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Ellsworth School Board: PTO flexibility and lowered activity fee caps coming in 2018-19 school year

Ellsworth schools may be out of session, but their school board remains active over summer vacation.

The Ellsworth School Board voted on three business actions that will affect the district's school year employees and students in the 2018-19 school year on Monday, July 8, at the board's monthly meeting.

The board voted 4-3 to grant school year employees 10 paid time off days in the upcoming school year, which may be used for personal or sick leave. In the 2017-18 school year, school year employees were allotted 10 sick leave days and two personal days. The board made the change in hopes that it will provide flexibility in the use of PTO days for its staff members.

"I see value in giving flexibility for the use of these days," board president Doug Peterson said. Peterson and board members Steve Mark, Jeff Stockwell and Susan Beck voted in favor of the motion, while Kurt Buckner, Dana Glor and Katie Feuerhelm accounted for the board's three "no" votes.

According to the district's Employee Handbook, unused sick and personal leave on June 30, 2018 will be rolled into employees' Permanent Accumulated Sick Leave Balances. Nine month employees, which do not include two secretaries, all but one custodian and all bus drivers, will be allowed to use their accumulated sick leave balances for sick leave once their PTO has been depleted for the current school year. However, in the instance that the illness qualifies for the Family and Medical Leave Act, as maternity leave does, employees will be able to utilize their accumulated sick leave balance once they have used all but three of their PTO days.

This change will not affect school year employees' bereavement leave. They will still be granted three days off of work with pay for each occurence of death in their immediate family.

The board also voted to cut down on the costs of high school and middle school co-curricular fee caps as well as the high school's parking permits.

Previously, high school students in the district were charged $75 for co-curricular activities such as athletics, music, drama or forensics, and their individual cap was set at $225 per school year. Ellsworth Middle School students paid $50 per activity they participated in until they reached the school's set $150 cap. There was a $425 cap per family with children in both the high school and middle school.

After Monday's unanimous vote, high school and middle school fees will still be set at $75 and $50 in the 2018-19 school year, but the high school cap will be cut to $150, the middle school's will be set at $100 and no family will have to pay more than $300 towards co-curricular fees per school year. These prices match those of the St. Croix Central School District's.

"What we know to be best for kids is to be participating in school activities," Feuerhelm said, "and lowering the cap would make participation more attractive."

In addition, high school parking permits will be reduced to $25 from $75 in the upcoming school year.

"I'd like to see (permit fees) go down a little bit," Stockwell said prior to the board's vote. "People have showed support in passing the referendum, and I see this as a good opportunity to give a little bit back."

The board will meet again on Monday, August 13, at Ellsworth Elementary School at 6 p.m.