Students speak out in favor of outgoing teacher

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The Iola Register

A half-dozen Iola High School band students defended their band teacher, Ranie Wahlmeier, before the USD 257 Board of Education Monday night.

Wahlmeier is resigning, effective at the end of the school year. 

Wahlmeier has taught band at the middle and high schools for the last two years.

Senior Jon Miller spoke on behalf of the students, telling board members he believed the opinions of students and parents had negatively influenced Wahlmeier’s decision to resign. 

Wahlmeier followed beloved band teacher, Matt Kleopfer, who left the district after four years. Miller said many students were openly hostile to Wahlmeier when she first arrived. 

Miller acknowledged he did not know the specifics as to what led to Wahlmeier’s resignation, but he believed rumors and complaints from students and parents played a role.

“We had one year to work out the kinks and that was last year,” Miller told the board. “The fact that we had any success was not in spite of Mrs. Wahlmeier, it was because of her. This year, the toxicity of students has been reduced significantly, which was partially aided because students who disliked her did not take band.”

The board did not address the students’ concerns. Board president Dan Willis said the board does not respond to comments made during the public forum.

Superintendent of Schools Stacey Fager said he could not comment on Wahlmeier’s resignation because it was a personnel matter.

Wahlmeier told The Register late Tuesday morning that district officials in late February said she wasn't a good fit for the district and she was given an option to resign. She said she has been reflecting on her time with the district, and believes she can use the experience to learn how to better communicate with administrators and parents. 

She said some students and parents had shared complaints with her, but she believes those issues were more of a personal nature and not a reflection of work in the classroom. She said it was difficult to follow a beloved band director but overall views her time with the district in a positive light.

Wahlmeier did not attend the board meeting and said she didn't know what the students said, but, "I appreciate their efforts to express their disappointment."


School bond question

The board passed a resolution to make their intentions clear regarding a school bond proposal. Voters on April 2 will decide whether to fund a new elementary school, science and technology building at the high school and replace heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school.

The board has said voters must approve the elementary school question before they can agree to the other two items. That means voters must pass Question 1, for the elementary school, before the board will agree to build a new science building or new HVAC. 

The ballot question doesn’t make that point clear. Superintendent Stacey Fager said that’s because each of the three bond questions must stand alone for legal reasons. 

The board said they’ve chosen to make the elementary school a priority for a couple of reasons. First, it’s been identified as the district’s greatest need. But also, and perhaps more importantly, school districts in Kansas are limited to the amount of bonded debt they can use for facilities projects. If a district hasn’t passed a bond issue in 25 years, they’re exempt from those restrictions. If the district passes a smaller bond issue, like the HVAC system, it could face financial limitations on future projects. 

Such a process is common for school facilities bond issues, Fager said.

The resolution passed by the board Monday clarifies the board’s intention. It means voters can  pass Question 1 (to build an elementary school), and/or pass a combination of Question 1 and 2 (science and technology building), Question 1 and 3 (HVAC) or approve or reject all three questions.

In other news, the board:

-- Agreed to purchase a new chiller for the high school’s cooling system. The board accepted the low bid of $65,371 from Design Mechanical, out of three submitted bids. Board members were concerned the replacement process could take up to seven weeks, which means the school would need to get by on its existing system up to and possibly including graduation. Those ceremonies inside the gymnasium can get warm and stuffy, and will demand a heavy workout from the cooling system. But facilities director Aaron Cole said the building’s two chillers are still working, though one is leaking and needs replaced. He acknowledged the possibility it could stop working, but Fager said the district is prepared to bring in a temporary backup system if needed until the replacement system arrives.

-- Approved a process to seek bids for food service for the district. Under state requirements, the district must seek bids every five years. Judy Baker, food service coordinator, said the state has a specific process she is following. The bidding process ends in May; if a new service provider wins the bid, it would take over July 1. 

-- Approved a request for replacement laptops for high school teachers, and Chromebooks for incoming fifth graders and freshmen. 

-- Decided not to adjust for three snow days taken in February. The district in recent years has tried to “forgive” snow days, which means it will not require classified staff to use vacation time to make up those days. The district has not exceeded its required instruction time, so at this point it will not need to make up the days lost.

-- Heard a presentation on reading programs at Jefferson Elementary School. The board had approved a new reading program to better identify and assist struggling readers, and Principal Tiffany Koehn updated the board on recent training efforts. Teachers will introduce the new program after students return from spring break. Teachers Christy Thompson and Nancy Skahan also talked about their satisfaction with the Lexia Learning system, a personalized reading program, and the way they use “reading groups” to motivate students to read. They also praised librarian Tammy Prather and library para Mona Melvin for their efforts to encourage young students to read.

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