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Alexandria School District in need of paraprofessionals

With the 2018-19 school year only a couple of weeks away, the Alexandria School District is trying to find a couple dozen employees to fill a paraprofessional shortage in its ranks.

Scott Heckert, the district's human resources director, told the school board at its monthly meeting Monday night that he recently made offers to eight people, but estimated there's still 24 open paraprofessional positions across the district.

"That's a significant number to be short," said Superintendent Julie Critz.

Heckert said most positions are from 5.75 hours to 6.5 hours per day, and about one-third of paraprofessionals receive benefits. Critz said the hours parallel those of the school day, which should be an advantage for many parents who could work the same schedule as their children.

Most vacancies were created through resignations and retirements, with only one or two of the jobs created this year. Heckert said this situation isn't specific to Alexandria, and other districts not only have openings in this category but also for teachers.

"We are very fortunate in that we have all of our teachers hired," he said. "With the economy and the large manufacturers in town, there's a lot of competition for our workforce."

He said paraprofessionals must have two years of post-high school education, or pass a test that is the equivalent of an eighth-grade reading and math score. Fergus Falls is one of the testing sites, and he encouraged anyone who is interested to contact Jolene King at ParaPro Assessment, at 218-737-6521 or

Emergency plan

An emergency management plan was approved by the board, for situations ranging from severe weather, utilities emergencies, epidemics or hazardous materials or fire to bomb threats, violence and intruders.

Heckert explained some of what the district has done — updating a checklist of items annually, and amassing all of the critical phone numbers of everyone from outside agencies and others who work with the schools.

"The administrators have a checklist, and we make them available to key emergency personnel," Heckert said, noting that many times they would be the first ones on site in the event of a crisis.

"We have an established emergency operations team at every school site and the district office, he said. There are step-by-step procedures to follow, and pre-established sites for evacuation and for uniting students with their parents.

"We have a plan in place to make sure that all happens as smoothly as possible," Heckert said.

Toward that end, a mock school bus crash has been scheduled for next Monday. It's designed to give school and emergency personnel an opportunity to prepare for an emergency.

Critz said she sat in on a presentation by the superintendent at Bemidji, where a real bus crash taught school officials there that despite all of their preparations, they encountered things that hadn't been part of their planning.

Heckert said it is a huge collaborative effort, with the police, sheriff and fire departments joining with Alomere Health and North Ambulance. Some roads will be blocked off from 3-9 p.m. on the city's south side, not far from the freeway, and the public is urged to stay clear of the scene so agencies can respond.

In other action

The school board also:

• Approved settlements between the district and three groups: cabinet, consisting of five members of the upper leadership team; nine principals; and four business support employees classified as confidential, all for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. That leaves agreements with four other groups still to be reached for the coming school year: custodians; another level of administration; directors and supervisors; and bus drivers, para-professionals and mechanics.

• Approved an extended field trip for students in grades 4-5 in Miltona Science Magnet School to South Dakota Sept. 10-14, to learn of the geology of the Badlands, Native American culture and view Mount Rushmore. An extended field trip by the cross country team to Pillager was also approved.

• Awarded the leasing of five buses as part of the district's annual replacement cycle to Bremer Bank. Bremer's bid of $488,865 in total lease payments was lower than quotes from Bell Leasing and Geneva Capital.

• Approved pay rates for substitute staff. Heckert said they conducted comparisons with other districts to determine the rates: $110 a day for teachers, $11-$13.75 an hour for food service positions; $13.75 for secretarial; $11.75 for custodial; $13.75-$14.25 for bus drivers; $12 for paraprofessionals and $14.75 for certified health paraprofessionals. Many positions offered higher rates for retired employees.

• Approved adding an assistant cross country booster coach, a middle school Nordic ski coach, one middle school soccer coach for boys and one for girls.

• Approved hiring 14 staff members, including Lisa Otte as dean of students.

• Heard presentations on multi-tiered systems of support from Michelle Bethke-Kaliher, director of student support services, and on Healthy Voices Healthy Choices from Katie Strickler of Horizon Public Health and seniors Jackson Gunvalson and Elizabeth Schoenrock, members of Vibe Youth Group.

• Approved educational agreements with Alexandria Technical and Community College, Central Lakes College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College and Mayville State University. The district also has existing educational agreements with other higher-ed institutions.

• Repealed a policy dealing with special accommodations and services for students with special needs, since it is currently covered by a student disability nondiscrimination policy.

• Approved several fundraising activities for the school year.

• At the board's July meeting, first readings were given for the 2018-29 district operational plan and technology plan. Those plans were approved Monday.