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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Schools To End East Side Student Bussing

The Peshtigo School District began a limited bussing of some eastside city students back in 2004 in response to concerns about the safety of having children cross the bridge over the river, which at the time carried all of the traffic of busy Highway 41. At the beginning of the 2012 school year, the district was required to bus all of the city students on the city’s east side because that bridge was being completely removed and a new bridge constructed as part of the Highway 41 bypass. Since the route to school with the bridge out was more than 2 miles, the district was required to provide that bussing and was receiving state reimbursement for it.

On Oct. 8 the new bridge was opened for traffic. The busy highway 41 traffic has already been making use of the bypass for over a year.

Information provided by the District at the Wednesday, Nov. 14 meeting of the Peshtigo School Board shows there are currently 183 students with east-side addresses. Of that number, since the start of the school year, 82 are utilizing the bussing either in the morning, afternoon or both.

Additionally, approximately another 27 students that reside elsewhere other than the eastside, but attend daycares or private sitters on the eastside, utilize busing to get to the following locations: 10 are dropped off at Cherished Child Daycare, 4 are dropped off at Pitter Patter Daycare, and 13 are dropped off near Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

It was also noted that the number riding the eastside buses has not dropped since the bridge has been opened.

The question before the School Board was, Does the district still need to bus eastside residents of the city?

Transportation costs appear to be a part of the issue here because the district is no longer receiving the full amount of transportation aid it did at the beginning of the school year. With the bridge open, the district is no longer receiving the aid for in-city residents.

But another issue brought up during the meeting was parity between residents of the eastside with those who live on the west side of the river. For example, there are several westside students who have farther to walk to school than many eastside residents, aside from the issue of treating all city residents equal.

The District is also aware that overcrowding on the current eastside buses is a common occurrence. Clarence Coble, one of the bussing company’s drivers, was present at the meeting and described the often-chaotic scene as students are shuffled between buses at the last minute because one or two of the buses have reached their maximum.

It was noted that if eastside bussing is continued, a fifth bus would likely have to be added to include pick-ups and drop-offs on the incoming and outgoing rural routes. Four rural bus routes are trying to accommodate the extra eastside students.

School Board member Bob Thomas, who lives on the east side, said that he appreciates the current bussing, and even though he worried what ending the in-city bussing would do to the congestion issues over by the schools, he could not justify continuing to offer it.

Board member Kelly Jones echoed the congestion concern, especially if parents choose to drive their children to school instead of making them walk.

Board member Gary Larson questioned the cost of a potential extra bus and the fairness to the bus company if the eastside service is continued. Kobussen is paid by the mile, and if the current arrangement is maintained, they may ask that the bussing contract be reopened and renegotiated.

It was also brought up that if safely crossing the bridge is an issue, the bypass has greatly reduced traffic across the bridge. In addition, the oft-maligned bike lanes provide a much wider buffer between the sidewalk and the traffic lanes. It was also pointed that if crossing the bridge is deemed to be too dangerous, the district could always provide a bus that would pick up children by the old pulp mill property and drop them off by Riverfront Park, just across the bridge.

In the end, on a motion by Thomas and seconded by Jones, the district has decided to discontinue all east-side bussing beginning Jan. 2. This would include all bussing also to all daycares and sitters on the city’s eastside. Board members Vern Rhode and Cory Hess voted against the measure. Board members Thomas, Jones, Larsen, Muenster, Fifarek and Hammer voted in favor. Steve Coble abstained. This move does not affect those who live outside the city limits and currently are provided bussing.

Brian Brewer from R.W. Baird gave a short presentation to the Board on possible refinancing of the district’s 2005 referendum debt. At present, that debt stands at $5.24 million in general obligation bonds. The bonds carry an average interest rate of 4.3 percent. If the district were to refinance the last 10 years of the bonds and lock in at the current 2.4 percent interest rate, it could lower the debt levy by about $18,000 per year and result in a $220,000 savings of taxpayer dollars over 10 years.

Brewer pointed out that when the district took out the current bonds in 2005, they were locked in for 10 years, thus the discussion was only on the last ten years of the loan, from 2016 to 2025.

