By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez
MONTE VISTA— The Sargent School District Board of Education met for their monthly meeting last Monday, May 21. During a work session the board stated they will be delaying the vote on armed personnel due to the potential hire of a private security guard. The board also heard a presentation from a fourth grade student who has developed a coding club and heard good news about the Accelerated Reader program’s successes and the expansion of the preschool program.
During the scheduled work session before the meeting, the board continued their discussion of either initiating an armed personnel policy or hiring a private security guard. Board President Heather Paulson stated the board is waiting on the results of the June primary election. An unnamed person the board is familiar with is being seriously considered as a security officer and that person would be well-received in the community and is interested in the position. However, the person in question is waiting on the results of a local primary election. They are not currently a candidate but if a specific person wins the primary they will declare their candidacy to run against them and would not be available to the school. Should that situation fall into place, the board would have to meet in early July to take a vote on perusing the armed personnel option. The board did not clarify on who the security officer being considered is or offer any further information.
Many board members still expressed concerns about the armed personnel option, including unclear costs that are not currently factored into the draft budget for the 2018-2019 school year. Superintendent Greg Slover noted he has looked into costs at other school districts across the state for both options but costs ranged from $20,000-$40,000. The schools on the lower end, paying security guards around $20,000 per year, also covered the costs of uniforms, training and other benefits. Slover noted Sargent will be receiving about $141,000 in small rural schools funding for the next year which they could use a portion of to fund the program.
There is still not a specific policy he could find that shows the evaluation criteria for which personnel would be armed, but he suggested relying on local law enforcement to provide resources for psychological evaluations. Paulson stated the feeling she gets from the community is they would be more likely to vote for a mill levy override if the district would include a security officer, not arming personnel. Vice President Gina Mitchell stated she wouldn’t really take that into account, as they have attempted and failed to get voters to get voters to approve the measure twice for school and academic improvements already.
During the community input portion of the meeting, Marsha Mangan with the preschool announced they will be expanding their half-day program to also include an afternoon half-day program to serve more students.
During the student reports section of the meeting, fourth grader Tanner Houser presented to the board about the Coding Club he helped developed for fourth through sixth grade students. Houser is a student in Kendra Sanderson’s class and was assisted in his presentation by GT Coordinator Nina Carbutt. Carbutt explained she also teaches elementary technology and Houser had approached her wanting to know if coding would be included in the course, so she encouraged him to start a club. About eight students were involved in the coding club. Houser showed the board how they used the Scratch program, developed by MIT, to teach the club members different styles of coding through self-paced modules. Houser demonstrated several styles the club members learned including speed art, games, animation programs and more. Carbutt stated the club has learned a lot of different, vital life skills through their work, including an increase in determination and problem solving skills individually, as well as good teamwork and collaboration skills together. “The 21st Century skills being learned from this club are pretty amazing.”
During the principal reports, Hemmerling stated the Accelerated Reader (AR) program has been very successful this year. Readers who were considered at risk or below their grade level have dropped by half, and 75 percent of the students met their reading goals this year, versus the roughly 25 percent from the previous academic year. Hemmerling stated the program gives teachers and students the ability to set both individual goals that can be checked on quarterly and overall grade level goals as well.
During the board reports, the board encouraged the school to look into building a partnership with MDS Waste and Recycle, although they noted the school year was into its final days it would be very beneficial for the students to implement more recycling skills next year. Junior/Senior High School Principal Ronna Cochran stated the National Honor Society would be willing to contact MDS before school ended and could implement recycling as a service project for the following year and the National Elementary Honor Society would be interested as well.
Business Manager Rebecca Quintana presented the draft budget which accounted for a decrease in four students, step increases for staff, an additional day of leave and an increase in the minimum wage for support staff among other changes. Mitchell raised concerns about a few parts of the budget, including the wages of qualified drivers not being competitive, when they are being paid the same as other drivers not meeting specific qualifications. Mitchell noted the pay was decided five years ago, and qualified drivers should see a more significant increase if the school wants to retain them. She stated her family’s farm pays drivers $16 per hour and the school pays $14 per hour for field trips. Quintana said she could look at adjusting the pay schedule, which would affect three drivers.
Mitchell also asked how the curriculum funds are being monitored. She stated over the last few years, $30,000 has gone into the elementary curriculum, whereas $80,000 has gone into the secondary curriculum. She also questioned why the PTO does fundraisers for curriculum if the district allots money for it. Cochran explained Curriculum Director Shelley David put together a schedule based on the needs of the schools as the district had previously used a 50-50 split, but the high school ended up significantly behind the elementary because their curriculums cost twice as much, and they have spent the last few years updating significantly outdated needs. Cochran explained the high school is nearly caught up on modernizing their curriculum and only has one subject, Spanish, where the textbooks are still from 1999, then the shift can go back to the needs of the elementary building.