WSD receives $4.9 million grant
June 1, 2023
The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors met last Tuesday, with some candidates for the coming election listening in the audience.
Directors heard an overview of the special education program, the German Club members gave a rundown of their recent trip to Germany and the Mecha Mules talked about this year’s experience at the International SeaPerch Challenge.
Superintendent Brent Freeman said that the district was awarded a two grants, including $395,000 that will pay to have the second phase of their security system completed. He hopes to have that work done this summer. The second was a $4.9 million grant that will be used to fix the core part of the electrical system at the high school, complete some roof and HVAC work, and make some improvements in the AG shop.
It will not happen overnight. Money for planning how to use the larger grant won’t be released till July.
“We have about $80 million worth of need,” Freeman said. “We’re not cutting off even 10 percent. I don’t believe we would have gotten any of this if we didn’t have the lawsuit out there.”
He said that Washington State legislators increased the amount available for the Small Rural Modernization Grants. Before, he said, there was only about $18.1 million available total to schools across the state which had about $300 million worth of need, but now there is $100 million available.
“They are patting themselves on the back as if they are being very generous when they are only servicing about a third of it,” Freeman said, adding that each grant is capped at $5 million.
Meanwhile costs to do work continues to rise. Citing Almira, which recently rebuilt their school after a fire, Freeman said it cost about $700 per square foot.
“The longer I wait, the more it goes up, the less work we get done,” Freeman said.
Meanwhile the district has been dealing with ongoing IT issues because of the way the system has to be set up in old facilities, in rooms that weren’t built to house such equipment or electrical and HVAC systems that aren’t able to keep them cool.
“We’ve done online testing here at the high school, but we decided to go pencil and paper because it was so unstable at the grade school,” Freeman said.
While students seemed to enjoy going old school, Principal Stephanie Leitz pointed out that taking the test online is much more adaptive.
A new facility use agreement was approved by the board. Employees and volunteers have access to the facilities, and if the facilities are being used for the kids, there is no charge, Freeman said. Other members in the community have used the facilities in the past as well, but the keys were hard to track and when problems arose, including doors being left open, lights being left on, and damage to property, it was hard to know who was responsible.
The new security system puts an end to all that. Community members who want access will have to put down a $200 deposit for an electronic key that will track their use. If they fail to follow the rules, or are responsible for any damage, they will forfeit their deposit and lose access to the buildings.
The board considered what to do for their summer workshop in mid-July, including who they should approach as guest speakers, and whether to take a potential field trip to another school with a Career and Technical Education program or visit a new skills center in Vancouver.
Freeman said the surface on the high school track was in poor shape, and they had received an estimate of $300,000 just to refinish it.
They can’t afford it, he said, and it may require another grant application.
“We couldn’t host a home track meet this year,” he said.
Business Manager Sue Ellyson said that the audit for the district was starting to wrap up and auditors were beginning to write up their recommendations.
She also reported that the budget was almost on track for the year. Freeman interjected that they still may need to do a budget extension in the future.
Some of their expenditures include legal expenses at $127,000, and some desktops and laptops for which the district will be reimbursed.
Freeman talked about enrollment. The district is losing one of their larger classes this year, with 44 seniors graduating soon. One potential headcount for the incoming kindergarten class is 24, so concerns about enrollment and how it will affect the budget continue.
Director Paula Culbertson had questions about a couple items in the budget and took issue with the “archaic” accounting system that the school districts use across the state.
“There is no way in this system to do real time,” Culbertson said. “I think to try to be a transparent organization, a government organization, this needs to change. Our accounting systems need to change and be brought up to date and it’s not just our school district. It’s everyone in the state.”
The board accepted resignations from teachers Mike Thomas and Jeff Rooklidge, and from paraeducator Jami Rainey. Rooklidge also resign from his position as assistant baseball coach. Eric Hansen resigned as the middle school head boys basketball coach. Marc Niemeyer resigned as the middle school boy’s assistant coach. He and Tiffany Niemeyer will act as assistant coaches for the high school boys basketball team next year.