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Phillips Schools prepare for the start of a new year

With the start of school just around the corner, staff at Phillips School District are hard at work preparing for the new school year, according to information shared at the school board's regular meeting Aug. 19.

The newly expanded four-year-old kindergarten program currently has a total of 42 students registered. According to elementary principal Dave Scholz, the majority of students registered will be attending the full four days while a handful will attend fewer days.

Benchmark assessments were held recently for incoming elementary students in order to get a baseline of math and reading levels. Enrollment is currently at 353 students in the elementary, compared to 348 last year.

Phillips School District Administrator Rick Morgan

reported that staff would be busy setting up in the classrooms, and running an open house for middle and high school students and parents.

Staff members have been working to brush up on their skills with several trainings, including a three-day communication course offered by Barry-Wehmiller, ALICE training for an active shooter scenario, and refresher training for transportation and maintenance staff as well.

Morgan reported he had recently attended the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators Legal Seminar, which offers an opportunity for school administration to learn about school related law and any potential changes.

With the newly designed middle/high school entrance now complete, Morgan said it will allow for a safer, better flow of traffic in and out of the school. All visitors to the school will now pass through the school's office. A new alert system will also notify administration if a door is left ajar for a certain period of time during the locked portion of the school day.

Parking will also see some changes this year, with student parking moved to the front parking lot in front of the high school and staff parking by the district office or the technical education department.

It was reported that all open bus driver positions have been filled for the start of the school year, and a new school bus had been added to the district's fleet. It is the eighth new bus the district has been able to purchase in recent years. The bus comes equipped with three cameras that turn on automatically and offer views of the interior of the vehicle as well as traffic outside the bus.

Dependant on how well these cameras work, Morgan said similar cameras may be installed on all the district's buses, which currently use a manual system that is prone to user-error.

School board president Jon Pesko asked about the potential of having Wi-Fi accessible to students on the bus. The benefits of such an offering, according to Morgan, would include fewer disciplinarian issues on the bus since students could log in and access either entertainment or work on homework while enroute. Morgan reported there is a grant available that the district is checking into. Due to the rurality of the district, there may be some challenges with supplying consistent Wi-Fi while en-route.

High school principal Colin Hoogland was unable to attend the school board meeting as he had sports practice that night.

Facilities planning continues

As planning continues for the future of the district's buildings, two informational open houses — each covering the same material — will be held in the coming weeks at the elementary school cafeteria. The first will be at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8, and the second will follow at 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9. At the meetings, community members will have the opportunity to review a couple of proposed plans for how the district may address the needs identified at the elementary, as well as improving the educational offerings to all students.

The two options presented back in June included a fairly intensive remodel of the existing middle/high school campus with an addition for the elementary and improvements to the music department, the technical education department, the K-12 art department, and the special education classroom — coming in at a price tag of $12,160,000.

The second, more stripped back plan, which basically included additions for the elementary students and smaller renovations to the existing campus, is estimated at $8,960,000.

Both plans include the costs associated with improving the district's parking lots, driveways, and playground, as well as demolishing the existing elementary building.

A few potentially costsaving options were discussed at the board's Aug. 19 meeting.

Morgan said that should the two options prove to be unpalatable to the community, another potential option would be breaking the project into phases that could be completed over a three to five year timespan. By doing this, the referendum cost could be reduced by removing portions of the project — such as the school's parking lot — and paying for specific portion from the general budget.

Morgan noted that if the district were to refrain from immediately demolishing the elementary building, considerable cost could be saved there — and the community may find some purpose for the structure.

"It's food for thought," said Morgan, adding that if the school's survey — scheduled to be released in October — reveals that the community will not support the cost of either of the two options presented, there may be the option of attempting to pass a referendum under $8 million.

"I think there is a way for us to be able to do that ... without compromising the district long term ... [although] it may take a few more years," said Morgan. These options will all be part of the discussion held at the two open houses in September, and community feedback will be welcomed.

