School board approves working with Minnetonka for online academy

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Albert Lea school board on Monday approved working with Tonka Online, Minnetonka’s online learning academy, for online learning for Albert Lea students in grades 6 to 12 for the following year.

Board member Dennis Dieser said it was important people understand the district will be paying a different online learning program to run its program.

“But now, because of what I believe was state law — said (online schools) had to be functioning through a school — Minnetonka is one of the best ones doing it right now,” he said. “Our students are still students of Albert Lea, but we have to pay a percentage to Minnetonka to do that.”

According to John Double, associate principal of the district’s online academy, the arrangement is for partial state funding to go to Minnetonka in order to pay for teachers.

Neal Skaar, the chairman of the board, said the Albert Lea district simply did not have the staff in every area to do this.

Double said students would be provided iPads.

“Minnetonka has been doing this for a while, pre-pandemic,” said new Superintendent Ron Wagner. “So they’ve had this process in place. It was pretty solid, functioning at the time.”

He also noted other districts have tried to replicate the program but could not due to declining enrollment.  

According to Double, sixth- through eighth-grade students will have set class times, while high school students can do their work at any time provided they complete their weekly work.

In other action, the board approved Paul Durbahn’s request for membership approval for the Minnesota State High School League for 28 activities. Durbahn is the activities director for the district. 

According to Durbahn, the cost for membership is just under $8,000, though he said he had not received an invoice as of the time of the meeting.

They also approved off-schedule hourly wages for part-time employees, including members of the after-school academy, project exploration staff, interpreters, hall monitors and lunch supervisors. They also agreed to a change in the pay scale for event workers and staff during athletic events. 

Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services, said the district had a one-year success coach working agreement. The agreement is a 2% increase over last year. The board passed the operation.

They also passed an educational assistants agreement, format-will employees who work mostly in the elementary schools between morning, breakfast and lunch.

“They help out in our schools doing a wide variety of things for our elementary buildings,” she said. 

Board members passed a community education services staff agreement, and passed the district’s 2022-24 master agreement.

In consent items board members passed ticket prices for schoolwide events. For athletics, employees, students and senior citizens (those 62 and older) can get in for free. For adults at the gate, a ticket will cost $8, while a visiting student or visiting senior will be charged $6. An adult 10-punch pass is $60, while an adult year academy pass is $120 and a couple’s year pass (two adult passes) will be $185. Music events will be free for employees and students, while seniors will be charged $6. At the gate, a ticket will cost $8 for adults and $6 for visiting students and seniors. A music family pass will be $40. For fine arts events (the fall musical, a one-act play, the show choir and the spring play), a ticket is $8 per adult, $6 per student and $6 per senior.

Base fees for athletics stand as follows: $150 for high school, $75 for middle school and $50 for fine arts and other non-MSHL activities. 

The board recognized Heidi Skophammer, an administrative assistant to curriculum, as June’s employee of the month. 

The district spent $3.405 million from June 21 to July 18, with over $2.46 million being used for the general fund. The district also accepted $2,954.57 in donations.

In district business, the board agreed to hire Lindsey Chapman, Say Rober, Madeline Kohlbeck, Lisa Myran, Mackenzie Oldfather, Day Paphree, Thomas Delano, Andrea Garcia Torres, Whitney Erickson, Beatriz Olivera, Andrew Marinic, Ariana Bell, Brenda Sorenson, Carmen Uzlik, Kalia Bergstad, Summer Swensrud, Brittani Zuniga and Casondra Ciavarelli. They agreed to a leave of absence for Molly Appicelli. The board accepted the retirement of Ruth Tennis and resignations for La Shee, Justine Daane, Emma Nesset and Kristina Kenis.

Chairman Skaar also announced there would be a reception Oct. 13 at Wedgewood Cove for the Albert Lea Education Foundation, an event he called “quite the program” that will recognize distinguished alumni, who in turn will speak to students the next day.

“The purpose of that is for students to hear from the alumni of Albert Lea High School, and those four people provide them some insight on what practical advice they could embrace in order to be successful in the rest of their life,” he said.

The next board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 1.