Administrator David Boland for two years

• approved hiring Sara Ross in an elementary special education position

• agreed to increase the wages of the administrative assistant after the 90-day probationary period is completed