School board round-up, January
At Twin Bridges School District’s January board meeting, quite a few community members attended in-person and virtually to express their support for school staff and programs.
The agenda included a discussion item on budget considerations with reduction of programs and reductions of force as asterisked items.
A special meeting was held on Dec. 16 to further discuss the school’s budget and allow the board to take action on staff retirement incentives. A district’s Average Number of Belonging (ANB) uses the number of students in attendance to calculate state funding. Declining enrollment and revenue and increasing expenditures, something the Twin Bridges School District is experiencing, are not sustainable for a district.
Board Chair Steve Janzen explained that no action was taken on any budget-related items as recent state and federal legislation changes were taken into consideration.
The recently passed CARES act funding included money that will go to schools, which relieved some of the immediacy of the discussion, Janzen said. He noted the board also wanted to wait and see how things ‘shake out’ in the state legislature before making any final decisions.
If a reduction in staffing were necessary, the board would support maintaining as many current program offerings as possible.
The board recognized that the plan for winter sports is not all inclusive—with many variables unforeseen until they happen— and Superintendent Thad Kaiser has the authority to manage these situations with some flexibility.
One area that triggered this discussion regarded basketball players not currently playing and whether to not they needed to leave the gym until other games finished. The decision was that players would be able to remain in the gym and watch games.
As of Jan. 15, the girls’ basketball team was under quarantine. The board wanted to get ahead of return to play requirements and decided the status quo from the football season would guide basketball. As with the fall sports season, this winter the board will support the administration’s— which collaborates with the athletic director, the trainer, the county public health department, etc.—decision making.
The board thanked athletic director, Bobette Ferris, and all the frontline organizers and facilitators of winter sports for keeping things under control and enabling games to happen.
The board approved an extension for teachers to apply for a retirement incentive plan and allowed the Little Dribblers basketball program to use the school’s facility as long as Covid policies are followed. The board is still searching for a part-time custodian.
An upcoming committee meeting on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. will look into a communication plan. The goal is to better understand how the public prefers receiving information and better facilitate connection between the public and the school. Janzen mentioned the hope is the public will be able to attend the meeting.
“I prefer it when the room is full of people. It just feels like it’s more productive when the whole community is witnessing it,” he said regarding the budget conversation. The sentiment plays into the communication plan desire as well.
During the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting, it was brought to the board’s attention that Sheridan’s school board approved the opportunity to pursue a football co-op with Twin Bridges, as long as the team remains the Sheridan Panthers. The board was unable to comment on the idea as it was not an agenda item.
The Sheridan School Board revisited the idea of a high school football co-op with Twin Bridges Schools during their January meeting.
“They (the board) amended the initial motion and ended up approving the opportunity to pursue a co-op, however, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it in Panther uniforms,” Superintendent Mike Wetherbee said.
According to Wetherbee, Sheridan’s enrollment and interest in football is on the rise, and he expects the school to have a ‘fairly solid roster of kids for a while.’
“We’re at a point in our history that our ability to continue and be somewhat successful at 8-man doesn’t depend on anyone else,” he said.
Wetherbee spoke with Twin Bridges Superintendent Thad Kaiser about the co-op. Wetherbee expects Sheridan’s position on maintaining their uniforms and team name, requiring Twin Bridges’ team to do the opposite, to be a ‘difficult pill to swallow.’
Either way, Wetherbee said if the co-op were to be approved and installed, Sheridan would welcome Twin Bridges players as their own.
Twin Bridges teams have considered adopting 6-man football. At the Twin Bridges School Board meeting this month, this conversation was brought up during public comment. As it was not an agenda item, the board made no comment.
The Sheridan School Board decided to raise substitute teacher pay from $75 and $85 per day for noncertified and certified substitutes, respectfully, to $85 and $95 per day.
Wetherbee received approval from the board to make administrative decisions allowing out-ofdistrict trips this coming spring.
During the depths of the pandemic, any out of district travel was not going to happen, Wetherbee said. Two on the horizon that prompted this discussion included the senior trip and an overnight FFA event. “That’s a big move towards normalcy for us,” Wetherbee said.
Four seats on the Sheridan School Board will be up for election this year. Those interested in running for a seat must have lived in the school district for one year, be registered to vote and file a Declaration of Intent and Oath of Candidacy by March 25. This form will be available on the school district’s website. Terms are generally three years.
Becky Larsen, district clerk, or Superintendent Wetherbee may be contacted for additional questions regarding the open positions. The election will take place May 4.
All students at Alder School will be participating in a science fair with rural schools from Beaverhead and Silver Bow counties on March 12.
Last year the schools conducted the fair in person, with Covid safety precautions in place, but this time the event will be virtual via Zoom. Madison and Jefferson County Superintendent Pam Birkeland mentioned this was interesting to look at—the same event conducted differently due to the same pandemic.
Birkeland provided the board with updates on state legislature bills that may affect schools. She also went through a new allocation through CARES act funding that will provide Alder School with approximately $62,000.
