Board of Education leaves seat vacant

Staff writer

A vacant seat on the Marion-Florence USD 408 Board of Education remained unfilled Monday, after three of six board members voiced opposition to filling it.

Dick Varenhorst, Brenda Odgers, and Jana Nordquist interviewed for the position Sept. 24 at a special board meeting called for that purpose. At that time, the board deferred action until Monday.

Board President Chris Sprowls needed only two minutes to determine the board was deadlocked and could not act on the applications.

“I want to thank the candidates that are here,” Sprowls said, acknowledging Odgers and Nordquist. “I appreciate the time, the energy, and the willingness to get on the hot seat. With that, I guess we’ll open it up for discussion.”

After a brief pause in which no board member spoke, Sprowls asked, “Or is there discussion?”

Board members remained silent. Sprowls spoke again.

“At this time, I think it would be wise to know if we have four people on the board that would vote for filling this position, because if we don’t have four of us, it doesn’t matter what the other three or two or one are going to propose,” Sprowls said.

Board members Jeremiah Lange, Lyle Leppke, and Sprowls were in favor of filling the vacancy. Jan Helmer, Duane Kirkpatrick, and Sarah Cope opposed taking action.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know if the timing is right, right now,” Cope said.

Neither Helmer or Kirkpatrick gave a reason for their positions.

“Well, that settles that for this time. I guess we won’t have action,” Sprowls said. “We encourage you to file for the election in the spring.”

The board is not legally required to fill the position. Kansas Statute 25-2022 gives the board the power to fill the vacancy, but does not mandate that a vacancy be filled.

Anti-bullying program

School counselor Kris Burkholder gave a presentation on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which she said the district plans to implement at the elementary school and middle school in January.

“You really need to have your launch of the program after a break,” Burkholder said. “The schools who launch them in January are more successful because there are so many things going on at the start of the year.”

The Olweus program provides strategies for preventing bullying, as well as effective ways to deal with bullying when it occurs, Burkholder said.

“There is a 30 to 70 percent reduction of student reports of being bullied,” Burkholder said.

Burkholder said building committees are in place and received training in the program. The committees are working on specific procedures that all staff will follow when addressing bullying incidents.

The Olweus program addresses individuals, classrooms, schools, parents, and community engagement. Burkholder said working with parents and community members is an essential component in extending the effects of the program beyond the schools.

“Bullying doesn’t just happen at school — it happens anywhere kids gather. It happens at the ball games, it happens at the park,” Burkholder said.

Sprowls asked why the high school will not be included in the program. Burkholder explained Olweus recommends working with high schools for a full year prior to implementing the program.

Superintendent Lee Leiker said curriculum priorities this year were a factor.

“We’d like to implement it K-12 eventually,” Leiker said. “The reason we didn’t start with the high school is that they’ve been working on alignment with core curriculum and on career pathways.”

Academic improvement

Principals and teachers presented education improvement plans for their individual buildings, describing various strategies they will use to increase student achievement.

The plans are based in part on preliminary information about the results of state testing conducted last spring. All schools reportedly exceeded annual yearly progress targets and achieved “standard of excellence” ratings in the subjects tested, including reading, math, science, and social studies.

Fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Hofer demonstrated the use of Study Island, an Internet service aligned with Kansas curriculum standards that provides individualized tutorials for students presented in game formats.

In other business:

  • The board met for 45 minutes in executive session to discuss personnel matters. No action was taken.
  • A transfer of $369 from the general fund to the food service budget, necessary to comply with federal food program standards, was approved.
  • The board agreed to pay transportation and sponsor costs for Family, Career, and Communty Leaders of America chapter members to attend a national cluster meeting Nov. 16 to 18 in Oklahoma City.
  • Donna Fadenrecht of Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, LLC of McPherson reported there were no adverse findings in the firm’s annual financial audit of the district.

The next meeting of the board is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 12.

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