There was plenty of good news at the North Crawford School Board meeting last Thursday—a grant would fund some innovative new educational technology and a positive behaviors program was showing good results in the elementary school it was reported.
Even the budget news wasn’t that bad, which is quiet an accomplishment in the world of Wisconsin public schools theses days.
However, when two veteran teachers rose to air their concerns during the public comment section near the end of the meeting, the board was forced to come to grips with how a once popular after-school program is now in sharp decline.
English teacher Lori Fox-Gillespie and math teacher Eileen Robel told the board that they were dissatisfied with this year’s wage structure of the Beyond the Bell program. The teachers said that they had been trying to have some input since the school year began and they saw how changes to the program had affected them.
The teachers said they had tried to get on the board agenda previously and also had broached the idea of appearing at the annual meeting to discuss the impact of the changes to the program. Both teachers have worked in Beyond the Bell for the previous five years of the program. Middle school teacher Fox-Gillespie and middle-school/high school teacher Robel are in a unique position to offer homework help to older students struggling in those subjects.
Prior to this year, the program was funded by grant money. This year, the grant ended, but the administration expected, given the success of the program here, it would be selected for a continuing grant at a lower level. That did not happen.
Nevertheless, the administration and the Beyond the Bell coordinator, Amy Allbaugh, scrambled to make a plan to keep the popular program alive. Without the grant funding, a few bells and whistles were removed, but an after school program was constructed and Beyond the Bell was funded by the taxpayers through a special levy that was created. The program was estimated to cost about $75,000 annually. In addition to much of the programming it had offered previously, the administration presented a bus transportation option to get the kids home, which had also been a part of the program.
One feature of the new program was to standardize the teacher wages for after schoolwork at $25 per hour. Previously, the district had paid staff 80 percent of their standard wage for work in Beyond the Bell. This made for a range of pay from about $18 to about $29, according to middle school-high school principal Brandon Munson. For many teachers $25 was an increase from what they had been getting paid and even an increase from their standard classroom wages.
However, Robel and Fox-Gillespie are veteran teachers in the district with lots of experience. For them, it was a decrease from the 80 percent of the regular wage they had been getting.
Fox-Gillespie noted that she had taught in the district for 32 years, had a master’s degree and 35 credits beyond a masters degree.
Robel told the board it wasn’t just the three or four dollars per hour lost, it was the principle behind the action that was upsetting.
Fox-Gillespie said the teachers had gone to North Crawford District Administrator Dr. Dan Davies to be put on the board agenda. They were told decisions for the program had already been made.
They also later approached principal Brandon Munson to say they thought they should bring up their point at the district annual meeting. They said they were advised this was probably not a good idea.
School board president Mary Kuhn told the teachers the wage was set at $25 per hour for the program when it was approved at the beginning of the school year. She also stated that the wage situation for Beyond the Bell had already been discussed at two committee meetings, including one that was held the previous day.
The teachers both said they would have attended the committee meetings had they known they were being held.
“The money for this (Beyond the Bell) is not in the budget,” Kuhn explained. “It is coming from an additional levy.”
The board president went on to point out that the levy was being reduced because the program had been forced to cut transportation out, when bus drivers could not be found.
“The taxpayers are paying additional money for this program,” Kuhn said. “This is not a very rich district and a lot of people are struggling to pay their bills. We tried to make this a palatable amount of increase on people’s tax bill.”
“I can understand that,” Fox-Gillespie said in response. “But what about the positions that have been created. So it’s back on the teachers’ shoulders. It’s kind of a slap in the face.
“I feel bad you feel that way,” Kuhn said.
For his part, Munson said the $25 per hour figure was close to the average being paid in the program and it was comparable to what other district’s were paying in after school programs. He said he felt it was fair to standardize the wage at that level.
So with Robel and Fox-Gillespie not participating and no other middle school teachers participating middle school students are not staying after school for Beyond the Bell this year, it was reported.
When the lack of participation of older kids is coupled with a decline in participation due to the lack of transportation formerly provided, it means there are only about 14 to 16 students participating in the Beyond the Bell program that used to have more than 80.
Kuhn said the program had been started and would be evaluated at the end of the year. She also said a discussion about the wage issue would have had to occur before the board set the levy.
“We wanted to be part of that discussion,” Fox-Gillespie said. “How hard is it to e-mail the staff?”
