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TCU Lonsdale Elementary School emptied after distance learning went into effect. Local districts are preparing for potentially another year of distance learning as well as in-person learning and a hybrid model which combines elements of both. ( Lonsdale file photo)


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Former LS-H educator and city councilor honored for community leadership
Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Former LS-H Superintendent, city councilor and current Rotarian Dave Johnson received the Arthur E. Anderson from the Le Sueur Community Foundation for his years of leadership in the community. He stands with his wife Sandy, a retired teacher and Johnson’s co-leader. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

A teacher, a coach, a principal, a superintendent, a city councilor, a chamber president, a volunteer — it seems like Dave Johnson has done it all.

After 31 years of donating his time to the Le Sueur area, Dave Johnson was recognized by the Le Sueur Community Foundation and received the Arthur E. Anderson award. Named after a charter member of the Le Sueur Rotary Club, First Lieutenant and longtime attorney for the city of Le Sueur and the Le Sueur-Henderson School District, the award recognizes those that have spent their careers making a difference in the community.

“We have all witnessed his excellence, creativity and personal initiative with personality and a sense of humor, attention to detail, while honoring those who he works with by respecting them, their time and their values,” said Ron Grothe, who nominated Johnson for the award. “Dave, as a Rotarian, continues to serve our community always considering: ‘Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendship? And will it be beneficial to all concerned?’ Not only does Dave consider this four-way test, he embodies it.”

The award was given over a Zoom call in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Le Sueur Community Foundation is looking to hold an in-person ceremony for Johnson in the future. Johnson accepted the award with gratitude, especially since it was named in the honor of a colleague he had worked for decades.

“I knew Art a lot having worked for the school district for 20 years as a high school principal and also a superintendent,” said Johnson. “He always reminded me of an Arthur Hitchcock with his demeanor and dry sense of humor, his control of his emotions, his articulate way of expressing things. To be mentioned as an Arthur E. Anderson Community Leader, it is an honor.”

Community impact

Johnson has held many leadership roles over his career, but he first took on the reigns of leadership when he decided to pursue a career in education. While initially pursuing a graduate degree in exercise physiology, his work as a teaching assistant at the University of Toledo sparked a love of education and he soon shifted his focus, earning a Master’s of Education from the university in 1971. Johnson believed his career in education helped him branch out in other ways to serve the community.

“Every teacher, every staff member in a school is a leader, so as a teacher, as a coach, as an administrator, you end up being a leader among leaders,” said Johnson. “That’s such a rewarding, collaborative, positive environment in public education that also spreads out into the community and enables you to identify and coexist with other leaders in the communities that we’ve been apart of.”

When he took on his first teaching job at Blue Earth High School, where he stayed for 17 years, Johnson was introduced to coaching. Starting with B-squad basketball, Johnson would eventually become known in the athletic arena for coaching cross country and track and field.

“I decided to go to Blue Earth because it offered the opportunity to coach as well as teach,” said Johnson. “At that time I didn’t realize coaches got paid anything. It was

Johnson’s leadership was soon recognized by educators in Le Sueur. He became principal of Le Sueur High School in 1988 and helped oversee the inclusion of Henderson schools and the formation of the Le Sueur-Henderson Henderson School District, which he became superintendent of between 2000-2011.

Outside of his role as an educator, Johnson continued to make a difference for LS-H students. As a 20-year member and former president of the Le Sueur Rotary Club, Johnson initiated the STRIVE program (Students taking a Renewed Interest in the Value of Education) and the Giants Reality Challenge in connection with Le Sueur-Henderson. STRIVE is a mentorship program to assist students with their academics, while the Giants Reality Challenge is a new program that puts students through a simulation where they must budget their lives with the salary of their chosen career.

Over the years, Johnson has taken an active interest in the community development of Le Sueur. He served his first and only term as a city councilor between 2015-2018, where he sat on the Le Sueur Hospital Board, Economic Development Authority and several other committees. He was on the Board of Directors, and later the president of the Le Sueur Chamber of Commerce. Johnson is an active singer as well, being a member of The Notables Community Chorus and a choir member of the First Lutheran Church, where he was also a councilor for two years.

One of the keys to becoming a leader in one’s community, said Johnson, is finding both good and bad examples of leadership.

