Board approves unrequested leave for high school assistant principal

Published 5:30 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

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The Albert Lea school board on Thursday approved a resolution finalizing the placement of an Albert Lea High School assistant principal on unrequested leave of absence at the end of the month after hearing a final request to reconsider the decision.

The decision came in a special school board meeting after Superintendent Ron Wagner announced the reduction of Severtson’s position in May as part of the $1.2 million in budget reductions for the upcoming school year, which are happening largely due to declining enrollment and challenges to maintain a 12% fund balance.

Nicky Severtson, who has worked in the role at the high school since last fall and before that worked as principal at Sibley Elementary School, said she thought the decision was not in the best interest of students — especially for those attending Albert Lea High School and the Alternative Learning Center — or the district.

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“I believe this will have a negative consequence (on) the progress that our schools have made toward a safe, supportive and collaborative environment, the quality of highly effective instruction that our students receive, along with the overall quality of education and support that our students receive,” Severtson said in a letter she read aloud to the board.

She said she has worked for the district for 27 years and has always been dedicated to fostering an environment where every student, staff member and family feels welcome and appreciated. She has also taken pride in her leadership roles, whether as a teacher leader or administrator and has demonstrated her commitment to being a lifelong learner, she said.

“Reducing a position that has constant direct impact on students and staff will jeopardize the quality of education and support our students in Albert Lea Area Schools receive,” she said.

While she understands the challenges posed by the current budget constraints, she said maintaining the role is crucial, noting that the priority should be to keep the interest of the students at the forefront.

She also pointed out that while enrollment is decreasing in the younger grades, it is still increasing at the high school.

“We won’t see that effect for years to come,” Severtson said.

Board Member Dave Klatt said he didn’t like cutting this close to students, and said while there were budget concerns with declining enrollment, there are also concerns with increases in contracts that were agreed and approved this year.

Klatt also asked whether there were other places that could have been looked at or trimmed, maybe even at the central office.

Board Member Angie Hoffman asked whether a new dean of students position was created with the rearrangement of staff.

Executive Director of Human Resources Ashley Mattson said no additional full-time employees were created with the change.

In an email after the meeting, district administration said “the total licensed staff at the Area Learning Center will remain the same for the upcoming school year, inclusive of the position that supports the day-to-day operations of the ALC, the dean of students. The dean of students (teacher on special assignment) will take on these roles and responsibilities and receive administrative support from Executive Director Jeff Halverson. The dean of students position will be absorbed into the current staffing model at the ALC and is not the addition of a new position.

“The current ALC administrator will move to Albert Lea High School to maintain the current leadership structure at the high school.”

Board Member Neal Skaar said he appreciated everything Severtson said and talked about how difficult the decision was for him knowing Severtson and her commitment.

He reminded the board that the reduction had nothing to do with the person in the position but rather it is the position that the board is looking at as a means to achieve its financial goals.

He said while he agreed with Klatt that there had been some generous contract settlements, he does not think it was to the point of extravagance, noting the importance of offering salaries that are consistent with the going market.

Board Member Gary Schindler said he believes the district administration reassessed the structure and use of space and met the challenge on what was asked of it when it presented its proposals for reductions.

Hoffman said her problem with the situation was that it has not seemed like it was about cutting finances as much as it was about making staffing changes, noting that there was some history about Severtson that she has still not been able to hear.

Wagner repeated that the reduction was about the position and not the person and based upon the contract agreed upon with the bargaining unit.

The vote ultimately passed 4-3 with board members Schindler, Skaar, Bruce Olson and Kim Nelson voting in favor, and Hoffman, Klatt and board member Davy Villarreal voting against.

Severtson has accepted a teaching position for the coming year.