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School Board supports proposal to pasture sheep on school grounds
North Crawford
Joe Childs checks on the cattle
CHECKING ON CATTLE is part of custom grazing. Here in Utica Township, Joe Childs liked what he saw. Happy cattle enjoying the pasture. Child’s grazing operation leases land below Crawford County’s only PL-566 flood control dam.

NORTH CRAWFORD - It was the typical January school board agenda at North Crawford on Wednesday, January 25. It was short and to the point-just like Seneca’s a couple of weeks earlier.

Early in the meeting under administrative reports, North Crawford elementary school principal Amanda Killeen shared her enthusiasm for some of the progress being made by the students and staff at the elementary school level.

Killeen told the board that everyone one was working hard to re-establish the grade standards that had been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic.

“Post-COVID we’re working to re-establish what is needed to be learned by students in a given grade,” Killeen told the board.

Staff from the River Ridge School District visited North Crawford on Tuesday, Jan. 24 to see the staff teaching the ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum.

It was a ‘proud mom’ moment for the elementary principal. CKLA is setting a high bar in curriculum, Killeen explained. It takes two years to have full implementation.

Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is a comprehensive program (preschool–grade five) for teaching reading, writing, listening, and speaking while also building students' vocabulary and knowledge across essential domains in literature, world and American history, and sciences.

Locally, Pecatonica and Dodgeville are some of the only schools in the area implementing CKLA curriculums. New Glarus is the most established local rural school district using CKLA curriculum. Their pilot year was 2019-2020.

District bond is sold

The only other administrative report given in person at the meeting was from the North Crawford District Administrator Brandon Munson, who shared some interesting information about borrowing money for the school projects authorized by the referendums in the recent election.

Munson told the board that the district was looking to borrow ‘gap money’ for a short time until the sale of general obligation bonds was completed.

Well, the school’s financial adviser, the Baird Company, called on January 19 and said with the school’s permission they would put the bonds up for sale. The $4 million worth of bonds were offered and purchased. The interest rate they were sold at was 3.9 percent, which Munson was happy to note was one percent less than the district had been anticipated paying on the bonds.

Munson said the school district’s credit rating was a great help in securing the financing needed.

Bidding projects

Brandon Munson and North Crawford’s Director of Maintenance Harry Heisz traveled recently to meet with Kraemer Brothers Co. and FEH representatives to work on getting bids for the roof and upper walls, as well as bathrooms and showers.

Kraemer is working to get the bids ready, Munson reported. Once the bids are in, they will be brought to the North Crawford School Board’s Buildings and Ground Committee for review.

Munson noted that Kraemer’s thought in replacing the black top parking lots was that the district might want to get a concrete bid as well as an asphalt bid. The district was told it might be surprised at how close the cost of concrete is to black top right now.

Munson told the board it was way too early to start talking about the 2023-24 school year budget. However, he did point out that the referendum providing operating revenue for the district was essentially going to be needed to fill the void left by ESSER dollars that were available as COVID Aid. There is no more ESSER money available.

The district administrator noted that the CPI  (Consumer Price Index) to be announced on July 1 was anticipated to be increasing at around eight percent.

 He also noted that health insurance costs would increase and it was prudent to build in five percent in the budget for that increase. The district will also have to hire a teacher to add another fifth grade class in the next school year.

Munson said the DPI budget numbers would indicate increasing $350 per student in the revenue cap going forward. Also state special aid is supposed to increase from 30 percent to 45 percent next year and 60 percent the following year

“We’ll still be operating on some pretty thin margins in the budget, if the state doesn’t come through,” Munson said.

“Like every district is now, we’re at the mercy of the state,” Munson said.

The district has picked up two bus drivers. One will take the Goplin route and the other will replace North Crawford High School Principal Rob Sailor, who has been doing one of the routes regularly since school started in fall.

Grazing sheep

Despite the reports from the district administrator and elementary school principal, the showstopper at the meeting came as one of the two agenda items under new business. Trojan alumni and pasture-grazing enthusiast Joe Childs presented his North Crawford Community Pasture Program Proposal.

The proposal would locate sheep on 40 acres of the 58-acre North Crawford School property.

The sheep would be contained with portable electric fencing, which Childs owns. The electric fencing would also be used to create interior paddocks in which the sheep would be rotated.

Childs does pasture and rotational grazing as a business on other properties. He has lots of experience in the business.

Especially, in the first year, Childs would run the project on his own. The Crawford Stewardship Project has agreed to pay Childs for 20 hours of work per week on the North Crawford Community Pastures Program. Childs is currently employed by CSP as the Community Engagement Coordinator. The school district would have no expenses in the Pasture program Proposal Childs presented.

In its first year, the pasture project was proposed to run from March 1, 2023 through Oct. 31, 2023. These dates are approximate with forage and weather conditions dictating how early and late animals can be on the ground.

Childs said the first year of the project will be centered on getting it established, but starting in the second year involvement with the students and curriculum would begin. Ultimately, the pasture program could have a large impact on the school’s educational offerings.

The program benefits to education and other programs were listed in the six page pasture proposal.

The board, which includes two or three farmers and a couple of other board members involved in agriculture, seemed receptive to the well-thought-out proposal by Childs. Nevertheless, they asked the hard questions that needed to be answered and to his credit Childs had the answers.

Board member Ed Heisz questioned how the herd of sheep would be handled in the fall when some of the area might be used or be adjacent to areas being used by the cross country teams and football games.

Childs said the herd of sheep would be moved toward Torgerson Road or toward the middle of the hill and contained there with the portable electric fencing. This would keep them away from the activities on the grounds.

Childs emphasized that the program would not be about the students in its first year, and he would do all the work of the project.

“I graze all summer,” Childs said. “It’s all on me.”

Board members including Jessie Swenson questioned who would be liable if kids got shocked by the electric fence.

It was noted that elementary students would not get to the area where the electric fences were without being under the supervision of staff.

Childs told the board that there would be signage that the fence was electrified.

“It’s not dangerous,” Childs said. “I’ve been shocked many times.”

Munson said that the situation with the electric fence should be fine; if there is signage, supervision, and if the district is proactive about the situation

Childs also noted the sheep would eliminate the need for the district to spend 24 hours of the maintenance staff time mowing the grass every week.

Board member Heisz asked about potential problems with predators.

Childs said coyotes would not regularly attack adult sheep. He noted while lambs can be an issue with predators, he planned to remove ewes who were ready to lamb to another area.

Childs also said adult ram sheep would not be kept on the property.

In answer to a question about overgrazing by sheep, Childs explained the key to avoiding overgrazing was moving the sheep around with the electric fencing.

Board member Judy Powell said she believes the program could become a really big selling point for the school

When it came down to a vote on the North Crawford Community Pasture Program, the voice vote of the board appeared to be unanimous.

In other business

In other business, the North Crawford School Board:

• approved the open enrollment space projections for the 2023-2024 school year–they include 42-48 for the elementary school; 48 for the middle school; 48 for the high school; and a combination of grade-specific open enrollment spaces for the special education program

• set the next meeting date for Wednesday, February 15.