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Bemidji School Board to consider adding cyber bullying to policy

The Bemidji School District's policy that prohibits bullying may soon address cyber bullying.

The wording of the proposed addition to the policy, however, has raised questions.

On Monday, the Bemidji School Board will consider the first reading of a revised version of the bullying prohibition policy. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Bemidji High School Media Center. A second reading and vote on the revised policy is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Among the other items on Monday's agenda is the audit for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

In May, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a mandate requiring all school districts to address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including electronic forms and forms involving the Internet, in their bullying prohibition policies.

The Bemidji School District is proposing to add wording to its existing policy that the Minnesota School Boards Association is recommending school districts use to address the new mandate, said Bob Vaadeland, assistant superintendent/director of special education. The wording states that bullying could include misusing technology to tease, intimidate, defame, threaten or terrorize another student or school district employees, volunteers or contractors.

The method of bullying could include the sending or posting of e-mail messages, instant messages, text messages, digital pictures or images, or Web site postings, including blogs.

Also under the proposed wording, these actions may be considered bullying regardless of whether committed on or off school district property and/or with or without the use of school district resources.

School districts typically set policy over things that happen on school property or at school-sanctioned events, Vaadeland said. But, he added, the proposed wording is "out of the realm of that a little bit."

"It definitely creates questions," Vaadeland said.

He said he plans to seek clarification on how exactly the policy should be interpreted and implemented prior to Monday's board meeting.

On Monday, the board will also review the annual audit for the 2006-07 fiscal year and vote on whether to approve it.

The general fund had an operating deficit of $301,087 based on revenues of $46.68 million and expenses of $46.98 million, noted Chris Leinen, director of business services. He added that this caused the general fund ending balance to decrease from $4.95 million to $4.65 million, and then to $4.59 million after a transfer was made to cover the negative food service fund balance.

Although the general fund balance decreased, it remains within the 8-10 percent target general fund balance set by the board, according to Leinen.

The food service fund had an operating deficit of $67,610 and ended in a negative balance of $60,424. The community service fund had an operating deficit of $41,934 and ended with a $104,115 balance. The building construction fund had an ending balance of $276,024, which is budgeted for the construction of a maintenance shop at Bemidji High School, and the debt service fund had an ending balance of $1.3 million.

In a separate audit, the student activities account had an operating surplus of $27,364 and an ending balance of $368,591. Last year, these accounts had a deficit of $77,900. Leinen noted that these variations result from funds being raised one year and spent in another.

The Bemidji School District was one of 17 traditional school districts and 13 charter schools in the state that did not submit an audited financial statement for the 2006-07 fiscal year to the Minnesota Department of Education by Jan. 8.

The school district was a couple of days late in getting the statement to the MDE because it was working with its auditor on how changes in auditing standards would impact the school district, Leinen said. Although the school district did not meet the Jan. 8 deadline, it does not face any financial consequences, he said.

Listening session

The board's monthly listening session will be held from 5:45-6:15 p.m. Monday in the BHS Commons. John Pugleasa and Ann Long Voelkner from the board will be available to visit with the public.