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EC school board decides on plan to make up inclement weather days

After further school closures resulting from extreme winter weather, the Eau Claire school board on Monday decided to extend the school year, begin earlier start times for middle and high schools and cut North High School’s lunch period by five minutes.

Students are now scheduled to attend school June 10 and 11. From March 11 to June 7, high schoolers will begin school each day 16 minutes earlier and middle schoolers 8 minutes earlier. In addition, North students’ lunch period will be shortened by five minutes between March 11 and June 7.

The motion, which carried 6-1 with board member Lori Bica dissenting, also included plans to add school days to the end of the school year in the event of further inclement weather days.

At its last meeting on Feb. 18, the board moved to add three additional days to the district’s academic calendar to make up for seven district closures and two delayed start days.

But after two more district-wide school closures Feb. 20 and 25, a closure at North High School last Tuesday due to a power outage and a delayed start on Wednesday, the district has additional instructional time to recover, said schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck.

After a total of nine district-wide school closures and three delayed starts this winter, elementary schools are in need of one additional day of instructional time, middle schools and Memorial High School need three days and North needs four days.

“This is going to be a difficult decision,” Hardebeck said. “Somebody’s going to be unhappy. Everybody’s going to be impacted.”

The board considered three options to make up the missed instructional time, electing to select none in their original form after about an hourlong decision.

“They’re all bad options, so it’s identifying the least bad ones,” board President Joe Luginbill said just before the vote. “We did what we had to do.”

The first option, with a maximum projected cost of $25,000, was to add minutes to the school day as needed. Under that option, high schools would have started 30 minutes earlier and middle schools 20 minutes earlier. The plan would also have included shortening North’s lunch period by 5 minutes from March 11 to June 7.

While the option would allow the district’s summer school program to remain intact, the school calendar would not be extended and it would save the district about $65,000 in transportation costs, challenges would have included major scheduling changes for families and staff, bus routes starting as early as 6 a.m. and more.

The second option was to cancel spring break, repurposing the days into student and professional development days. At the elementary school level, March 25-27 would have become professional development days. For the middle schools, March 25-26 would have become student days and March 27 a professional development day. For Memorial High School, March 25-27 would have become student days; for North, March 25-28 would have become student days.

Under that proposal, students would be able to fully recover days of instruction before Advanced Placement testing and other high-stakes assessments, the summer school program would remain intact and it would be cost neutral for transportation.

However, many families and staff of the district likely have made spring break plans, Hardebeck told the board. Staff would be forced to take pay deductions or use personal time off if they’d already scheduled vacations. On top of that, the district was unsure if it would have enough substitutes to cover those absences.

The third option was to extend the school year in order to make up lost instructional time. For elementary schools, June 10-12 would have become professional development days and for the middle schools, June 10-11 would have become middle school student days with June 12 as professional development. Memorial would have had additional student days June 10-12, and North June 10-13.

Because that option would interfere with the summer school program, the district estimated it would lose $310,000 in revenue.

The costs associated with the board’s Monday decision were unclear as of press time.

Board member Laurie Klinkhammer was absent from the Monday meeting.

An end to 'the R word'

Eau Claire middle school students are hearing presentations this week about the damaging and painful effects of using the “R word.”

The Best Buddies club, which pairs students with developmentally-disabled students, gave presentations on Monday in social studies classes at DeLong Middle School, and those speeches will continue today.

This is part of a nationwide campaign “Spread the Word to End the R Word.” The annual campaign has been going for several years.

“The ‘R word’ hurts,” said a five-and-a-half-minute video the students watched. “It’s insulting. It’s offensive. It’s wrong.”

The video gave examples of children who have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or are blind.

“Look past the disability, see the person,” the video said.

Teri Piper Thompson, partnership coordinator at DeLong Middle School, said that all students were asked at the conclusion of the presentation to stand and recite a pledge to not use the word, then they all signed a paper pledge.

“That pledge is going to go up in the cafeteria,” Thompson said. “We’ll have a big banner, and class by class, we’ll display them.”

