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FHS assistant principal to step up as middle school principal
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When it came to finding a new Faribault Middle School principal, a hiring panel of 16 individuals considered Faribault High School Assistant Principal Joe Sage the clear choice.

The Faribault School Board approved Sage’s employment agreement as middle school principal during its Monday meeting. His start date is July 1, at which point he will replace Michael Meihak, who has accepted the superintendent position for New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.

Sage told the board his time at FHS has been “tremendous,” and it “feels like yesterday” that he interviewed for his first position in the district, FHS dean of students.

“Four years later, I’m still absolutely loving to call Faribault home,” Sage said. “I’m excited to join the Faribault Middle School family and to continue the good work there. Obviously the student body is incredible, and their staff is second to none. Very excited to join them and to continue our work.”

Superintendent Todd Sesker said the job opening was opened up externally, as well, and both internal and external candidates applied. The district will soon open up the assistant principal position at the high school. Faribault Public Schools will also have an administrative position opening at Roosevelt Elementary, where Principal Terry Ronayne has announced his retirement.

As FHS dean of students, Sage launched the Ninth Grade Academy program that helps ease students’ transition into high school. Board Chair Chad Wolff commended Sage for his work in this area and expressed hopes that the success of the Ninth Grade Academy can transfer down to the middle school.

Since he joined Shawn Peck as one of two assistant principals of FHS, Sage has been instrumental in supporting staff and students involved in participatory action research (PAR). This project is designed to get feedback from students of color through a partnership with Carleton College.

In March of last year, Sage was named a recipient of the 2020 Presidents’ Engaged Campus Award through Minnesota Campus Compact. Carleton College selected Sage for the award, which recognized him for his commitment to civic responsibility and community leadership.

In July 2020, Sage also received a Star of Innovation Award for his leadership on The Nest, a school-based store where students can obtain supplies, clothes, toiletries and other necessities.

“This is great news; congratulations,” Board member Courtney Cavellier said of Sage’s forthcoming principalship. “I hope you’ll come back frequently next fall to update us on how the transition is going and what you see as your first round of initiatives or how you’re going to make your mark down there.”

Board member Carolyn Treadway asked Sage if he hopes to bring any of his experiences from the high school to the middle school.

“I think the big thing a lot of staff have talked to me about is, I’ve had an inside look at what makes a successful ninth grader, so I’m hoping to expand on that a little bit and hopefully bring some of that into the middle school,” Sage said.

Treadway responded that the transition would be “Faribault High School’s loss but Middle School’s gain.”

Confronted with Steele County offer, Rice County Board punts on new jail
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A divisive and sometimes heated debate on the future of Rice County’s jail ended in a stalemate on Tuesday, as Rice County commissioners decided to put off for at least two weeks a final decision on whether to build a new jail or collaborate with Steele County.

The delay will further prolong a years-long saga that began when the Minnesota Department of Corrections threatened to turn Rice County’s Correctional Center into a 90-day facility due to a lack of space and amenities.

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn has estimated that this could mean extra expense to the county of close to $1 million per year. Even for Rice County’s Jail to retain its status as a 90-day facility, Dunn said that it would likely require about $44 million in improvements. As alternatives, the Rice County Board could expand and renovate the Jail and Law Enforcement Center on the site of its current Jail Annex along Highway 60, expand and renovate at the current LEC location downtown, or build a new jail and expand the LEC at its current site.

The new jail and LEC has been the preference of a majority of the County Board and still appears to be. However, Commissioner Galen Malecha has been opposed and at Tuesday’s meeting his colleague Jim Purfeerst expressed hesitance as well.

At Malecha’s behest, the County Board explored the possibility of collaborating with Steele County. Nearly 20 years ago, Steele County built a new jail that now has a capacity far exceeding its needs, with the expectation that it would house inmates from surrounding counties.

Steele County can house close to 150 inmates, but even today Steele County’s own jail study concluded that it only needed about 66 beds. With recent upgrades, County Administrator Scott Golberg said the facility has the staff and capacity needed to accommodate Rice County.

Golberg and Steele County Commissioner Jim Abbe attended Rice County’s board meeting Tuesday to talk about their proposal for a possible collaboration. Under a plan approved by the Steele County Board, Rice County would buy into Steele County’s Detention Center in Owatonna for about $7 million and then split costs 50-50.

Though Abbe said he wasn’t there to make a “sales pitch,” the proposal received unanimous backing from Steele County’s Board.

Board Chair James Brady called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” when Steele County commissioners met Monday to discuss their proposal to Rice County.

The Department of Corrections is less thrilled, however. Last month, two Department of Corrections officials testified that despite Steele County’s assertions, Owatonna’s Detention Center would not in fact be truly able to accommodate Rice County’s needs.

Sarah Johnson, who works in enforcement and inspections for the DOC, emphasized to the Rice County Board that not all beds are created equal. When taken into a jail, inmates are assessed and classified based on factors such as gender, security risk, and medical and mental health needs.

The Department of Corrections requires an inmate’s classification to match the kind of bed they occupy. Johnson’s DOC colleague Jen Pfiefer said they anticipated that a merged Rice-Steele Detention Center simply wouldn’t have enough special needs beds, for example.

Based in part off of testimony from Johnson and Pfiefer, Rice County Commissioners Jeff Docken, Steve Underdahl and Dave Miller appear set to approve the construction of a new jail at a cost of $49 million, seeing it as a massive expense necessitated by years of falling behind.

“I’m really looking for a long-term solution on this,” Underdahl said. “We haven’t been doing anything to help the jail in recent years.”

Malecha expressed frustration from the get-go, arguing that the county hasn’t been transparent enough with taxpayers or even fully done its homework about the new jail’s significant cost and how it plans to pay for it.

That rankled Docken, who noted that Finance Director Paula O’Connell has estimated the potential impact of the new jail. With a 30-year loan, O’Connell projects the annual costs to taxpayers to come out to about $2.2 million, raising levies on a $250,000 home by about $70.

Malecha raised concerns about the impact of such an increase on taxpayers, and even Purfeerst was lukewarm. He suggested that it might be most appropriate for the county to focus on the jail or to accept Steele County’s offer.

“I hear a lot about (Steele County) coming in at the 11th hour, but I don’t know if we ever really reached out to Steele County on this,” he said.