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Seniors get green light for early getaway

While the open high school tradition may be on the endangered list, another tradition survives.

Monday night the school board OK'd an early release date for this year's seniors.

The last day for high school seniors will be Tuesday, June 3.

They will be expected to show for a Friday afternoon, June 6, graduation ceremony practice. Graduation day is Sunday, June 8.

Last fall the decades' old tradition of early release was in jeopardy. The state's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) said the school district wasn't meeting the mandated 180-day school year. The district was counting evening parent/teacher conferences as school days. That practice ended.

To comply with state law, the 2007-08 school year calendar picked up three extra days, including June 5 and 6. The school board also pushed back graduation from June 1 to June 8.

At that point there was talk that releasing seniors with high school still in session and five days before graduation wasn't a good idea.

In past years, seniors are released early Friday afternoon. Typically most then drive in procession past the other schools as they let out.

Graduation follows on Sunday, and then school resumes for the rest of the students for two or three days the next week.

Principal Elaine Baumann said the longer gap this year between early release and graduation could leave extra time for partying and other troubles. If any students broke the law or school rules, they might forfeit their graduating status.

Board member Ned Fagan, who also supports keeping the open high school campus system in place, was pleased that Baumann chose to keep the early release system.

"That's almost exactly what I was hoping would come about," he said.

Fagan said releasing seniors early boosts school spirit, is another valued tradition, and hasn't been abused by students.

Baumann was unavailable for comment Monday or Tuesday. It appears the state DPI granted an early-release waiver for high school seniors who meet all their academic requirements.

Monday night the school board also:

  • Approved spending up to $5,000 to hire local firm Frisbie Architects to inspect the River Falls Academy building. Board member Manny Kenney says Frisbie will look over the building's mechanical systems, including plumbing, heating and electrical, and its physical structure.

    "We want to find out what repair expenses we may encounter there over the next five to 10 years, and if it's worthwhile to maintain the Academy that long," Kenney said.

    The River Falls Academy, 211 Fremont St., is the former middle school. It now houses a number of nonprofit tenants, plus the school district's Renaissance Academy and Montessori programs.

    A school board appointed long-range planning committee recently recommended keeping the Academy open for the foreseeable future -- unless there were major costs.

    "We're hoping to get Frisbie to forecast what we can expect for that building and what the approximate price tag would be," Kenney said.

    The River Falls Academy has had problems lately with roof leaks and may need tuckpoint repairs on parts of the upper brick exterior.

    A report from Frisbie to the board is expected by April.

  • Approved a two-year contract for incoming superintendent Dr. Thomas Westerhaus, the current superintended for Prior Lake/Savage Schools in Minnesota. Westerhaus will succeed retiring Boyd McLarty July 1. His annual pay will be $159,563 the first year and $165,626 the second.
  • Approved a two-year contract (retroactive to include this school year) for the district's 23 custodians. According to Personnel Director Donna Hall, the overall package increase is 3.95% the first year and 4.15% the second year. For this year, the starting custodial wage is $13.08 per hour while the highest rate is $14.83. Next year, those hourly figures range from $13.48 to $15.23.

    The next regular school board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday, March 17, in the high school library. Spring break this year is March 17-24.

    Reach Phil Pfuehler at and at 426-1050.

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