Greene Co school board brings on two new members, conducts varied business

The Greene County Schools board of education meeting Sept. 20 was the last for board president David Ohrt and Teresa Hagen.

Ohrt conducted the first portion of the meeting, which included approving the consent agenda. This month’s consent agenda included “hiring” volunteer coaches for the new high school soccer program being implemented for a spring season. Carl Behne will be head boys soccer coach. Chad Black will be assistant boys soccer coach and JV boys coach. Marilyn Tasler will be the girls coach. All are experienced coaches. The three are volunteering for the first season hoping to demonstrate the viability of soccer with reduced cost to the district.

The retiring board heard a short report from Scott Weber, who handles the district’s property and liability insurance. The district belongs to the Iowa Association of School Boards’ safety group, a pool that includes 320 K-12 districts, AEAs and community colleges. The district received a $22,241.18 dividend from EMC Insurance based on the claims experience of the past year. That amount is 9.6 percent of the total premiums paid.

Ohrt thanked board member Teresa Hagen for her 15 years of service on the board, and superintendent Tim Christensen thanked Ohrt for his service. They were both given plaques and lifetime activity passes. Neither Hagen nor Ohrt sought re-election to the board.

To open the second portion of the meeting Mike Dennhardt, Steve Karber and Catherine Wilson took the oath of office. Dennhardt served previously and won re-election. Karber and Wilson are beginning their service.

Mark Peters was elected board president and John McConnell was elected vice president.

Q&As in Scranton and GJ – The new board agreed to hold three Q&A sessions during the year, with one of them in Scranton and one in Grand Junction.

The board initiated the Q&A sessions during the past year as a way to be more accessible to the public. They were held the second Wednesday of the month in Jefferson. Members of the media were the only ones present at some of them.

Holding the Q&As outside Jefferson was a compromise after Karber first suggested regular meetings be held in other locations. Consensus was that it would be less confusing for patrons to have the regular meetings at the same place every month, but board members were very willing to have the Q&As elsewhere.

Q&A sessions will be held on the fourth Monday on alternating months at 7 pm. The November Q&A will be held in Scranton, the January Q&A will be held in Grand Junction, and the March Q&A will be held in Jefferson.

Regular meetings will continue to be held the third Wednesday of the month, with a work session at 5:15 pm and the meeting at 6:30 pm.

Certified annual report – The board received good news and a caution along with the 2016-17 certified annual report. After the budget cuts made last year the district ended 2016-17 with a positive unspent balance of $392,000. (That amount is spending authority, more like being below the credit limit on a credit card than actual money, per state funding formulas for education.)

The caution was a reminder from Christensen that the district won’t feel the budget impact of the 50 student decline in enrollment in ’16-’17 until the current year.

Literacy policy – Requiring summer school for students who are “substantially deficient” in reading will be discussed at the October board meeting. The district’s instructional policies were on the agenda for review. The board approved sections 603.1 through 603.11, (including basic instruction program, special education, health education, academic freedom, global education and more), but held 603.12, which deals with literacy, for further review.

The policy was adopted in 2014 when the state legislature determined that all third graders not proficient in reading should be retained. The Greene County literacy policy implements that legislation and sets policy for attending summer school.

However, the legislature later backed away from that mandate.

According to district reading specialist Julie Neal, only about 20 percent of the students who should attend summer school do. Elementary principal Scott Johnson said summer school attendance numbers are still good. “The teachers have done such a good job that kids no longer see it as a punishment, but as something fun,” he said.

He also reminded the board that the purpose of summer school is not as much to improve reading but to avoid the “summer slide” of skills learned.

In a brief discussion, board members have differing opinions about literacy and retaining students. Peters said he favors retaining students who can’t read at third grade. Wilson said she isn’t in favor of retaining students based only on reading.

Karber, whose wife is a retired elementary teacher, suggested that teachers help develop a new literacy policy. The importance of parental cooperation was also noted.

Christensen said he would have a revised literacy policy for review at the October meeting.

‘Doubles’ at lunch – Several high school students attended the meeting to address a new practice at the high school and middle school that eliminated “doubles” at lunch. During the open forum early in the meeting, senior class vice president Garrett Swain read a well-prepared statement that argued the need for high school students to have access to a second lunch. He included statistics on free/reduced price meals and the nutritional needs of those students. He suggested solutions to the problem that created the doubles ban – too many students with negative balances in their meal accounts.

The board does not respond to any items mentioned during the open forum. At the end of the meeting, Christensen told the students that he and high school principal Brian Phillips had already prepared a form that parents can sign that verifies they know their children may sometimes take seconds.

Students who pay full price for their meals will pay full price for seconds. Student who qualify for free/reduces price meals also must pay full price for seconds.

Committee assignments – Earlier in the “new” board meeting, committee assignments were made as follows: county assessor’s conference board- Steve Fisher; Jefferson park and recreation board- Sam Harding; negotiations- Dennhardt, Fisher, Karber; classified/administrative salaries- Peters, McConnell, Wilson; School Improvement Advisory Committee- Peters, McConnell, Wilson; School Foundation- Harding; facilities- McConnell, Harding, Karber; insurance- Peters, Fisher; and scholarships- McConnell, Wilson, Karber. Karber agreed to serve as the IASB convention delegate.

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