PINE RIVER - It may be called Backus Elementary School, but the school is actually located in Powers Township, not the city of Backus.
On Monday, Backus Mayor Cloie Smith requested the Pine River-Backus School District seek to have the Backus school annexed into the city. The school district owns about 13 acres of land adjacent to the city of Backus, which includes the school, which is hooked up to Backus city water.
Smith said the city has tried to annex the land from Powers Township on a couple of other occasions, but township officials refused to allow it. The property could be annexed if the school district requested the change. Smith said the city needs additional land in order to attract other businesses. She said with the future of Backus Elementary School uncertain - it may end up closed as a result of budget reductions - the building should be located in the city.
"The school is an icon to us," said Smith. "And we're going to lose it as a school. We all know that, because of the levies. ... Even if it's still a school, we'd like to see it in the city limits."
Board member Sandy Poferl said she is reluctant to see the district caught in the middle of a land dispute between the city of Backus and Powers Township.
"I want to be friends with Powers," said Smith. "We're going to need a lot of land from Powers."
Board members made no decisions on the annexation request and told Smith they need to look at the district's budget reductions first before coming to a decision. The issue may come back before the board at its Dec. 19 meeting.
In other district news, the board learned the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Nov. 2 announced litigation settlements totaling $465,727, resulting from five age-discrimination lawsuits against Minnesota school districts, including Pine River-Backus.
The lawsuits were made on behalf of retired teachers and other school employees and challenged early retirement incentive plans in collective bargaining agreements. In total the EEOC recovered more than $1.5 million for about 150 retired employees in 11 lawsuits.
The Pine River-Backus School District will pay $19,415 to be distributed to three retired employees. Other districts named in the most recent five settlements included Blooming Prairie, St. Clair, Owatonna and Lewiston.
Pine River-Backus Superintendent Cathy Bettino told the board Monday that the case involved contractual language found to be discriminatory but it was never the intent of the district to discriminate. She said 80 percent of the damages will be covered by the district's insurance.
The board welcomed two new board members to Monday's meeting. They replaced two former board members who previously resigned. The new board members include Bruce Kaiser, a retired engineer for 3M, and Katy Botz, who is employed at the Margaret Welch Memorial Library in Longville, a branch of the Kitchigami Regional Library System. Kaiser and his wife have lived in the school district for the past six years. They have a daughter who attends school in the district. Botz and her husband have lived in the district for more than 30 years and have three sons who are Pine River-Backus High School graduates.
It was announced that the 2005-06 Teacher of the Year is Tom Lupella, dean of students at Pine River-Backus High School. Lupella is retiring at the end of the school year. The award is sponsored by the Pine River-Backus Educational Association.
It also was announced that Cindy Felthous, a district office employee, was named Employee of the Month.
Bettino informed the board that student enrollment has increased by 13 students from last year, to 1,010 students in the district as of Nov. 11.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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