School board round-up, April
As goes with this time of the year in school districts, the Alder School Board reviewed Montana School Board Association (MTSBA) policies during the monthly meeting on April 15.
Flexibility policies allow for exceptional enrollment of students three years old with a disability or four years old who do not meet the age cut off of Sept. 10 to enter kindergarten. Through these policies, students can be enrolled without the board voting on each individual student.
In the Alder School District, these four-year-old students enter the Running Start program where they learn to master kindergarten standards in a part-time program and count as part-time for the district’s Average Number of Belonging (ANB). The board reviewed the flexibility policies.
The board discussed use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds allocated for schools. Through the ESSER 2 fund (Education Stabilization Fund) and ESSER 3 funds, the Covid funding schools are eligible for, Alder School District will receive $209,000, according to Madison County Superintendent Pam Birkeland.
The district plans to use this money to update the cooling and heating system as well look into constructing an outdoor learning space—something that was discussed as a way to provide outdoor learning earlier in the pandemic.
With the ESSER funds, money is required to be used for items related to Covid impacts. The board allowed the school clerk to follow through with a quote from 3 Rivers about securing a new phone system for the district that includes caller ID, which the ESSER funds would be used for, citing adequate communication with families as a greater need brought on by the pandemic.
Some of the funding will be unavailable until January, as the state legislature is still determining the specifics and federal bills are not fully realized. Three certified staff teachers were provided letters of intent for the following school year, acknowledging that the instructors will have a position, but the board was unable to include a contract amount until the post-session preliminary budget is known, something also held up in the legislature.
Another stipulation of the CARES Act school-related funds requires that 20% of funding be set aside for lost learning or accelerated learning services. The board discussed what that may look like in the district—providing summer camp opportunities, offering tutoring sessions or implementing a summer school program were brought up as options.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a couple members of the public brought up concerns regarding Alder School District’s continuation of face mask requirements, and a couple parents spoke in support of the policy. The Madison County Board of Health voted to rescind the mask mandate March 16. Alder and Ennis School Districts continue to require masks. No action was taken as the item was not on the agenda.
The board voted to move forward with a letter of agreement, which typically happens each year, with the Montana Small Schools Alliance, which provides additional services to rural schools such as counseling and library services, or professional development for staff.
Drop off and pick up in the front of the school was discussed as it pertained to how traffic gets backed up during these times of the day in front of the school. The board will look into different options on how to make drop off and pick up more efficient.
The board approved the purchase of two new toilets which will be retrofitted to automatic flushing.
During a special meeting last month, the Twin Bridges School Board moved to reduce the agricultural education program from 1.0 to 0.5 and combine it with the industrial arts program to form a 1.5 program. This position would also be offered as a half-classified, half-transportation position. Additionally, the foreign language/history program would be reassigned with a 0.5 library program.
As it pertained to the latter change, the individual impacted by the foreign language/history and library reassignment accepted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted by Superintendent Thad Kaiser and approved by the teachers’ union.
The individual affected by the agricultural education position change declined to sign a MOU. It was then not sent to the teachers’ union for any action and the board did not take action on this item. A termination proceeding was set for the position.
“It’s just part of the legal process to formalize the action that we took at the March special meeting, where we had a reduction in force,” Board Chair Steve Janzen explained. The termination proceeding, called so because of the legal process, will formalize the decision to reduce the agricultural education program to 0.5.
Regarding a conversation about a vacant lot owned by the district, Kaiser recommended tabling the discussion for another six months. During that time, the housing committee and the Twin Bridges School and Community Foundation will work together to plan for building and constructing school employee housing in the lot. This passed 5-0.
Two teachers—Ms. Jaqlyn Ward and Ms. Tammy Belice—were up for hire during their tenure year, and which after unanimous board approval, will join the tenured staff classification. The board approved other nontenured staff hires outside of a tenure year, tenured staff and classified positions.
Consistent with the nuts-and-bolts time of year in a school district, the board asked a committee to review new Montana School Board Association (MTSBA) policies and provide recommendations to the board. The business manager and superintendent contracts discussions were reassigned to the negotiation committee.
The handbook committee set a date to review the past school handbook and make any necessary changes based on the past school year and any MTSBA updates for the upcoming year.
The Sheridan School Board went through, reviewed and approved a block of policies required by the Montana School Board Association (MTSBA) during April’s monthly meeting. Typical of April school board meetings, the meeting mainly consisted of board business.
“We’re trying to tie things up and move forward,” Superintendent Mike Wetherbee said.
The Community Learning Center Director for the schools’ PALS program was reappointed, non-tenured teacher contracts were renewed, and the next academic year school calendar was approved.
During the old business portion of the meeting, the board discussed the district’s IT position. This was brought up formerly via the Twin Bridges School District as the Twin Bridges School Board was considering budget reductions and whether or not the two districts could share an IT position. The Sheridan School Board talked about what type of spending and how much spending is allocated for IT.
“We were pretty skeptical that we were going to save any money by doing anything different than what we’re currently at,” Wetherbee said. No action was taken on this item—it did not move forward in the Twin Bridges School District and thus did not move forward in the Sheridan School District.
Coming up, the board will review a threat assessment plan put together by Wetherbee during the June 8 meeting. Triggered in part by public comment in March that heard concern regarding violence in rural schools and student safety, this policy would be used as a tool in the district when it comes to threat assessment. The board may choose to approve, deny, or table and request revisions to the policy at the June meeting.