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 en-route. 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 cost-saving 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.

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

Policies

Two school policies are currently undergoing revisions — one regarding the district’s school forest policy and the other pertaining to student immunizations.

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 2018-19 school year. There were 32 occasions seclusion was utilized, and 41 times a student was physically restrained.

Lemke said that for each incident, a report was written and parents notified.

There were no instances 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.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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