School super addresses maintenance needs
March 4, 2021
On February 16, the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors got updates on the budget, the four day school week, and Superintendent Brent Freeman’s ongoing challenge to fund renovations at the high school.
Budget Manager Shelby Garrett started the meeting with an apportionment comparison of the September-December period to the January-August period, which showed a loss of $167,751.61 because of decreased enrollment.
Freeman was hopeful that enrollment would go up next year if the situation with covid-19 improved and the district was able to relax some of the restrictions currently in place, but acknowledge that it may not be enough to give parents the confidence they needed to return their children to the campus.
With 58 students graduating this year, Freeman acknowledged it was highly unlikely that the incoming kindergarten class will have the numbers to match.
“Even if we had 58, we’re still down $167,000 next year,” Freeman said, “so this is bad. We’ve got to figure out a way out. If we’re lucky we get a one year stay on this if the legislature steps in and gives us a safety net, but it just postpones a really tough decision.”
Garrett also informed the board that the district had spent 41 percent of their budget for the year.
“I think we’ve been very effective with our spending reductions,” Freeman said. “We will see payroll increase as we pay coaches, but unless we have something catastrophic happen we shouldn’t have any big expenditures going forward this year.”
Three weeks ago, most of the students returned to the classroom for four days a week. Freeman explained how that was affecting busing, and how it lead to the hire of one more teacher.
“One of the bigger hurdles is the buses,” Freeman said. “We usually run six routes, but we are at 10 runs now for slightly less kids, but we are making it work.”
In the morning, three of the buses drop off the students from more distant routes, before circling around again and picking up kids who live closer. In the afternoon, Freeman said, there is an early release for the students who live nearby. They are dropped off first, and then the buses return to drive the kids who live farther away to their homes.
As for the new teacher, they hired Tucker Gowan using High Poverty Funds to teach a second section of the fifth grade class after deciding to take advantage of a room at J.A. Wendt Elementary School that wasn’t being used.
Freeman said he was hoping to use those funds to do something similar at the high school as well.
Sports started last week, Freeman said, adding that several people have been involved in making it work, including Principals Nikki Reese and Stephanie Leitz, Athletic Director Rob Garrett, and the custodial staff, who have been staying late for one more round of cleaning and sanitization.
“I can’t say enough thanks,” Freeman said. “If it takes a village, it took a very willing village to figure this piece out. It’s good to see the kids back and hear the screams and cheers.”
His next goal is an in-person graduation.
A recent storm reminded Freeman of how many students don’t have internet access.
“Remote won’t work for us,” he said. “If we’re going to educate, we’ve got to be in-person. We physically don’t have the means to remote here.”
Freeman said that he had submitted an extensive package to the Washington State Legislature asking for $35.4 million to fund a renovation of the high school.
“I think the odds of us getting $35.4 million are pretty slim,” he added, “but I also felt like that if I shoot for less than that and go back with but wait, I’ve got an electrical system, but wait, and list all the things…”
“Asking for a couple hundred thousand dollars does nothing for us,” he said. “It doesn’t let me fix the big pieces of the school district.”
“We’re not going to have a building here in 10 years,” he continued. “It was a year ago next week that we did the bond, and that seems like a lifetime ago. We can’t lose that focus. We will come out of covid, and we’ll be better, but the building won’t be.”
Either way, Freeman continues to brainstorm ways to fund the renovation, and had listed several possible options for the board while addressing his reasons for asking for the $35.4 million.
In other news, the board accepted resignations from several coaches, including Ryan Garrett for basketball, Shelby Garrett and Renea Freeman for track, and Darla Mead for cheerleading. They approved the hire of Tucker Gowan as a fifth grade teacher in a non-continuing contract and as the middle school assistant football coach.
The board closed the public meeting for an executive session to discuss a personnel issue.