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Safety, wrestling, 4K and COVID topics for school board
Boscobel School District

BOSCOBEL - In a long, action-packed meeting on Monday, Feb. 14, the Boscobel School Board tackled issues related to school safety, the wrestling program, 4K scheduling, and pandemic protocols.

The board heard presentations from two companies bidding to replace the outdated intercom systems in the middle school/high school, and elementary buildings. Those two companies were Total Tech, a Boscobel company, and Omni Technologies, a company based in Oregon, Wisc. The board had also previously reviewed a bid from a company called Communications Engineering Company (CEC).

“There are parts of the current high school/middle school system that are not working at all, and just last week we had an emergency and didn’t have the system we need to best respond in place,” Superintendent Lisa Wallin-Kapinus explained. “In addition, parts of the elementary system have or are in the process of failing as well. I’m concerned that if we put a bandaid on this, and wait to replace them, that by the time the systems totally fail we’ll no longer have the federal funding available to pay for it.”

After listening to the presentations, and a lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to accept the bid from Total Tech. The estimated expenditure on the project will be $98,813 for the middle school/high school, and $56,386.50 for the elementary school. Total estimated cost for the project will be $155,199.50. This amount will be paid for out of the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

The board seemed happy to support a local company that has been a trusted contractor for the district in the past. Thorough discussion revealed that Total Tech offered a turn-key solution with a user-friendly web-based interface that would meet the district’s needs, and be expandable and customizable.

The company recommended waiting to do the project in summer so that disruptions to classrooms would not be an issue. To address the short-term needs in the buildings between now and summer, the company proposes a solution that will involve tapping off of functioning speakers in the system to make other speakers in currently unserved areas function. The company described it as “do-able,” but emphasized that it is not a viable long-term strategy.

Wrestling co-op

In exciting news for two districts whose wrestling programs have struggled in recent years, Athletic Director Robert Scherrer told the board that he was in preliminary stages of exploring a co-op wrestling team with the Wauzeka-Steuben School District.

“This move, down the road, could build the co-op team into a wrestling power house,” Scherrer said. “While neither team has a lot of upper classsmen in their programs, there is strong participation in the younger grades that bodes well for the future of the program.”

Scherrer told the board that if the boards of both districts supported the move in time to meet WIAA’s April 4 deadline, then the co-op team could be approved for the 2022-23 wrestling season. He said that, fortuitously, the wrestling team uniforms in Boscobel were up for renewal in the coming school year, and so forming the co-op team would also be timely in that respect.

“I’m seeking preliminary feedback from you tonight, so when I come back to you with a proposal in March, I can try to address any concerns you may have,” Sherrer said. “I see this as an opportunity to build this program, and to stop the district losing kids because other schools around us have a stronger program.”

4K schedule

After much discussion, the school board voted unanimously to approve a four-day, full-day, 4K program, to begin in the 2022-23 school year. They agreed that parents could elect to enroll their children for only a half day versus a full day, but that those who chose to do so would be responsible for transportation at the end of the half-day.

“This move would increase the cost of the program, but the costs of elementary salaries and benefits are decreased due to reassignment of existing staff rather than hiring another teacher,” Wallin-Kapinus explained. “We have a large number of low income families in our district, and I worry about where those kids are going when they aren’t at the school or at the Head Start program.”

Kapinus-Wallin explained that because of the program’s current half-day format, it costs the district $11,566 in additional transportation costs to run the special routes for the program.

The district had conducted a parent and community survey to help guide their decision. Of the 51 survey respondents, 90.2 percent said they lived in the district. Most (56.9 percent) said they had children they would consider enrolling in the 4K program, and it was clear from the survey responses that parents were interested in a full-day program. Of the respondents, 31.4 percent expressed support for a four-day, full-day program, and 19.6 percent expressed support for a five-day, full-day program.

Pandemic protocol

Following an impassioned presentation from Billie Jo Ralph, the mother of a fifth grade student, in the public comment portion of the agenda, the board voted 6-1 in favor of a change to the school’s current pandemic protocol, with board member Kim Trumm voting no. 

“After three months of my child, who has a medical mask exemption, not being able to attend school in-person because of being a close contact to someone who tested positive for COVID, I have reluctantly made the decision to withdraw my child from the district,” Ralph said in tears. “I was raised in Boscobel, I’m a proud Bulldog, but I’m a parent first, and mental health issues related to the pandemic protocols need to be taken as seriously as the threat of the virus.”

The motion made by Casey Updike, seconded by Caleb Mueller, and approved by the board, is that effective immediately, masking will be optional in the district.  Those individuals that are medically exempt from wearing masks will be allowed to wear a school-approved face shield during isolation and quarantine.

In other business

In other business, the board:

• heard a presentation  from Special Education teacher Skyler Reynolds about the district’s innovative Transition Class

• heard about how, with the help of local, retired psychotherapist Paul Gasser, and the leadership of Guidance Counselor Rhonda Scallon, both the elementary, and the middle school/high school had put on, and had plans for, a strong focus on student and staff mental health initiatives

• heard that the Chess Club in the district is “going crazy,” and that high school students are looking to involve middle school students, and conducting fundraisers to be able to purchase more chess boards

• heard that Miss Scallon had helped three more students enroll in youth apprenticheship programs

• heard that Superintendent Wallin-Kapinus had kicked off School Bus Driver Appreciation Week with a delivery of baked goods and sandwiches, and had additional activities planned throughout the week

• heard from Wallin-Kapinus that the recently released consumer price index of 4.7 percent was a “dark cloud hanging over the district,” with implications for next year’s budget and staff raises

• approved adding a ‘Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Service Plan’ to the district website in order to qualify for upcoming ESSER funding

• approved a preliminary plan for use of ESSER III funding, to be submitted to the State Department of Public Instruction, stating that 20 percent of the$1,483,032 funding the district is expected to receive would be used for address learning loss, interventions, accelerated learning and closing the gap ($296,606), and 80 percent will cover district needs such as, but not limited to: ventilation, social distancing, mitigation, HVAC systems, school environment safety, etc. ($1,186,42)

• agreed to move forward with Upper 90 and Smith Rosenfeld on a process to secure community input into the process of determining the plan for repairs or upgrades to district buildings

• agreed to an 11 percent increase in paraprofessional and foodservice wages, retroactive to the beginning of the school year

• agreed to contract with Paul Gasser for mental health services for students and staff in the district.