Marinette School Board Okays $30.9 Referendum In NovemberIssue Date: July 22, 2020
In addition to viewing options for re-opening of school this fall hopefully on Monday, Aug. 24, with variations based on the level of coronavirus cases in the area, the Marinette School District Board of Education on Tuesday, July 21 approved sending a $30.9 million building referendum plan to district voters on Nov. 3, at the fall general election.
According to Corrie Lambie, who is completing his third week in his new position as District Superintendent, the tax impact would be $0.93 per $1,000 of property value based on current market conditions. A home valued at $100,000 would have maximum annual added taxes of $93 per year.
Lambie, who has been involved in "Right Size" plans for the district since the beginning, said the plan is the culmination of months of work to determine the best way to "right size" the district in the face of declining enrollment and the declining revenue that goes with it.
Under the proposal, district operations would be consolidated into four school buildings from the current six. Specifically, the district would expand Merryman and Park Elementary Schools and close Garfield Elementary School and Sunrise Early Learning Center in the former Menekaunee school building.
If approved, Merryman will serve children in early childhood through first grade while Park will serve children in second through fourth grades. The Middle School and High School buildings will continue in use for students in grades five through 12. The proposal includes remodeling and renovations at Merryman and Park as well as at Marinette Middle and High Schools.
The improvements will update aging infrastructure and also add features like flexible learning spaces and enhanced technology that will allow the district to reflect current instructional practices. Lambie said the plan will also save the district $568,000 in operating costs annually.
During the past 10 years, district enrollment has dropped by 176 students. An enrollment study indicated that a slow enrollment decline will continue into the foreseeable future. Enrollment is tied to the revenue each school district receives from state and local sources, meaning the district will have less operating funds for schools.
A facility study completed last year found that five of the district's six schools had excess capacity. Since it is impossible to selectively heat and maintain just a portion of a building, the district is spending money on building space that is not being used. In addition, although the buildings have been well maintained, some would required a significant investment by the district to maintain and update aging infrastructures.
Major other business of the meeting was concerned with plans for re-opening schools this fall, hopefully with students attending in person. There have been no in-person classes at school for students since they were released for Spring Break on March 6, before Gov. Tony Evers' Safer At Home orders were issued.
While explaining that final details are still in the works, Lambie outlined tentative plans to reopen the schools, with several possible formats. It appears that masks will be required, at least most of the time, for staff and students in higher grade levels.
A district reopening committee of about 30 people has been formed and will be working out many details of the plan before it will be rolled out to all staff and then parents in early August, Lambie said. They are to meet starting Monday, July 27. So far no decisions have been made regarding athletic programs and competitions, partly because WIAA has so far established no rules. Everyone involved agreed athletics and extra curricular activities are important for students.
Lambie stated that various sources of information were considered before developing the plan. He and other Marinette staff, including principals, considered input from an online survey of parents and staff; as well as The Center for Disease Control (CDC), State Department of Health, Marinette County Department of Health Services, and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, as well as many other sources. The group also reviewed what other districts are doing locally and statewide.
He said there is a great need to keep both students and staff healthy, and stressed that finding substitute teachers will be even more difficult than usual. He said while students are not considered at great risk if they do get COVID-19 they could bring it home to other family members who are.
In his report, Lambie said that the data collected in the local survey showed that parents of students in 4-year old kindergarten through grade 5 would prefer to have their children attend classes in-person five days a week.
A greater number of parents said they could live with a "blended instructional model" for students in grades 6-12 that will combine in-person and at-home learning.
"A blended learning model is one way to reduce the high number of students in classrooms each day," said Lambie. He said students in the grades 6 through 12 age group are more likely able to be safely left at home without supervision while their parents are at work.
Additionally, the district will offer an at-home learning model for all age groups to accommodate parents and students who have health or other conditions, or are seeking to continue at-home learning as an option, based on a case-by-case basis.
Lambie explained that changes to the school day schedule will be necessary to ensure that the schools are safe for students and staff so they can attempt to abide by physical distancing guidelines, and that sanitizing and cleaning procedures can be continued.
"Several people would like to go back to the way it was before the pandemic, but we have a responsibility to ensure that we are balancing academics, social emotional well-being, and physical health and safety with the need to return to school. Everyone will find some changes in how we operate, and we believe this initial plan helps us begin our work to reconnect our students, staff, and families," said Lambie.
The most likely format Lambie described for older students was a two "cohort" plan proposed by the DPI in which one cohort would attend classes in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and do at home on-line studies on Thursdays and Fridays, and the other cohort would be studying at home on Mondays and Tuesdays and attending in-person classes on Thursdays and Fridays. Students would have Wednesdays off and at school that time would be used for cleaning the buildings, teacher preparation, and teacher work with on-line students.
While students and their parents can choose between in-person or on-line learning, once they make a choice they will need to stay with it for the entire grading period.
Board President John LaCourt suggested they add more in-person class time for students by flip-flopping the cohorts between three days and two days of in-person classes and on-line classes the alternate days, with cleaning to be done at night. Lambie said the re-opening committee will consider that suggestion.
"This is a very trying time for everyone," Lambie said. He added that when students do start the 2020-2021 school year their education levels will be approximately seven months behind where they should be in September, and catch up work will need to be done.
Lambie and Tom Tickler have been working with Tom Westlund and others from Westlund Bus Lines to find ways to make transportation less likely to cause exposure. There is to be one student per seat, except that family members will likely be seated together. Masks will be required on busses for students. Students who get on first will be seated at the back of the bus and will get off last. There were suggestions from board members that drivers should have face shields rather than masks due to effects masks can have on vision. Westlund said it will be hard for him to find substitute drivers if his drivers start getting ill.
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