“Strive to be a leader, rather than a misleader. I got confidence by learning from the example of people who weren’t very good leaders,” said Johnson. “You learn over the years not only from positive people you emulate, you also learn from bad leaders what not to do.”

Throughout his life, Johnson said he has often relied on his co-leader, his wife Sandra. As a FACS teacher herself, Sandra and Johnson frequently collaborate in education and in the household, where Johnson said he learned a lot.

“Teachers are leaders, but parents are leaders,” said Johnson. “So when you’re a parent, you discover you’re a first-flying teacher. She taught me a lot about child development and she is really the primary leader of our house, I’m kind of an assistant to her.”


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Sheriff’s Office takes police work to the skies with new drone

The Le Sueur County and Rice County Sheriff’s offices recently purchased a drone capable of conducting search and rescue operations, monitoring traffic collisions, collision reconstruction, analyzing crime scenes, finding drugs and illegal items, and investigating and locating potential threats and suspects. (Carson Hughes/ Le Sueur County News)

New technology is giving the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office a bird’s-eye view of crime.

In January 2020, the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office announced that the department had joined together with Rice County to purchase a drone to aid with police work. That drone is now ready to fly, with 10 county officers fully-trained by the Federal Aviation Administration to pilot it.

Drone technology is seeing more and more use by police departments across the country, said Le Sueur County Chief Deputy Nick Greenig. The DJI Matrice 210 model drone purchased by the department is specifically designed with a number of public safety tasks in mind including search and rescue operations, monitoring traffic collisions, collision reconstruction, analyzing crime scenes, finding drugs and illegal items and investigating and locating potential threats and suspects.

“This is a critical tool that enables greater public safety and allows us to make better decisions,” said Greenig. “It’s not a toy, it’s a public safety tool that gives us an edge.”

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Le Sueur County Officer Bryan Douk sets up the department drone. The drone requires dual battery packs to fly, or it can be plugged into a 200 foot tether. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

The drone comes equipped with a daytime camera and a thermal imaging camera which can view the ground from 400 feet in the air. Officers can pilot the drone from a maximum distance of five miles away with a remote control that can display the drone’s video feed. With a battery, the drone can remain in the air for nearly 40 minutes. The Sheriff’s Office has multiple batteries on hand for longer missions and a 200 foot tether which can power the drone indefinitely.

While in the sky, the drone has a full range of movement — able to ascend, descend, move in all directions and rotate. Able to ascend at a max speed of 16 feet per second, the drone can be deployed quickly. The drone can be flown at a maximum distance of 400 feet above the ground and 400 feet above any structure. While the drone is capable of flying higher, it must remain in that airspace so that it does not obstruct the flight paths of birds and helicopters.

Greenig said that the DJI Matrice 210 was selected for its outdoor and public safety applications. It’s a larger drone with 17 inch propellers capable of flying in strong winds, sub-zero temperatures and is designed to resist water and difficult weather conditions. Funds for the drone came from money and assets seized by the Le Sueur/Rice County Drug Task Force in criminal drug cases.

Scott O’Brien, an officer with Le Sueur County and a trained drone pilot, said that the drone’s thermal imaging camera would be a significant tool in tracking down missing persons. During his training, O’Brien was tasked with trying to avoid the drone in a wooded area, but the thermal imaging made it easy for the pilot to find him.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Bryan Douk uses a remote control equipped with a video display to fly the drone and see through its camera. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

“Thermal imagery is one of the biggest advantages,” said O’Brien. “We can see your heat signature and even the heat from someone’s footprints. I tried hiding — I even hid between three trees — and they still found me.”

The thermal imaging camera could also be used to assist fire departments. The camera can display an overview of the area and show which places have the hottest temperatures.

The drone hasn’t been used by Le Sueur County in a real-world mission yet, but Greenig said that Rice County had already utilized the technology to find missing people and items in the forest. Since the drone is a first for the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office, Greenig said that officers were still getting used to using it.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

The Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office drone is capable of flying 400 feet above buildings. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

“This drone presents us with a lot of great opportunities for public safety,” said Greenig. “This technology can allow us to locate a missing child in the woods, respond to emergencies in a timely fashion and we can cover a lot of ground quickly.”


Seven Tri-City United Titans seniors are honored prior to the doubleheader. From left are Ellie Singleton, Jaylyn Schefler, Cohl Paggen, Lily Barnes, Keilee Westlie, Brooke Holicky and Sydney Sartori.


