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School officials review covid learning process

The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors met last Thursday to hear reports and discuss a couple issues before the Christmas holiday.

“We made it with kids from September 2 until today, and I know [we] feel excited about that,” K-8 Principal Nikki Reese told the board. “We may have had a few unsure days in the last few weeks, but at the same time we’ve kept our kids safe, we’ve kept our staff safe, and we’ve kept everybody at school. It’s not full time, and it’s not where we want to be, but it’s still so much better than having been remote…thank you for continuing to support that. I think our kids being able to be face to face has been beneficial.”

After talking about some of the festivities at the school as students moved into the holiday break, Reese said that she would be asking parents to commit to either remote or in person learning going into the third quarter.

“It’s best for kids to have consistency, it’s great for teachers to have more consistency, and if numbers stay fairly similar to where they are at, I can combine cohorts and possibly bring back some of the classes that aren’t four days a week to four days a week,” she said, adding that “in person learning is much more effective than online.”

She also expressed gratitude to staff and community members who have been donating money and more to help students and families during the pandemic and the holidays.

"It’s been really cool to see the community wrap their arms around our kids,” she said. “We are so lucky. It’s not like this everywhere.”

Shelby Garrett, the budget manager for the district, said that she had used a fund projection tool provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Instruction to try and forecast the district’s fund balance for the remainder of the year.

Because enrollment is lower than hoped for, there will be a dip in the district’s apportionment beginning in January.

“We might be in the mid $900,000s by the end of this year,” Garrett said. “Bad news for me.”

Superintendent Brent Freeman provided more clarification.

The goal would be to try and keep the fund balance between $1.2-1.3 million range, he said. The school had projected a full time equivalent of 10 more students than they actually had, and that adds up to a loss of $90,000 after the new year.

“It’s not because we are overspending, it’s not because salaries have come up, it’s because our apportionment is going down…that’s just the way the OSPI model goes,” he continued.

“As we do this forecasting, we know we are coming into some leaner times,” he said. “We are basically overpaid based on a projection based out of last year. January is the month where [state funding] settles the score with us.”

“When we start forecasting that we dip below a million dollars, that is wearisome,” Freeman said. “That is only two months payroll, but it’s not two months payroll and expenses. We will be overspending. There is not anything we can do about it. We have some tough times ahead of us and we are going to have some tough decision making going forward. There’s not a lot of good news there.”

He said that expenditures have been about the same, even though the district wasn’t full in school, and there hadn’t been any sports. The district did have to add a seventh bus, to provide social distancing, and with potential sports seasons in the spring, they may soon be paying coaches.

In other news, Director Shawn Merz asked for clarification of the ASB student liaison duties, a position that was held by Kaden Anderson last year, and Landon Luce this year.

“We’ve never established that position in a more meaningful way,” Merz said.

“My understanding was that this position was…for you to have a student opinion on issues, and for them to hear what issues you are talking about,” Principal Stephanie Leitz said, “but if you want that different, I’m happy to help with that.”

Director Paula Culbertson said that the policy to have a student representative on the board was rescinded in 2014, and added that she agreed with Merz.

“We need to sit down and define as a board what we want this position, this student to be able to help us with and what they help us with. I think we need to make sure we are all going in the same direction, so it’s not confusing to the student,” she said.

Freeman said he would work with Leitz on a policy, and this year’s liaison Landon Luce might attend in the mean time.

Culbertson asked that the board might have input on the policy, and Freeman said he would bring a draft to a meeting so the board can discuss it.

“This a launching off place for students who want to get involved in public life, and I agree, keep it simple, but by the same token, we want to make sure that when one of our students put on their resume that they were student representative to the school board for Wahkiakum County, it should carry some weight…and we should make sure that our standards are up there with other school standards,” Culbertson said. “If we are going to make this meaningful, we need to get some teeth into it and say this is an important position in our school district.”

After a debate about reorganizing the board and the importance of rotating positions in order for everyone to get an opportunity to take leadership roles, Merz and Director Sue O’Connor were reinstated in their positions as chair and vice chair for another year. Director Robin Westphall will act as legislative liaison.

Freeman informed Merz, O’Connor, and Westphall that their positions on the school board were up for re-election in November 2021.

Finally, Freeman gave an update on the facility.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we were talking about the bond,” he said, “but we are working with Apollo Solutions on how we are going to break apart a feasibility study and what we can do with some smaller grants so we can make some improvements around here.”

He said that the district had had two big roof leaks, two pretty catastrophic HVAC failures, one of which affected a server room.

“The buildings were never designed for any of this stuff, and we’ve got to get it right going forward,” Freeman said. “I think we’ve got some hope there, It’s not going to go as good as it would if we had a bond and could have done it with one well knitted kind of construction plan, but I think we have a chance


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