Sarah Binder, special education teacher for the past 18 years at DeLong, said the best Buddies Club has been around for 10 years, and the school has offered the talks about the damaging effects of using the word.

“We’re spreading the word of inclusion,” Binder said. “It goes to what DeLong tries to do of being an inclusive school.”

Binder said the campaign has shown to be effective.

“They know to be kind and to show respect,” Binder said. “Kids do that if given the opportunity.”

If adults hear a student use the word, the student is reminded to be respectful and kind, and that they signed a pledge to not use the word.

“It gives us a common language, and I think that is powerful,” Binder said.

Hannah Hoberg, an eighth-grader in the Best Buddies club, gave the presentation, urging her classmates to move past using the derogatory word.

“It’s about the importance of promoting inclusion,” she said.

Hoberg said she enjoys being paired with classmates and helping them to learn. Hoberg is considering becoming a special education teacher.

“It’s incredibly fun and extremely rewarding,” Hoberg said. “I love the friendships we’re making. It’s a great group to be involved in.”

Thompson said there are about 1,100 students in the building, and they will all hear the presentation. Thompson said students have to apply to be members of the Best Buddies club, where they meet once a month.

Man dead after officer-involved shooting Saturday

By Leader-Telegram staff

The state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating an officer-involved shooting death between Augusta and Fairchild late Saturday morning.

An Augusta police officer and Eau Claire County sheriff’s deputy have been placed on paid administrative leave, per department policy, according to DCI.

According to the DCI, an Eau Claire County sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to a report of a suspicious person just before noon on Kempten Road in the town of Fairchild. The Augusta Police Department responded to assist the deputy.

Upon arrival, the deputy and officer were confronted by an agitated man. While officers attempted to gain control of the man, the man began fighting with law enforcement officers and a struggle ensued.

During the struggle, less than lethal means were deployed by the officers but were unsuccessful. The subject was subsequently shot by law enforcement officers.

Officers immediately began life-saving measures, but the man died at the scene. DOJ Crime Victim Services are providing support to the man’s family.

The investigation is a collaboration between DCI and the Wisconsin State Patrol, with assistance from the Eau Claire Police Department. The Augusta Police Department and the Eau Claire County sheriff’s office are cooperating with DCI.

DCI is continuing to collect evidence and to determine the facts of this incident and will turn over investigative reports to the Eau Claire County district attorney’s office when the investigation concludes.

Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said Monday he wouldn’t comment on the incident because DCI is the lead investigative agency and will release all details of the investigation, including the names of the decedent and the involved law enforcement officers.

“There was a death,” Cramer said. “We’re just trying to let (DCI) complete their report and forward it to me to let me know what happened.”

UW-Stout chancellor retiring in August

By Leader-Telegram staff

UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer is finally ready to move on from the campus where he has been an undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty member and administrator for most of his adult life.

Meyer announced Monday he is retiring Aug. 18 from the institution where he has worked for a total of 32 years.

“It is time for me and my wife, Debbie, to enter a new phase in our lives,” Meyer said. “We will miss the students, faculty and staff at UW-Stout who have meant so much to us over the years.”

Meyer, 62, became the seventh chancellor at UW-Stout on Aug. 16, 2014, succeeding the late Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen, who held the position for 26 years. Meyer announced his plan in a statement sent Monday to students, faculty and staff.

“At the end of my time on campus, I will have worked for UW-Stout for 32 years, as a faculty member, college dean, special assistant to the chancellor and, finally, chancellor,” Meyer said in the statement. “I feel very privileged to have worked with an exceptional group of faculty, staff and students over that time and have formed many lifelong friendships.

“UW-Stout will always have a special place in my heart. It is where I met my wife when we were both students here in the 1970s, and both of us have bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UW-Stout. One of my daughters, Erica, also is a proud Blue Devil alumna.”

The announcement came as a surprise on the Menomonie campus where all of the previous chancellors have served in the top post for at least 11 years, although the nationwide average term for chancellors is about five years, or the same duration Meyer will have served by the time he retires, said UW-Stout Faculty Senate Chair Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu, chairman of the mathematics, statistics and computer science department.

