February school board roundup
The Ennis School Board narrowed the district’s search for an architect to design its high school’s expansion down to three firms at their February meeting.
The district had issued a request for qualifications for the project in January, receiving 11 applications by the Feb. 8 deadline. An eight-person committee comprised of administration and staff reviewed each submittal, spending four hours poring over the proposals. Via a scoring process the applications were ranked into top, middle and bottom tiers.
ESD Superintendant Casey Klasna, who was part of the committee, told the board that the process was a difficult one. “I don’t feel there was a bad submission,” he said. “They were all very quality.”
After a lengthy board discussion it was decided the three architects that made the top tier would be interviewed: SMA Architects of Helena, 45 Architecture of Bozeman, and Cushing Terrell with multiple Montana offices, made the cut.
The top three were touted by the committee and board for their emphasis on public engagement and community outreach, as well as having a hands-on approach to the project. The firms also provided pre-planning and pre-bonding services and have extensive recent relevant experience with school projects.
Trustees and the proposal committee will compile questions that will be used during board interviews with the architects, set tentatively to begin in the first week of March. These interviews will be open to the public.
Ultimately, whether or not the expansion project will move forward will be voted upon by the community via a school bond election in November.
The need for expansion, explained
ESD initiated the discussion on accommodating student growth in 2017 when developing its strategic plan. Klasna said the district has seen a steady increase in enrollment over the last 10 years, and he and trustees feel that there is a need for additional square footage at the high school to accommodate student growth.
“Currently, we have a shortage of classroom space and a few classes are taught in a commons area of the school, which is not a conducive environment to learning and poses safety and security concerns,” said Klasna in an email to The Madisonian.
Small, crowded classrooms, some with no natural light, need expansion and renovation, said Klasna, and the library needs renovations to become ADA compliant.
This year the district was forced to use a classroom in the junior high wing to accommodate its second fifth grade class, creating a shortage of junior high classrooms. That prompted the district to move their junior high science teacher into a high school classroom, which in turn created a high school classroom shortage.
Heightened security is another priority – administrative office expansion to an area with a clear view of the school entryway has also been discussed. “School staff, especially school administrators, need to see their campus,” said Klasna. “Allowing a clear view will definitely improve the school’s safety and security.”
Klasna continued in his email, “Students are at the forefront of most all the decisions made at Ennis Schools. It the goal to ensure that all students are afforded a quality education and school experience. Expanding our facilities will offer a learning environment that is safe, positive, and conducive. The support of our community has been hands down as good as it gets, and we are excited about this opportunity.”
ESD’s last expansion was a smallscale project in which added additional storage space on the back of the high school gymnasium. In 2017, the Vo Tech building located across the street from the high school building was remodeled and renovated. The K-8 building was built in 2012.
Twin Bridges School District’s budgeting considerations made it onto the school board meeting agenda for the fourth time.
Last meeting, the board decided to wait to act until more information could be gleaned from changes in the legislature and potential extra coronavirus stimulus funds. In regard to stimulus money, the board discussed whether these funds could be used for an enrollment issue that existed before the pandemic. The money typically is denoted by the condition ‘as it relates to Covid’ i.e., student retention as it relates to Covid.
“In the end, the discussion led to having the group determine that the best situation is for Mr. Kaiser to bring recommendations in this regard as it pertains to this agenda item in the March meeting,” Board Chair Steve Janzen said. The board will hear a recommendation for action brought by Superintendent Thad Kaiser next month.
The board updated policies relating to student discipline, visitor and spectator conduct, conduct on school property, personal conduct and drug-free workplace as they related to changes made this legislative session. Montana Legislative Referendum 130 and Montana Initiative 190, relating to firearms and marijuana respectively, became law on Jan. 1.
“These are just updating those policies to account for these two new laws,” Janzen said. The school’s policies retain the status quo of the district and school grounds, even as changes are made to the state laws.
Two, three-year positions on the board are open this year. The board passed a resolution to have an election for these open trustee seats. Under this agenda item, the board also passed a resolution for general flex and building funds, placing those items on the ballot along with the board members.
The board will consider exercising permissive levies and made note of this during February’s meeting. Permissive levies allow for levying taxpayers without an election but requires that taxpayers be notified of this decision. In March, the board will specify the levies to a greater detail.
Ms. Cindy Brown, elementary principal, respectively declined renewing her contract for the next school year. Mr. Jerry Redfield was rehired as the distance learning instructor.
The board voted to allow the senior class to pursue senior trip options. Three in-state ideas are being considered and will be presented to the board for approval.
One student was approved for the early kindergarten program who qualifies as a kindergartner in the district’s Average Number of Belonging.
The board will not host a special meeting regarding Gov. Greg Gianforte’s rescinding of the statewide mask mandate. Twin Bridges School District will remain in alignment with the Madison County Public Health Department’s 60-day mask mandate that was put in place on Jan. 26.
The communication and facilities committees will meet this month before the next regularly scheduled board meeting. The facilities committee has plans to install cameras in the school in the near future.
The approval of Montana I-190, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, in November resulted in the Sheridan School Board amending some language in a handful of policies.
While marijuana has been legalized for adults 21 years and older, “It’s still not legal or appropriate on school grounds or school property or in school sponsored events,” Sheridan Superintendent Mike Wetherbee said.
“It really affected five of our current polices that needed revision,” Wetherbee said—student discipline, personnel conduct, drug free workplace and conduct on school property, to name a few. Wetherbee explained the language revisions will not affect how business is conducted within the district. It was merely modified to reflect how the district wanted to present their policies related to marijuana.
The board moved to accept changes to the policies and approved the package of updated policies unanimously.
Four positions on the Sheridan School Board will be open this year—two for the Alder District and two for Sheridan. There have been some individuals coming forward with intent to run, and Wetherbee was encouraged by this.
After switching to distanced learning when middle school and high school students were required to quarantine, Wetherbee estimated that 90-95% of middle school students were back in school last Monday.
“I tried like heck to put a plan together on Tuesday to bring those high schoolers back on Tuesday or Wednesday,” Wetherbee said, but could not yield a critical mass to make in-person instruction feasible.
High schoolers will likely be back for in-person education this week.
Alder School Board approved the purchase of five new laptops for the classrooms, one for the cook to use for paperwork and an additional laptop for the 2nd-5th grade classroom.
The district will likely receive more Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, but Montana state legislature has made House Bill 2 the vessel for the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) to approve and accept the funds, which usually is not passed until the end of the session, Madison County Superintendent Pam Birkeland explained. Thus, there is a delay in receiving funds due to the approval process.
House Bill 2 includes the state budget—which includes school funding—that the legislature must pass. Since the second round of CARES Act funds were allocated in January and the legislature is in session, they must be approved in order to be used.
Lobbyists from Montana Public Education Center, representing K-12 schools, are trying to get the fund acceptance moved to another bill to get it through the legislature sooner.
The board passed resolutions to hold an election in May if needed for one position, for a voted general fund levy and a voted building reserve levy, as the current city levy of $5,000 a year for five years ran out July 1.
Birkeland brought up a conversation about non-voted permissive levies for transportation, building reserve and tuition, which the board would have to pass a resolution for in March and place a legal noticed in the paper by March 31.
The board discussed Gov. Greg Gianforte’s rescinding of the statewide mask mandate. Birkeland said that school boards will have the opportunity to determine best practices for their districts, but that no concrete decisions were made during Thursday’s meeting.
Madison County’s 60-day mask mandate was put in place on Jan. 26.
Find Harrison School Board coverage in next week's edition.