Staffing changes

The school board approved the hiring of nine employees, including Sandra Lasee as a bus driver, Erica Bockerstette as a paraprofessional, Jamie Baratka as a paraprofessional, Terese Esterholm who transferred to a 4K paraprofessional, Clint Flak as a part-time custodian, Kurt Weber as the middle school head football coach, Mike Hauschild as the middle school assistant football coach, Terri Franson as a bus driver, and Patty Zeitner as a bus driver.

Zeitner as a bus driver. The resignations of former pool custodian Sandra Lasee and elementary school custodian Terri Kaliska, and the retirement of paraprofessional Terry Jasurda were also approved.


Two school policies are currently undergoing revisions — one regarding the district's school forest policy and

The school forest policy has been revised to add language regarding fishing, as the district is now in possession of waterfront property following their most recent school forest purchase.

A sentence added to the policy reads, "Community members will be allowed to fish on the newly acquired Elk River portion of the Worcester school forest."

A paragraph added to the school's policy on student immunizations clarifies that in the event of a substantial outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, unimmunized students may be excluded from school district buildings until the outbreak subsides.

Morgan added that unimmunized students would still be provided education by the district during the period of time they were excluded from the building. The termination of the policy was vetted through legal services, according to Morgan.

Seclusion and restraint report

Vicki Lemke, the district's director of special education, provided the school board with the mandatory annual report on the number of instances seclusion or restraint was used to contain children at the district.

Six students at the elementary level were either restrained or secluded during the 201819 school year. There were 32 occasions seclusion was utilized, and 41 times a student was physically restrained.

Lemke said that for ach incident, a report as written and parents otified.

There were no in stances of seclusion or restraint in the middle or high school.

Other business

* Board member Paula Houdek volunteered to replace board member Hailey Halmstad as the CESA 12 representative for the district, as Halmstad is unable to continue attending the CESA meetings.

* A revision of the district's employee handbook removed language regarding the use of PTO for family matters — which was deemed to be too broad a term — was approved.

* The school board made their annual approval of the district's depositories, which include Forward Bank, LGIP, and Time Federal.

* In keeping with an annual requirement of Act 32, the school board approved a resolution authorizing the district to exceed the revenue limit on a non-recurring basis for debt service payments to finance energy efficiency measures and products.

* The school board convened into closed session in order to consider employees' work performance as it relates to the job descriptions for supervisor positions. Following the closed session, the school board approved new job descriptions created for the school's two guidance counselors and school psychologist. These positions will now have a supervisory component, although it will be limited to the management of the CREW teams. The board also directed Morgan to prepare and offer contracts to the individuals in the designated positions.


CSD set to open Early Learning Center

Chequamegon School District Administrator Mark Weddig told the school board last week, when meeting at the Glidden campus, that registration for the new Chequamegon Early Learning Center stood at four out of a possible nine spots for infants and there are ten toddlers registered.

"The list grows daily," he said.

Rooms in the Park Falls Elementary School have been remodeled and outfitted for the new daycare center, and staff mostly put in place. The new learning environment for infants and toddlers is nearing completion.

State approval has been given to the building inspection and background check credentials are being completed. When approved the program can begin operations.

"Staff will be fingerprinted and records checked — including myself," Weddig said.

There will be no transportation provided for the center, but it is believed that Park Falls will be sort of a crossover location for parents working in communities in either direction.

The district's 2016 Strategic Plan is coming to a three-year close and Weddig said that it is time to get fired up to develop a list of new goals for the next three-year plan.

It had been the consensus of the board to write a new plan after the first segment had been so successful and addressed nearly all of the concerns recognized by staff and community members since its inception.

The Strategic Plan and Informational and Goal Creation meeting will be held at the Chequamegon High School Library in Park Falls at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The discussion will cover the internal and external improvements that have been made along with better mental health programs and support.

The guiding question will be "What would you like to see emphasized by the district?"

There have been listening sessions held to gather comments from the community. The next listening sessions will be in the Middle School Library in Glidden on Sept. 17 and also Sept. 19 in the Park Falls Library, and Oct. 1 Chequamegon Middle School at 6 p.m.

Weddig said that one of the directives of the CSD Strategic Plan is to get more students out and into the community.

"We have had 60 or more sophomores doing job

shadows," he said. "That means that the students have been out there working on-the-job and getting some real experience in soft-skills which employers have indicated that young people are lacking."