Kuhn explained that the board was not involved in setting up the program. Rather the board took a recommendation on how to operate the program. She noted there had been a discussion in the summertime about not having it at all.
The teachers remained steadfast that they were not asked about the $25 per hour wage.
“We’ll see how the program goes,” Kuhn said. “Maybe next year we won’t have it.”
Not every board member agreed with the standard $25 per hour wage.
“I can’t see raising someone’s wage $7 per hour and cutting another’s
$5 or $6 per hour,” board member Aaron Fortney said.
“I think our takeaway is that we need better communication so something like this is not such a shock,” board member Jesse Swenson said of the Beyond the Bell program changes.
Board member Terry O’Donnell said the input on the program was done, and had been done, since the beginning of the school year.
“It was done this summer.” Kuhn said.
“The structure was not done by the board,” O’Donnell added.
Fortney asked where the 80 percent of regular salary figure had originated.
Kuhn explained the 80 percent of regular wages for after school work was contractual before state legislation, known as Act 10 and championed by Governor Scott Walker, eliminated public worker union bargaining and teacher contracts.
If the declining Beyond the Bell program was a low point in the board meeting, there were also some real positive developments reported.
School librarian Liz Bransky began with a report on a WTI Grant that will provide funding for enhancing SMART Board and distance learning technology at the school.
The Wisconsin Technology Initiative Grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation provides North Crawford with $25,000 to purchase a video conferencing system that will permit the school to video conference. This will allow the school to host distance learning classes with other high schools, tech schools and colleges or universities, as well as communicate with individuals or other classrooms.
North Crawford’s Tarasa Lown is working on offering students a nursing assistant course and other pre-health profession courses at North Crawford through South West Technical College and Scenic Rivers Area Health Education Center in the spring of 2016.
“The grant pays for four SMART projectors, three backlit SMART Boards, document cameras and professional development and tech support,” Bransky explained later. “The grant offers North Crawford students and staff expanded tech training and experiences to prepare for 21st century learning and working environments as well as greater access to learning opportunities.”
Another positive development at North Crawford is the school’s PBIS (Positive Behaviors Intervention and Support) Program, according to elementary school teacher Becky Molledahl, who has spearheaded the implementation of the program.
It may be known as PBIS to the administration and staff of the school but to the “little kids” in elementary school it is known as the “North Crawford Way.”
The program targets improving behavior in hallways, on buses and in the lunchroom, as well as in the classroom. The goal is to help the young students be safe and responsible.
PBIS attempts to correct inappropriate behavior by peer pressure and guidance, while simultaneously rewarding appropriate behavior with recognition and rewards.
Molledahl and elementary school principal Julie Kruizenga reviewed the results they’ve seen so far this year. They couldn’t say enough about the positive changes they are seeing at the school.
“Thank you all for all of your hard work,’ board president Mary Kuhn said when the teacher and the principal had finished with the presentation.
Like most school districts this month, the board approved a final budget for the 2015-16 school year that included revenue of $5,568,906 and expenditures of $5,705,893 creating a deficit of $136,987.
Dr. Davies explained the popularity of the family plan insurance policy with some staff this year had added to expenses.
An unusual transfer of services for a special ed student who was in North Crawford but transferred to Richland Center and is now receiving services at River Valley cost the district $36,000. However, it was pointed out that this money would come back to the district in aid in the 2016-17 school year.
There was a surprise in losing a couple of more students to outgoing open enrollment and finally the district lost its declining enrollment exemption, which cost $7,000. However Davies pointed out the increasing enrollment is a positive sign in the long run.
Like half the schools in the state, North Crawford’s general state aid was reduced this year.
Despite the economic hit, the administration remained upbeat about the financial future.
The budget was moved for adoption by Terry O’Donnell and seconded by Judy Powell. It was approved by the board.
The budget as adopted set Fund 10 at $1,711,922 and Fund *0 at $41,500(for Beyond the Bell) resulting in an all fund tax levy of $1,753, 422.
In other business, the North Crawford School Board:
• approved Heidi Stovey as a permanent food service worker
• confirmed Hunter Fortney as the eight grade middle school basketball coach and Angel Olson as the seventh grade girls basketball coach and Danielle McCormick as the assistant high school girls basketball coach
• agreed to pursue creating a strategic planning committee as proposed by board member Jim Dworschack to create a long range plan for the district