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Willmar, Minn., School District looks at cutting non-tenured staff

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board took action Monday to discontinue the equivalent of 50 non-tenured faculty positions, but many of the teachers affected are likely to be rehired next fall.

The action is an annual part of the district's budget planning process.

More than 50 full-time or part-time non-tenured faculty members will receive a letter from the board saying that the action was taken because of the financial condition of the district.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard and Human Resources Director Liz Fischer said the district takes this action because the district's needs for the next school year could be affected by changes in funding or enrollment.

Board member Linda Mathiasen said she was concerned that the list of positions included 19 elementary teachers.

Many of the positions and employees will be reinstated for next year, Fischer said.

Non-tenured staff members must be laid off before any layoffs of tenured staff.

So far, the board has not discussed any layoffs of tenured faculty members.

The board also approved the district's seniority list. "It's a unique list," Fischer said. Willmar's seniority list differs from some other school districts, which have a list based only on date of hire.

Willmar's seniority list also lists seniority by licensing area. The list has been developed with the local Education Minnesota bargaining unit.

In districts using a strict date-of-hire seniority, layoffs can lead to shuffling of assignments, she said. Teachers may be assigned to teach in areas where they are licensed but haven't taught for years.

Willmar's layoffs are made according to licensing area, which helps prevent the shuffling, she said.

Kjergaard gave the board an update on the fundraising effort to bring Apple iPad2 tablet computers for all juniors and seniors at Willmar Senior High.

One new development is the introduction of a new iPad and the $100 reduction in the price of the iPad2.

Kjergaard said the new iPad is heavier and not that different, so the district will most likely be purchasing iPad2s at the reduced price. "It means we can afford more of them," he said.

An invitation-only kickoff for the iPad effort, called the iCardinals Campaign, is planned for March 22.

The goal is to raise $400,000 from the community. All donations to the point will be doubled by matching grants -- $350,000 pledged by the district and $50,000 pledged by Jennie-O Turkey Store.

The district's pledge will come from capital improvement funds. Those funds may not be used for day-to-day operations of the district but may be used to purchase equipment.

In other business, Kjergaard said he has scheduled five interviews for a new high school principal for March 23. Principal Rob Anderson has said he will retire after the end of the school year. The five candidates include two women and three men, Kjergaard said. Three of them are from Minnesota, and two are from other states.

A donation of $28,500 was announced from Willmar Music Matters and the Southwest Initiative Foundation to help pay for orchestra in grades 4 and 5. Kjergaard said the donation will help fund orchestra for this year and next year.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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