There are also juniors participating, but because they self-schedule, numbers were not available. There is also workstudy, apprenticeships, CNA and industry certifications." Weddig said.

"We will continue to emphasize getting our students into the community," he added.

District Finance Director Lexi Witt reported that she has set up a new Emergency Sick Leave Bank allowing staff to donate days to the bank for other staff members who may face a major health event and related financial concerns.

Witt said the district is going to be making some changes in the way it handles its banking. Forward Bank has set up a test account which allows the district to handle checking more securely.

"It will serve as fraud protection for our checking account," she added. "There will be no charge for this service for the first six months, then it will be $29 a month and I believe it will be worth it to have that security," Witt said.

Weddig reviewed the state biennial budget which contained some good news and some not so good.

Sparsity aid, which is a supplement to districts located in a large geographical area so far remains unchanged with none received this year making it notch down from $208,000 received in 2018.

High-Cost Transportation Aid was increased for the entire state by $800,000 which may bring some dollars to the district, but it is not known at this point how much.

Board updated on school start at Prentice Schools

At the Prentice School Board's regular meeting Aug. 20, district administration provided a glimpse of the work going into a successful start to the 2019-20 school year.

With the building renovation nearing completion, district administrator Randy Bergman reported that although there had been some minor hold-ups, the school would be ready to open as scheduled.

It was reported that classroom items were being moved from Ogema to Prentice, flooring was being completed in classrooms, the lunchroom floor had been retiled, and a dishwasher was being installed in the kitchen.

One delayed aspect of the project was the school parking lot, where some surprises had been discovered when the old asphalt had been removed. Bergman reported that the original asphalt had been laid directly on soil — not gravel, as is traditional. The discovery resulted in additional unexpected costs in order to excavate soggy, clay-like soil that was preventing proper drainage and bringing in gravel.

Finishing the project may take as long as a month, according to Bergman. Until the parking lot is concluded, students will not be allowed to use the front parking lot and are recommended to ride the bus.

Another slight change was accommodating for the existing electrical pole near the exit of the parking lot. Bergman noted that the architects had originally planned to have the pole relocated, but with a cost of $10,000 Bergman decided to veto the move. Instead of driving straight through the lot, bus drivers will need to make a slight turn to exit the lot.

Additionally, a small retention pond was required near the east side of the parking lot as a means to capture rainwater runoff.

The final budgeted costs for

the project may be quite tight, according to Bergman.

"Once the building is all done and we can see how much money we have left in the budget, there are some other things we'll see if we can do," said Bergman. "I'll tell you right now, it's right at the end of the budget. A lot of the site money that I thought we were saving ... went away when we took out the asphalt in the parking lot and realized there was no gravel under it."

On the human side, high school principal Melissa Pilgrim reported that a school leadership team has been created, along with a cohesive mission statement that calls for continuous improvement, communication and collaboration with stakeholders, accountability, and engagement with all staff in research-based projects.

Staffing changes

The school board accepted a handful of resignations, including elementary special education aide Kathryn Wild, and two bus drivers.

Bergman said that he had two people who were willing to drive bus and fill those positions.

The board also approved hiring four people in new or expanded roles for the district, including Dave Harding (who is also a bus driver) as an elementary special education aide, Megan Enders as an elementary special education teacher, Greg Smith as assistant junior varsity coach for the football team, and Nikki Heikkinen as the middle school boys basketball coach.

Bergman noted that Smith had expressed interest in taking over the role of head coach for the Hawks varsity football team next year, after interim head coach Chuck Knaack concludes this season.

Pay change for bus drivers, substitute teachers

Bergman recommended the school board boost the pay rate for bus drivers who provide transportation for special activities and substitute teachers.

The district currently pays $12 per hour for bus drivers who help with transportation to sporting events and other out-of-area activities, and Bergman suggested raising that to $14.

For substitute teachers, Bergman recommended increasing the rate from $95 to $100 per day, saying that some school districts are paying as much $160 per day for substitutes.

The school board members present unanimously approved the changes. School board president Randy Erickson was absent from the meeting.

