Pierce City school board targets next projects
Update on pandemic impact, board packet provide discussion focus
An update on instruction during the pandemic and a discussion of the next facilities improvements to target provided highlights for the October meeting of the Pierce City school board.
Board members approved the annual bus rider routes, routinely done in October. Superintendent Kelli Alumbaugh said while the district still operates eight routes, she said with the number of students choosing to take classes virtually, ridership had dropped by 30 to 250. She also noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended flexibility of school meals that would allow free meals to be offered to all students for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.
Alumbaugh reported Gov. Mike Parson released an additional $61.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds on Oct. 7. The Pierce City school district would received $48,992 of that, based on last year's enrollment. The Barry County Commission had approved giving the district approximately $30,000 for the 71 students attending from there. Alumbaugh said she was working closely with Presiding Commissioner Gary Youngblood to meet the county's requirements on how the funds should be used. Newton County still did not plan to offer any money to the district for students attending from the Wentworth area.
Some of the CARES Act money would cover students attending St. Mary's Catholic School, Alumbaugh said. The Pierce City district would act as a fiscal agent in transferring those funds for local use.
Principals and Alumbaugh had discussed how to use the additional CARES Act funds. She cited making improvements in connectivity. Principal Shannon Holden reported high school quarantine numbers have stayed “very low,” sentiments echoed by Principal Emily Scott for Central Elementary.
An extended discussion followed on how to use the remaining $281,000 from the $2.4 million no-tax-increase bond issue approved by voters in April 2018, funds which need to be spent by April 2021.
Projects completed, overseen by Alumbaugh since her arrival, included demolition of the old middle school, moving the high school office and building a connecting corridor between the middle school and high school, improving middle school pick-up and drop-off, erecting a new maintenance building, upgrading football field lighting, re-roofing the high school gym and installing new heating and air conditioning unites at the high school.
Additions to the list of completed projects included paving the parking lot north of the middle school, upgrading student bathrooms at the elementary school and upgrading phones so that every classroom now had a phone and had the capacity now for paging. Alumbaugh asked board members to prioritize additional projects. One option was to prepay the debt on the solar panels, which could use all the funds.
Board chairman Bryan Stellwagen said his top priority would be upgrading the fire suppression system at Central Elementary, costing around $70,000. Placing shatter preventing film on windows was another popular choice, though board member Zach Renkoski thought covering only the lower windows would like prove sufficient. Renkoski also suggested upgrading the doors at the ballfields to prevent vandalism or break-ins. Also cited were additional fencing around the elementary playgrounds and upgrading security cameras on the ballfields. Alumbaugh said she would seek quotes on those projects to present at a future meeting.
Athletic director Matt Street briefed the board on plans by the Booster Club to upgrade the baseball and softball fields' scoreboards. Street said the changes would convert all the district's scoreboards to the Techtronics brand and have the additions installed by spring. The Booster Club planned to defray some of the $23,000 price by selling advertising. Coaches will update the information on the scoreboards from their cell phones, reducing confusion during games.
Street detailed plans to convert music at games to a product from Gametime for a price of $1,200 for 18 months during the COVID pandemic. The company would vet all the music, screen out all selections with potentially offensive or objectionable lyrics and stream material to any or all sites in the district simultaneously, whether at the ballfields or the weight room. Any content, such as announcements, would need to be submitted to Gametime two days in advance for preparation, eliminating the need for local speakers providing special announcements. Street hoped the Booster Club would take over managing the music service in the future.
Attorney Emily Omohundro walked through the new board policy manual prepared by EDCounsel, the recently signed legal advisors following the district's move from the Missouri School Boards Association. Omohundro pointed out clarifications in the document that could help avoid missteps or misunderstandings. These included:
• A list of what school board specifically do, clarifying, for example, that only the board signs contracts to hire persons, not administrators or coaches.
• EdCounsel represents the board as a whole, and can answer questions from individual board members, but generally communication should move through the board president and the superintendent. A communication between board members may be best sent not to the president, but to the superintendent who will in turn disseminate the statement to the complete board.
• Having standing committees, for tasks such as updating the master plan, can prove helpful, though the Pierce City board appears to name committees on an as-needed basis, which is fine as long as it works.
• Detailing board norms is a standard practice for many districts, especially for new board members. “If there are board norms, there should never need to be public admonishment of a board member,” Omohundro said. “Board members are not employees. [Personal critiques] can't be done in closed session.”
• Board retreats, which haven't been held in Pierce City for several years, are subject to the Sunshine Law and open to the public, except in discussions over normally closed legal issues.
• Evaluation for the superintendent and administrators flows out of the district's master plan. A good strategy, for example, would be to give the superintendent specific goals of the year as steps toward bigger goals detailed in the master plan. “Some evaluations are so crummy because they're so vague,” Omohundro said.
• Board members need to know how to respond to complaints and direct patrons to the proper person in the chain of command best positioned to help.
• Board members do not have access to documents, such as personnel or student records, not otherwise available to the public. Omohundro said the complete board can ask to review such records, and do so in closed session, but not individually.
• From personal experience, Omohundro said the public and district staff may not distinguish between the role of a school board member or a private citizen. She advised school board members always carry that official mantle and must take great care, for example, commenting on Facebook because the public will be inclined to see that as a board policy declaration and not a comment from an average patron.
The board policy manual was accepted for review and will likely see action at the board's next meeting on Nov. 18. The following session will be on Dec. 16. Board filings open on Dec. 15 and close on Jan. 19. Positions open for the April 2021 election are presently held by Larry Zebert and Kenny Fenske.
In closed session, board members accepted the resignation of Amanda Jones as junior class sponsor, having moved her teaching duties to the elementary school this year. High school counselor Courtney Garner became the new sponsor.
Additional resignations were approved from Chelsea Crites, middle school science teacher, and Nick Winger, middle school English language arts teacher. Both will leave at the end of 2020.