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County, cities, schools plan projects with $4.7 million in CARES Act funding

More than $3.4 million in finding from the CARES Act is being sent to Le Sueur County to offset COVID-related expenses. County funds could be used to reimburse current expenses as well as fund broadband projects and a grant program for businesses. (County News file photo)

Counties, cities and schools across the state of Minnesota are receiving millions of dollars in relief from the federal CARES Act, but they will need to spend those funds quickly to have access to all monies available.

In total, about $4.7 million dollars has been allocated across Le Sueur County, including to the county, cities, townships and public school districts. Of those funds, around $3.4 million has been distributed to the county, $1 million to cities, $564,000 to school districts and $277,000 to townships.

The influx of dollars comes with a handful of restrictions. The funds can only be used on expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments may only reimburse themselves for expenses that they did not budget for and those costs must have been incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020.

The last requirement gives governments and school districts a brief window of time to spend the money they’ve received from the CARES Act. Cities and schools will have until Nov. 15 to reimburse themselves before unused dollars are sent back to Le Sueur County. The county has until Dec. 1 to use its remaining funds.

County

“Every county is doing something a little different,” said Le Sueur County Administrator Darrell Pettis. “Some counties just took the money and said we’re going to do a grant program and they just sent it out the door. Other counties I know are going to reimburse ourselves, because we feel that there are going to be tough times coming. There are going to be expenses down the road that we can’t think of right now. As some of these federal programs go away, our Health and Human Services spending is going to go up as federal money starts to die off.”

Le Sueur County has not finalized decisions on how the money will be spent, but the county administration is looking at using funds to reimburse the county and school districts, some potential broadband projects and a potential grant program for small businesses and nonprofits.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Le Sueur County has had to take on a number of expenses, including buying PPE for staff, hand sanitizer, as well as laptops and Webex software to hold meetings remotely. The county plans to use CARES Act fund to reimburse these expenses as well as payroll expenses for public health and public safety workers.

Pettis said that the county is also looking into offsetting some costs incurred by the school districts, which have comparatively less CARES Act dollars available. The county administrator said that many Minnesota schools have had portable technologies, like Chromebooks and iPads, lost or damaged during distance learning, and county dollars could be used to reimburse local districts for any lost or damaged technology.

Rural broadband has been a major focus of the county over the past few years, and the CARES Act may give the county the opportunity to pursue some smaller projects, such as installing WiFi hot spots in under-served areas, particularly areas that were unable to access digital learning tools while schools implemented distance learning.

“Our perfect little project would be if we could find an area that has fiber optic running through the area that is poorly served, and if there was a tower, like a cell tower, a MNDOT tower or a water tower there that we could do something with a wireless type connection that we could put up on the tower,” said Pettis.

The county is looking for ideas and locations using information from the Blandin Foundation — an organization that aims to strengthen broadband in rural areas and that has partnered with Le Sueur County — as well as data from school districts, showing which areas had the most trouble during distance learning.

Pettis has also been directed by the Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners to look into a possible grant program for small businesses and nonprofits. The county administrator estimated that a program could deliver $5,000-10,000 in grant monies to individual organizations, but the usefulness of the program could be limited. Many federal loan and grant programs discourage applicants from seeking grants from multiple sources.

Because of the short window the county has to spend its dollars, Pettis said the county is exploring a multitude of options.

“I think it will be difficult to spend all the dollars that we’ve received,” siad Pettis.

Cities

Cities in Le Sueur County have access to CARES Act dollars of their own and each are developing plans on how to spend it.

The city of Le Sueur has received $300,000 in CARES Act funds. City Administrator Jasper Kruggel said that nearly all of the funds would go toward reimbursing the Le Sueur Community Center and outdoor pool for additional costs from COVID-19 requirements.

The city has been seeking ways to open the Community Center since May, when the City Council voted to close the facility under financial pressure. The Community Center has been a major recreational attraction in the city with a fitness center, indoor pool and an ice arena that is used by the Bulldogs hockey teams.

The city of Le Sueur is looking to use CARES Act funds to offset COVID-related expenses operating the outdoor pool and community. (County News file photo)

Le Sueur opened up the Aqua Valley Pool at the end of June, but did so with a number of COVID-related restrictions, including a requirement to operate at 50% capacity and to set aside times to perform frequent pool cleanings.