School breakfast, lunch program

The school board unanimously voted to continue their yearly participation in the USDA National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

Bergman commented that he had heard news coverage of school districts shaming students who participate in the meal program, and clarified that shaming is not intended in Prentice.

"We have in our policy ... that when students go in arrears of $30 or more, they get a bagged lunch until they can pay," he said, adding that the bag lunch offers healthy options to kids. "I don't know if that's something you [the school board] want to revisit that and do something different. I don't know if that's shaming or not. I'll just tell you that when we didn't do that, we had people with $300-400 bills."

Bergman commented that the district is aware of the importance of students eating lunch while at school.

In other food-related business, the school board voted to accept the single milk bid they had received from Dean's Food.

Co-curricular code approved with small changes

The school board approved the 2019-20 co-curricular code with two slight changes.

Students who attend school electronically were previously allowed to start school during the fourth hour — an exception that was formerly made to accommodate a student who was struggling with healthrelated concerns. That paragraph has been removed altogether from the co-curricular code, with students required to start at the beginning of the school day unless they have a doctor's note or a serious medical condition.

Another change was made to the wording of a section pertaining to students who make a third violation of school rules, expanding the potential requirement of AODA counseling to include any mandated counseling programs.

Other business

• The school board approved an annual resolution authorizing the district to borrow up to $750,000 in order to tide the school over until state funding is received. A line of credit will be established through Community Financial Bank. Bergman noted that the district will get a better rate on cash flow borrowing interest this year, going from the $10,656.25 that was spent last year to $6,343.18.

• The school board made their annual approval of the Wisconsin state academic standards, which will continue to be effective for the 2019-20 school year.

• The school board approved the 2019-20 student handbooks with no changes from last year.

• Bergman provided the school board with the annual state-mandated report on any cases of seclusion and physical restraint that occurred in the school district during the 2018-19 school year, reporting that zero incidents occurred.

• A closed session was held at the end of the regular meeting regarding data related to teacher responsibilities and salaries.

County transitions to Animal Control Officer

There was only one bid submitted for the part-time contract position for county animal control this year.

Price County Administrator Nick Trimner said the decision has been made to reject that bid and transition to a new position.

The contract position was set up for 40 hours a month (10 hours per week) and last year's contractor asked for a bump from $38,000 to $55,000 annually.

Trimner said it was decided that it would be more financially prudent to use those funds for hiring a new and much-needed deputy who would also take on the part-time responsibility of the Animal Control Officer.

In addition, it is hoped that a contract can be written with Catkins Animal Rescue, a local animal shelter for providing care during the temporary holds for the animals taken in by the officer.

Trimner said the idea is to model a new working structure after Lincoln County and other surrounding counties who have transitioned into the deputy/animal control officer which has worked well for them.

"Catkins [west of Park Falls] is a licensed shelter and would be responsible for providing shelter and care for the animals after they have been picked up," he said.

Trimner added that he hopes an agreement to cover the cost of some additional housing with Catkins can take place along with the expense of adding a shelter for seriously ill animals or animals on a rabies hold.

The contract for the previous humane officer ends in October. Trimner hopes to recruit a candidate to handle the combined position of deputy/animal control officer and to get that individual and several others trained.

"We will have to have some backups to take some shifts if needed," he said.

The additional costs will be around 400 to 500 hours per year.

"The advantage is that even if we will be spending slightly more, we will have more coverage with the additional dedicated deputy time, which is much needed," Trimner said.

Any officers who will be working to fill in when the regular officer is off must have special training on how to handle the lost, abused, and even aggressive animals.

Catkins is one of the few state licensed animal shelters in the county.

"We intend to ask for a long term partnership with them and as a partner, we can help with the infrastructure that is needed — which they would need to eventually payback," he said.

Enforcing ordinances regarding letting animals run or handling complaints of animal neglect will need to be handled appropriately and in a timely fashion, Trimner said.

Language defining the new Animal Control Officer position will be presented to the county board at September's meeting.

"We had to look at the cause and effect," he concluded. "We feel gaining additional officer's time is worth it."

One time costs to prepare for the transition would include remaining hours to create a full-time officer, retrofitting a vehicle, providing needed equipment, and the cost of training sessions.

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