“He has done a great job, and he will be missed,” Ghenciu said of Meyer, who worked at UW-Stout for 25 years before leaving in 2006 to become president of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Shell Lake until being named UW-Stout chancellor. “He has moved us in the right direction and was always willing to listen to faculty and sit down and compromise when compromise was necessary.”

Meyer made it a practice to attend faculty senate meetings and answer any questions from faculty members — sometimes to the extent that Ghenciu had to end the sessions so the panel could move on to other business.

With state funding of UW campuses declining, fundraising has become an important role for chancellors and that’s something that Meyer excelled at, Ghenciu said.

UW-Stout’s Pathways Forward comprehensive campaign is nearing its original goal of $35 million. An aspirational goal of $40 million has been established for the campaign, which runs through June 30, 2020.

“I am excited about the present direction of the university,” Meyer said. “We are well on our way to meeting the goal of our Pathways Forward comprehensive campaign, and our enrollment outlook is favorable for fall 2019. We have incredible faculty and staff who are committed to our students’ success, continuous improvement and innovative programming and delivery. Therefore, now is the time for me to step away and accept some new challenges and opportunities in life.”

Meyer said UW System President Ray Cross has indicated that the system will begin a search for his replacement in August. UW officials said that an interim chancellor will be named to lead the campus throughout much of the 2019-20 academic year.

“I am confident this search will result in the appointment of an excellent leader as my successor at UW-Stout,” Meyer said. “I will do everything I can to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

Cross said in a statement that Meyer’s varied experience helps him understand the history, the importance and the value of UW-Stout and its polytechnic mission in a way that few others can.

“In the broader community, Bob also understands the manufacturing world and the changes it is facing and how higher education must evolve to serve those needs,” Cross said. “Under his leadership, UW-Stout’s reputation has soared both in the state and beyond. Bob has been a thoughtful, dedicated leader, and it has been our privilege to work with him. We wish Bob and his wife, Debbie, all the best in his retirement.”

UW System Regent President John Behling also issued a statement indicating the system has benefited from Meyer’s wisdom and experience over the years.

“He has a keen understanding of the evolving needs and challenges facing students and employers, and he has always shown an unwavering commitment to helping students succeed,” Behling said. “On behalf of our university community, I want to thank him for his exemplary service and dedication to the UW System. We will miss working with him, and we wish him well in the future.”

Concerning his accomplishments, Meyer said he is proud of the new programs that have been added under his administration, which have built upon UW-Stout’s polytechnic mission. The new undergraduate programs are in mechanical engineering; digital marketing technology; applied biochemistry and molecular biology; and video production. Also, electrical engineering was added to the computer engineering program. The university began a master’s degree in construction management and is considering programming in welding engineering technology.

“I’m also very pleased that our employment rate for new graduates has increased every year since I became chancellor,” Meyer said.

The last reported employment rate for recent graduates was 98.2 percent, and that is expected to go up this year, he said, adding, “This is a reflection of the outstanding work our faculty and staff are doing, day in and day out.”

Other milestones, Meyer said, were establishing the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering; opening of the Joe and Tina Pregont Packaging Laboratories; and launching the Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation, all through generous private donations.

Meyer also said he is pleased that the new Blue Devil Guarantee scholarship program, which freshmen will automatically receive if they meet eligibility requirements, has been an initial success. That program is partially responsible for the dramatic increase in freshman admissions the university is forecasting for fall 2019, he said.

“All in all, UW-Stout is in an excellent position for the new chancellor to take over the leadership mantle,” Meyer concluded.

Ghenciu said the transition should be seen as an opportunity to bring new ideas to campus while maintaining a commitment to the university’s strengths.

“I’d like to see the next chancellor be somebody who understands the uniqueness of this campus as the only polytechnic campus in the UW System,” Ghenciu said, “and also understands and appreciates our strong connection with industry.”

Brett T. Roseman