On Monday, July 27, the Owen-Withee School Board met to discuss a limited agenda of items related to the FEMA Grant building program and the upcoming school year’s changes necessary for safe conduct of classes.
Kevin Mullen, a director of RW Baird’s Public Finance department, was on-hand via ZOOM and discussed the details of proposed plans for the upcoming 2020 referendum. During his discussion, Mullen congratulated the school district on managing their resources very well. He compared the Owen-Withee School District’s mill rate with other neighboring school districts and, aside from the Neillsville School District, the O-W District was at a lower mill rate than the surrounding districts.
Beyond with the school district has been experiencing declining rates and are well below the state average. Currently, the mill rate is $8.16, almost a dollar per thousand less than the $9.10 of 2013. The equalized value of the school district is $267,372,768. Under state guidelines, a school district is able to borrow 10% of the equalized value. That means the debt limit for the Owen-Withee school district is $26,737,277. Currently, the school district has only $2,000,000 borrowed against that limit.
Long-term tax-exempt interest rates over a 30 year period. Have been trending down markedly. There have been moments of volatility such as the March-May 2020 period due to economic and social disturbances.
Mullen then discussed two funding programs. The first program is a $4.5 million building program. This includes the $2 million from the FEMA grant and a $2.5 million long-term borrowing. The $2.5 million would include the district’s portion of the dome costs and the construction of the Tech Ed and cafeteria.
A $4.5 million construction loan would be required to complete the building project. After the construction, the FEMA grant funds would be released and the remaining $2.5 million would be secured from 20-year borrowing.
According to Mullen and District Administrator Bob Houts, the new mill rate would come to $8.40. That represents a 22¢ decrease from the current $8.62 mill rate.
The alternate funding program would be for $5,000,000 and would necessitate an $8.00 and $0.47 mill rate, still well below the current mill rate.
The board did not have to decide on which of the two programs they preferred as Bob Houts indicated that they were still waiting on the figures from Market & Johnson to be presented next week.
The school board then turned their attention to the return to school plans for the fall classes. Houts reported that the recommendations were based on guidelines from the CDC, Clark County Health Department, the State Health Department, and surveys of teachers, students, and parents.
The recommendations from the administration was that classes would meet Monday through Thursday in person and on campus. Those four days would be regular days with students arriving at 7:30 a.m. and going directly to their classrooms. Classes would begin at 8:10 a.m. and would have two 90-minute blocks of teaching in the morning, then lunch in the classrooms, followed by two blocks in the afternoon, ending at 3:11 p.m.
Upon arrival at school, students would the screened every day for temperatures and symptoms. Students would then be given a bagged breakfast which they would eat in their first class. Students would remain with the same group of students for the entire day. In that way, contact tracing would be limited to that particular cohort of students and their teachers.
Late start days would be eliminated. Locker rooms would no longer be in use nor would the hallway lockers. Teachers would be on campus Monday through Friday with Friday reserved for room cleaning. However, virtual learning would still take place on Friday. Students who reside in areas with limited Internet access could arrange to come in on Friday for Internet use.
Class sizes will remain the same as they are now. If social distancing is not possible due to class size, however, masks will be used. While masks are not required, they are recommended by the school district.
For those students and families concerned with exposure to the pandemic, virtual options will be available. Houts, elementary school principal Julie Van Ark and high school principal Matt Cihlar assured the assembled parents and teachers that the virtual classes and requirements would not be like last semester.
“There will be more accountability,” said Bob Houts, “We are using OdysseyWare and it is very structured. RVA is closed to enrollment, so we will make use of Google Classroom from the very beginning.”
As far as athletic activities for the first semester, the school's district will be following WIAA's recommendations. Cross Country will then begin on August 17th, with football and volleyball beginning on September 7th. As of now, it looks like football will have six or Seven regular season games but playoffs are still in question.
And transportation matters, there will be no change in the bus schedule. But parents within a 2-mile radius of the school are encouraged to let students walk, bike, or be dropped off and picked up at school. There are 24 seats per bus but, in case of siblings, more could sit on a single seat.
In food service considerations, the aforementioned bag breakfast would be served upon students’ arrival. In the elementary school, teachers would send a headcount to the cafeteria for food to be prepared and delivered to the classroom at lunch time. The high school will offer online lunch registration. Lunch would then be delivered to the class. Houts assured parents in attendance that hot meals would be available in Clam shell containers. The menu will be posted in advance and would not be simply PB and J.
Study halls will be eliminated but music and band instruction will go forward, albeit in smaller groups in ensembles.
Cleaning of the school will take place every night after school. No outside groups will be permitted to use the facility because of the cleaning issues. There will be no overnight travel or field trips. If the worst should happen and the school be ordered into a total shutdown, virtual education will be in place. As mentioned before, Google Classroom will be used from the very beginning of the school year and students and teachers will be well versed in its use for such an eventuality.
Addressing the concerns of the parents, school board president Dr. Julie Wendler said, “We will do everything we can to minimize and reduce the chance of spreading the virus.” Bob Houts concurred and assured the parents and teachers that “We're just trying to stay open.”
To that end, Houts said that, should a child begin showing the eight symptoms listed on their contact form, they must be kept at home. “It is a common thing to send your kids to school, even when they’re sick. Not now,” he said.
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