Brewer also noted that since the Nov. 6 election, the rates have gone lower. Thus the district could lock into a lower rate than quoted and save even more money.

Brewer went on to explain that, at present, he would need to work with the district in updating their current bond rating. Oddly enough, he pointed out that having more open enrollment students does have the result of raising the district’s bond rating, which is a good thing since the higher the rating, the lower the rates.

Should the District decide to go this route, adoption would have to be made at the Dec. 12 Board meeting, with settlement reached near the end of December. Payments on the new refunding bond would begin in March of 2013.

At the beginning of the meeting, city resident Cathy Malke addressed the board during the Public Comment section of the meeting, asking several questions of the Board. A major concern seemed to be communication between the School District and City of Peshtigo, especially as it related to any possible relocation of the Middle/High School and the needed extension of city services should that ever come to fruition.

Administrator Kim Eparvier explained the current status of the possible new school plans. If it were to ever happen, the utility costs would be included in a possible referendum. The final disposition of the current school, should a new one ever be built, would be left for the school board to decide.

Malke also asked about how many students have come into the school through Open Enrollment. Eparvier answer that the district has 145 come in through the state program. He did not mention how many students the district has lost to other districts.

In response, Malke asked why the district tax levy has gone up again, especially since open enrollment brings money into the district?

Eparvier replied that the tax rate has gone up because of the increase of in district students. A drop in the school district’s property values also contributed to the increase. He then invited Malke to stop in to the office so that he could show her all of the supporting documentation and formulas.

Malke concluded by reminding the School Board that they have the responsibility of watching out for the district’s residents as well as worrying about the district’s students.

Eparvier concluded by stressing how the district and administration has been very transparent in their future plans, but explained how it would be premature to approach the city without any property plans in place. If that were to ever happen, and more information available, the district would indeed take it to the city.

It needs to be noted that a Closed Session meeting at the conclusion of the agenda did include a discussion of potential properties acquisition for school purposes. No decisions were reported from the Closed Session.

In other matters before the Board, Principals Tammie Kielbasa and Chad Sodini began the initial discussion and explanation of the new Report Card given by the state Department of Public Instruction. The Report Card is an evaluation tool given to school districts to determine their instructional progress and teaching effectiveness. It provides data on areas like student achievement and growth, effectiveness in teaching students with various backgrounds and struggles, and as well the district’s ability to prepare students for the next level.

In the months ahead, the principals will present the Board with the data, which blocks out the road to improve and sharpen the district’s focus. Sodini pointed out that the report card is a tool, but it’s not the only tool the district has to strive to improve the education it provides.

One area already identified for improvement is in the area of Intervention help for students who are struggling and for Professional Teacher Development help. It is all designed to propel the district forward on many fronts.

A planned band and choir trip to Niagara Falls was discussed and given official Board approval. There will be no cost to the district, with the $400 cost per person being covered by the individual. There will be a minor cost to the district, however, in the form of substitute teachers for the staff which is chaperoning.

The Board adopted a procedure to deal with the scores of Board policies which have been in the works for many months now. The district has contracted with NEOLA to update their policy manuals. The Board favored dealing with them in a couple of dozen at a time over the course of six months or more rather than dealing with the several hundred policies all at one time. The Policy subcommittee will decide which ones to forward first.

A First Reading of the Open Enrollment Policy #5113 was discussed by the Board. This policy through NEOLA does not change the current policy in any great degree. As presented, however, the board did debate one section on transportation, changing a section to read The Board will not permit a neighboring District to bus resident students from within its boundaries for attendance at the non-resident neighboring District without board approval. The capitalized section was added. The policy continues, The District Administrator shall develop procedures for implementing this provision.

The wording change was approved by the Board, with Board Member Vern Rhode voting against.

The Board approved that Jacob Roberts be hired as a Middle School Wrestling Coach, that Peter Villas III be hired as the Freshman Girls Basketball Coach, and that at the request of Coach Spaulding, Jon Noffke and Reggie Noffke be approved as volunteer coaches for High School Boys Basketball.


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