In June, the Personnel and Budget Committee projected that keeping the Community Center closed while opening the pool would leave the city with a $60,000 deficit and opening up both the outdoor pool and the Community Center — with the exception of the indoor pool and ice arena — would leave the city with a $154,000 deficit.

The city of Le Center has received $190,000 in CARES Act dollars. City Administrator Chris Collins said that the city would be forming a sub-committee, including Mayor Josh Frederickson, Councilor Nathan Hintz and Collins himself to determine how the city would spend these funds. Some major potential expenses include laptops for remote meetings and a paperless agenda software. The city is also looking to reimburse itself for hand sanitizer and fiberglass barriers which have been installed at City Hall and the municipal pool.

The city of Cleveland has received $55,000 dollars from the CARES Act, much of which will go to PPE expenditures for police, fire, the municipal liquor store and election judges for the upcoming elections, but the city has not yet made decisions on other potential expenditures.

“The city will look for guidance from various resources to outline what the city could potentially use the funds for,” said City Administrator Dan Evans. “Many local businesses have been struggling with the effects of this pandemic. The city could potentially look into using these funds to assist these businesses by offering grants. This would help alleviate some of the financial burden this pandemic has caused on those businesses.”

Schools

For local schools, there are still many unknowns regarding the best way to spend their CARES Act dollars.

One of the greatest mysteries is that school districts don’t know what learning will look like in the fall. The Minnesota Department of Education has required school districts to develop plans for in-person learning, distance learning and a hybrid model before the state releases its guidance. With the learning model up in the air, districts are still figuring out the best way to spend their funds.

One major area of focus for schools is technology. Portable technologies, such as Chromebooks and iPads, as well as online learning tools, like Google Classroom, became instrumental in delivering distance learning to students.

Of the $120,000 in CARES Act dollars allocated to Le Sueur-Henderson, the district plans to spend around $8,000 toward fixing computers, $7,000 on data usage and $16,000 on 65 Chromebooks for the third-grade class. That’s in addition to $7,000 for social distancing signage, $2,000 for plexiglass barriers, $3,000 for video cameras, $2,000 for face masks and between $10,000-50,000 in salary for a coordinator and substitute coordinator to assist the district.

Tri-City United is putting a similar emphasis on technology with the $320,000 in CARES Act funding the district has received.

“Whether we are in a hybrid at some point or a distance learning at some point this year, we are going to have some additional technology needs,” said TCU Superintendent Lonnie Seifert. “We’ve identified the needs technology-wise. For the rest of it, we’re waiting to see what the model is and where our needs are in making that happen.”

Some expenses the district is looking at include technology for younger children and early learners, connectivity in outlying areas of the district and cameras in the classroom so that students could watch their classes from home in a potential hybrid model. PPE, plexiglass barriers and signage to guide students during social distancing are all being considered for in-person and hybrid learning.

Covering these expenses won’t be easy though. Even with the funds from the CARES Act, creating a safe learning environment could cost schools a lot more than what they are receiving.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES chughes@lesueurcountynews.com 

Park Elementary Teacher Colleen Winters’ second grade class dressed up over Zoom as tacky tourists, showing their teacher what they would need for a vacation. Technology that has enabled learning remotely has become a major focus of schools as they decide what to do with their CARES Act dollars. (Photo courtesy of Le Sueur-Henderson)

“By the time we’re all said and done, the funding we get will probably not cover all of our expenses, so we are looking at some other options,” said Seifert. “We’re trying to see if there are any other resources out there we can get to cover some of these costs before it hits our bottom line and starts hitting our fund balance.”

Cleveland Superintendent Brian Philips also reported that the CARES Act dollars were not enough to cover the costs of COVID-19. Cleveland Public Schools has received $24,000, but the district is looking to hire more staff to help the district meet recommended guidelines. Once the district learns what learning model will be required in the fall, Philips said the district would begin planning and tracking costs closely.

“That amount of money is appreciated; it’s not adequate enough to take care of all our needs for any district going forward,” said Phillips. “We’re hoping for state and federal assistance, because schools don’t have budgets for this anticipated increase. We’re definitely going to need more help.”