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Community Commons future still unknown

Just when the New Richmond Board of Education thought they were making progress in negotiations related to the continued operation of the Community Commons building, the door was slammed shut on them.

"Part of my recommendation was for the board to consider providing the long-term operational costs for that facility if, in fact, we can find a grant to improve the infrastructure at no cost to the local taxpayers," Veilleux said.

A legislative proposal to freeze Community Education funding has thrown a wrench in that recommendation.

The proposal, if passed, would limit school districts to levying no more for Community Education in 2013-14 and 2014-15 than they did in 2012-13.

Veilleux said since the notice was received, he has been in contact with state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf about the lack of communication between the state and local school districts.

"I fired off a letter to both of them (Harsdorf and Rep. John Murtha) about being surprised and why isn't there any communication," he said.

Letters from the Wisconsin Community Education Association, along with the partners at the Community Commons, were sent to both Harsdorf and Murtha.

Last week, while Veilleux was on vacation, Harsdorf left five messages for Veilleux about the proposal, he said. He planned to meet with her Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Joint Finance Committee's proposal regarding Community Education funding.

"My assumption is that Sen. Harsdorf heard our pleas and got in the final draft of the budget that school districts can exceed their Fund 80 (Community Education) levy if they go to referendum, which Chris (Skoglund) had suggested and we talked around the table two weeks ago. That's probably something the board would consider doing to get community input," he said. "So, while I thought we had probably hit the big, dark, black, high, thick wall with the Community Commons concept, it appears to me that, once again, we at least have the opportunity of exploring."

As of July 1, the partners will have one year left on their three-year leases. Another option the board has discussed is offering the partners the option to extend their contract into a fourth year.

"There's a little bit of urgency to let our partners know where they're at," Veilleux said.

Patrick Overton, a consultant hired by the board to help move the Community Commons forward, said grant writing has already begun for the building but he can't move forward without the school board making some decisions and giving him details to include in the grant application.

Overton said the board's willingness to go to referendum would be most significant for grant applications because it shows the board's support for the project.

"A funder looks for sustainability," he said. "They don't want to invest in something that might fail."

The board plans to discuss the Community Commons building again at its July 15 meeting.

The Community Commons currently houses New Richmond Area Community Education, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, CESA 11/Head Start, Five Loaves Food and Clothing Center, New Richmond Area Community Foundation, New Richmond Senior Center and VFW Post 10818.

"This whole thing started with an idea generated in the community to make use of that building," Veilleux said. "It's had unbelieveable support."

In other news, the board:

* Thanked Veilleux for his seven years of service. Veilleux officially retired on June 26.

* Accepted a Energy Star Award for Hillside Elementary. The award acknowledges Hillside's energy use and low greenhouse gas emissions.

* Accepted state health awards for all five New Richmond schools.

According to letters from State Superintendent Tony Evers, Starr Elementary achieved the highest possible ranking, earning them a Gold Wisconsin School Health Award

for health. The district's other schools received silver awards.

"We did really good," Skoglund said.

Awards are based on schools' policies, programs and infrastructure to support healthy eating; physical activity; alcohol, tobacco and drug-free lifestyles; and parental and community involvement.

* Approved the resignations of MaryBeth Elliott, gifted/talented teacher; Heather Harris, EIS tutor at Hillside Elementary; Penny Heibel, elementary school counselor; Marcia Kulbitski, gifted/talented teacher; Susan Macheledt, special education teacher; Heather Pederson, Hillside Elementary School counselor; Jaclyn Rehmke, paraeducator at Starr Elementary; Amy Almendinger, Destination Imagination advisor; Mary Anderson, kindergarten department head; Julie Gilbertson, middle school volleyball coach; Jamie Kleiner, kindergarten department head; and Tracy Preece, fourth grade department head.

* Approved the hiring of Markell Anderson, high school Spanish teacher and high school cheerleading coach; Keith Badger, high school physical education teacher and head football coach; Austin Lee, High Mileage Vehicle program director; Mona Whittington, head volleyball coach; Sarah Brackemyer, fifth grade teacher Starr Elementary; Addison Filiatreaux, high school English teacher; Jesse France, high school math teacher; Jenny Franklin, second grade teacher at Starr Elementary; Thomas Leque, high school tech ed teacher; Jodi Mealey, music teacher at Paperjack Elementary; Claire Walthour, seventh grade language arts teacher; Mary Wittstock, school nutrition at the high school; and Matthew Whitemarsh, fourth grade teacher at Starr Elementary.

* Approved the Summer Stretch contract with Jami Engelhart who is filling in for Amy Groth.

* Approved the transfer/reassignment of Anna Bauer, from third grade at Hillside to Title 1 at Starr; Heather Boe, from .67 FCE teacher at the high school to 1.0 FTE at the high school; Jolene Huettl-Lamke, from server/dishwasher at the middle school to cook at the middle school; and Kari Steffen from .5 special services teacher to 1.0 FTE at the middle school.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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