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Legal issues are resolved
At North Crawford
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Perhaps the most interesting news at last week’s North Crawford School Board meeting came just before it was adjourned. In his district administrator’s report, Dr. Dan Davies updated the board on the status of litigation against the district.

Davies referenced a letter from the district’s contracted attorney, Eileen Brownlee, indicating there was no longer any litigation facing the school. The letter was  sent to the accounting firm of Hawkins and Ash. The accountants are in the process of preparing the financial statement for the 2014-15 school year and needed to know whether there are legal fees accruing for pending cases.

“I am happy to report that as of this summer, the school district has no grievances, litigious or otherwise, outstanding,” Davies told the board. “The most recent report from our insurance carrier stated, ‘In March the OCR (U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights) ruled in favor of the district. No appeal or further action has been filed.’ Additionally, no school personnel employed by the school or school policy was found to be in violation or guilty of any wrongdoing. Only two of the multiple claims the district has defended in the course of the past three years requested damages, however these two alone totaled $450,000.”

Davies went on to explain to the board some of the legal costs paid by the district and the district’s insurer in the last four years.

“Our current insurance carrier has, throughout this period covered the district in several, but not all of the claims or investigations,” Davies told the board. “A significant portion of the attorney costs…has been the school district’s responsibility. The total costs we have paid out to date, at taxpayer expense are $37,295.”

Davies also informed the board that TRICOR, the district’s insurance carrier, has paid out $7,290 in legal fees since February 27, 2014 and $4,000 was spent in 2014. TRICOR is awaiting a final legal bill for the OCR claim.

“Based on our records and totals to date $44,585 has been spent on attorney fees, not including the final TRICOR costs and our costs this year to Ms. Brownlee,” Davis said.

The district administrator explained these costs are why the district found it necessary to increase the budget in the past several years in this particular area.

The board began the meeting by approving 2015-16 handbooks for elementary, middle school and high school students, teachers, coaches, co curricular activities, as well as professional and support staff employees.

Although the handbooks are overwhelmingly the same as last year, most had some changes made. The elementary school handbook included elements of a new program being introduced in the school called PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions in School), according to the elementary school principal Julie Kruizenga.

The former teacher and current elementary school principal also told the board about a small but important change in the handbook, which forbids handing out birthday party invitations in the classroom because of problems that arise when some children aren’t invited.

The handbook will also include the increased milk price, an updated staff directory and the school calendar.

The middle school/high school handbook had some changes, but primarily a few sections were simply rewritten to make policies clearer. For instance, any tardiness after 10 per quarter results in a detention. That’s not a change just a clarification, according to middle school/high school principal Brandon Munson.

However, now detentions must be served during the lunch hour and those serving them will “miss a social period” rather than a morning class, according to Munson.

The dress code maintains some basic guidelines about acceptable and unacceptable clothes at school, but leaves a final decision up to staff discretion on the decision of what is acceptable.

With the advisory period (formerly called homeroom or study hall) moved to the first period of the day, the school will now allow juniors and seniors with good grades and no behavior problems to skip the class and arrive in time for the first period of instruction at 8:55 a.m. This reward is seen as a way to keep older students, particularly seniors, involved and performing academically, according to Munson.

The honors program will begin in the third week of school. It will still offer those not attending the advisory period the amount of hours of instruction required by the state, according to Munson.

Since participating in the delayed start will essentially cause students to provide their own transportation, special education director Pat Wenske questioned if many of the special ed students qualifying for it would be able to  take advantage of it.

Munson acknowledged her concern. He pointed out that anyone who qualifies for the honors advisory period can also access the gym or library.

Another change that might catch parents off guard is that there will no longer be mid-quarter reports mailed out except for those students who are failing. Parents will be encouraged to check on the progress of students by checking online through the Skyward family access account.

School board member Judy Powell expressed concern that the morning advisory period was taking up too much instructional time. She questioned how students taking advanced placement classes and band could manage without using eight periods.

Davies responded to Powell that it was a rarity to find students with full loads of eight classes.

Munson noted that previously students had study halls scattered throughout the day and now everyone was in the advisory period first thing in the morning instead. He did point out that three students interested in taking a German language course were doing so through distance learning during the advisory period and this was an option.

One of the biggest changes to the handbooks involved the non-professional support staff. The staff had two different categories and two different percentages of paying for their share of health insurance. Those hired prior to 2006 paid 25 percent of their healthcare costs and those hired after that date paid 35 percent of their share of the health insurance costs.

The Affordable Care Act put an end to that arrangement viewing neither situation as ‘affordable.’ So, the support staff regardless of date of hire is now responsible for just 15 percent of the cost of their health insurance polices.

Wenske praised the change from a hiring perspective. She noted that it was always difficult to hire when the benefits were explained and the health insurance cost was higher than other local employers.

In other business, the North Crawford School Board:

• approved 55 changes to district policy suggested by Neola, a school policy consulting firm

• approved a resolution confirming the district is participating in the federal breakfast and lunch program

• approved a 66.030 agreement with the Boscobel School District to pay to use the service of an administrative assistant in the special education department

• approved the resignation of Chris Wettstein as middle school football coach because of another assignment

• accepted the resignation of paraprofessional aide Emily Allen, who took a job in the Lancaster School District where she resides

• approved Chris Wettstein as the varsity volleyball coach; Danielle McCormick as the junior varsity basketball coach; and Amanda Ziemer as the varsity reserve squad coach

• confirmed the hiring of Andrew Deutschen as a fulltime bus driver, making six full-time bus drivers under contract

• approved Tina Volden and Anna Davidson as the weight room supervisors

• approved the WPS health insurance contract for the 2015-16 school year

• agreed to increase bus driver pay from $28.40 per route to $30 per route and their pay for trips from $10.60 to $11 per hour.

• increased pay of substitute teacher from $95 to $100 per day

• increased the pay of support staff from $11.09 to $11.45

• heard a report from Gays Mills Swimming Pool Director Miriam Simons on options to use the pool next year as part of the summer school curriculum and also use the pool as part of the regular phy ed curriculum

• heard from Simons that the pool was considering building a competitive swimming team with students from three local school districts, including North Crawford

• heard the projected elementary school enrollment of 209 students in grade 4K to fifth is similar to last year’s enrollment

• heard report on new employment service called ‘Teacher on Call’ providing qualified substitute teachers to local school districts