The board will consider using some of this money to update school air systems. The money may also be used for the construction of an outdoor classroom—a pole barn over the basketball courts. The district is still looking for a contractor for this project.
The board completed all policy reviews from the past year. Alder School is scheduled for a Title I audit, which Birkeland will lead. Every few years districts are chosen to be audited by the Office of Public Instruction (OPI).
The school will be installing caller I.D. on school phones.
Following the district’s two-week winter break the Ennis School Board was back to business at their regular board meeting on Jan. 13.
Elementary school principal Brian Hilton offered an update for the board, highlighting the return of basketball with 10 sixth graders participating. Ski trips, though, will be a “Covid causality,” said Hilton. “Keeping our doors open is really the most important thing for us this year,” he said. “We’ll kick them back up next year, but the unknowns of going to other places, it’s just a risk we’re not willing to take.”
Three elementary students participating in remote learning are potentially coming back to inclass learning for the upcoming second semester, said Hilton, and none will be leaving for remote learning. Fifteen elementary students are currently learning remotely.
With semester testing ongoing at the time, junior high and high school principal Mellissa Newman said the process is going well even with the new challenges presented with remote learning. Newman said she was pleased to announce that just six high school students will be enrolled in remote learning for the second semester, which began January 19, and just three out of the original seven junior high students will remain remote.
At one time during the first semester as many as 15 high school students and 25 elementary students were learning remotely. “So that’s a good number,” Hilton said, in reference to the remote numbers shrinking. “We’ve got families that are comfortable with their kids coming back, they’ve seen what we do, they’ve seen our plan, and they’ve seen how things have been working really well.”
Superintendent Casey Klasna said he’s been pleased with the reopening plan, from staying on top of mask wearing to keeping areas wiped down and disinfected. “It kind of gave me some heartburn starting the year, as to ‘How are we going to have everyone on board with this?’” said Klasna of the plan. “And it took a little time, but I’m proud of our kids, for following the rules, and it’s just kind of a normal day anymore.”
The district has kept the mask supply flowing. Klasna said at the beginning of the year everyone has their favorite mask, but now they’re more frequently being handed out at the door.
“We’re really proud of the kids, our online kids as well, I know this is a difficult time for the kids at home… we miss those kids, can’t wait to see them again, but respect the reasons why they’re online learning,” said Klasna.
Mask mandate and vaccine changes
Klasna touched upon Governor Gianforte’s plan to lift the mask mandate in the coming weeks. The big question being, if the mandate is repealed, would it be repealed in the school? “It all depends on local control,” said Klasna. “So, the school board would have to hear that request and decide.”
As vaccine eligibility evolves Klasna said he was surprised to learn of recent changes which do not allow for school staff and essential workers to receive the vaccine currently. “Of course, I personally feel the most vulnerable should get it, that’s important… but our staff has been good, and if they’re in the high-risk category they’re eligible.”
On the road again
With no certified driver’s education-endorsed instructor currently on staff at the district, Ennis teens hoping to get behind the wheel have had to be patient during first semester. Looking for a solution, the board reached out to Bozeman School District Traffic Education Instructor Steve McCormick.
McCormick spoke to the board via Zoom, offering several options to create a program that would work for Ennis. Ultimately, the board approved hiring McCormick, with classes to be offered in the spring, and potentially also in the summer for spring athletes who would not be able to juggle both weekend sports and driving lessons.
The course requires 25 days of mostly online instruction and six hours of behind the wheel training. When it’s all is said and done, students will walk away with their learner’s license in hand. They’ll have already taken the written and road tests, so when they go to Bozeman to get their learner’s license, they’ll just have to show their documentation and get their photo taken.
Keeping Ennis’ unique geography in mind, McCormick said he hopes to get the students to Bozeman at least once. “I know Bozeman kids for example, get really scared of driving on the highway,” said McCormick. “Ennis kids, I doubt will be, they’ll be scared when they go to town.”
Approximately 40 Ennis students have expressed interest in taking the class which will likely cost $250 per student.
Klasna said he’s hopeful one of his teachers will eventually take classes to become endorsed for driver’s ed, but understands the challenges and commitments involved.
Accommodating future needs
Recognizing the district’s continued growth, the board approved the issuance of an architect request for qualifications.
Space needs, primarily in the high school, had been discussed by the board this fall as part of the district’s strategic plan. It was noted that due to class sizes and lack of space, some high school classes are being taught in the computer lab for lack of a better location.
Not only will the district look into a proposed structure, but they’ll also look to find someone to do a study of growth and reach out to the community for input.
“We want to get this out to the community to show everybody that we are in the early stages, we are working hard, taking our time to do what’s best for everybody in the community and the school,” Klasna told the board.
The RFQ will be advertised around the community, and at the next board meeting in February trustees will go over the submitted qualifications with the assistance of Montana School Board Association Director Kris Goss.