NORTH CRAWFORD - The regular meeting of the North Crawford School Board on Wednesday, Dec. 19 was definitely livelier than usual, with a demonstration by the award-winning ‘TroBots,’ North Crawford’s Robotics Team, and some public input from parent Jill Stefonek. Other topics dominating the board’s agenda included school safety and transportation.
Linda Dworshack appeared with the members of the TroBot Team. The team had recently won a top award at a competition in Rochester. Belen Tinoco, Gia Mahan, Nathan Zirk, Carter Wilson, Elizabeth Moran-Fortney, Rivyn DiPadova, Elaree Young, Aiden Unseth, Blake Zirk and Heidi Stolpa were the members of the winning team that appeared to make statements to the board about the value of their experience in the club, and to provide a demonstration.
“We are the North Crawford TroBots, and being part of a team is like having a second family,” Rivyn DiPadova explained. “We all learned so much, especially from our mistakes, and we all learned how to work together as a team.”
Parent and former candidate for the North Crawford School Board Jill Stefonek had some things to say in the public input portion of the agenda. Stefonek regularly attends school board meetings.
“I’ve been attending meetings and observing the school board for the last year, and I commend you,” Stefonek said. “I’m concerned that there is a lack of public participation in the governance of the school, and I am wondering what we can do to bring this to the parents.”
Stefonek went on to praise the district’s expansion into producing regular newsletters for parents and the community, and suggested that the district should put a focus on their mathematics curriculum.
“I was a math major in college, and I work in finance,” Stefonek said. “I regularly spend an hour-and-a-half with my daughter every night doing her math homework, but I know that not everyone has my background in the subject, so I think the district needs to increase its focus on mathematics.”
Stefonek brought a more personal issue to the board’s attention relating to the school’s truancy policy. Stefonek’s aging parents live in northern Wisconsin, and her husband’s parents live in Germany.
“I’m not from this area, which means that my daughter’s extended family lives far away,” Stefonek explained. “I firmly believe that spending time with your family and knowing your roots is just as important an educational experience as attending classes and doing homework. For this reason, we take our daughter out of school every year to let her get to know her family in Germany, but this often results in us getting into trouble with the school’s truancy policy.”
Stefonek told the board that she always works with the teachers and the administration, and ensures that her daughter completes all of her homework assignments.
“I knew when my daughter was in 4K, and we received a truancy letter, that there is a problem with the policy,” Stefonek joked.
Superintendent Munson stated that there are ways that the district can work with parents in these kinds of situations, as long as there is proactive communication and the student’s work is all completed.
North Crawford School Board President Mary Kuhn thanked Stefonek for bringing her concerns before the board.
“I too have extended family that is not from the area,” Kuhn shared. “So, I completely share your concerns about making sure that children are given the opportunity to know their family and their roots.”
Stefonek also requested that the district consider publishing their academic calendar earlier to better allow parents to make plans and request their vacation time.
Superintendent Brandon Munson reported to the board about the status of projects paid for with the two Wisconsin Department of Justice Safety Grants the school had received.
“District, teaching and support staff have all undergone the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training,” Munson said. “We are planning to roll the training out to students in an age-appropriate fashion in January.”
In addition, Munson provided the itemized list of projects the $60,100 in grants had been spent on:
Security Film for Doors/Windows $17,000
Security Cameras and Record $5,400
Interior Door Locks $6,000
Electronic Door Locks and Hardware $7,000
Upgrade to the Public Address System $1,000
Portable Radios $3,800
Radio Repeater System $5,400
Exterior Aluminum Door $3,100
ALICE training $2,600
ALICE supplies and resources $5,000
ALICE curriculum and training $2,000
Trauma Informed Care, Threat Assessment $1,800
Munson said that for the most part, installation of new school safety measures was largely completed. He thanked Harry Heisz and the building and grounds team for all of their hard work.
The three major issues related to transportation on the board’s meeting agenda pertained to the hiring process for a new director of transportation, the need to replace the district’s aging lift bus, and driver trip pay.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a hiring recommendation for the position of director of transportation for you to review and approve at this meeting,” Munson told the board. “I will be conducting the last interviews later this week, and hope to have a recommendation before the end of the year.”
The board, in response to an expression of urgency from acting director of transportation Stan Turben, scheduled a special board meeting for the purpose of hiring a new director on Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 5 p.m. Turben had come out of retirement to lead the district’s transportation team until they could hire a replacement for Jared Powell, who resigned his position in November.
North Crawford Business Manager Demetri Andrews reported to the board that the district had recently been awarded a grant from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to help fund the cost of up to two new propane-fueled school buses. The award is for $6,000 per propane bus purchased before December 31, 2019.
“Our current lift bus (#7) is coming near the end of its life as it approaches 200,000 miles,” Andrews explained. “The bus is a 2005 Thomas, 46-passenger, with only one wheelchair space.”
Andrews went on to explain that the grant funds would help to offset the purchase amount as well as potential “high cost transportation aid” the following year. He explained that the new 2019 Bluebird, 65-pasenger, bus would have space for two wheelchairs and its larger size would allow it to be used for more trips with increased capacity.
“We’ve been reviewing specifications for the new bus, and plan to bring a purchase recommendation to the board next month,” Munson said. “With the new propane buses, we are hoping to have more than 13 years of service, and more than 200,000 miles.”
Lastly, Munson reported to the board that he had met with the drivers recently, and they had identified trip pay as a significant issue. The district has experienced challenges in having enough drivers willing to work beyond driving their basic route, and the pay for trips seems to be a major stumbling block.
“I reviewed the trip pay offered by other districts in our area, as well as the route pay,” Munson told the board. “North Crawford is at the higher end with the route pay we offer, but we’ve slipped to the lower end with trip pay.”
Munson recommended, and the board approved, an increase in trip pay for drivers from $12.40 per hour to $14 per hour.
In other business, the board:
• heard a report from elementary principal Amanda Killeen about how the recent family gingerbread-decorating event had attracted the most families ever;
• joined interim middle school/high school principal Holly Jones in commending boys basketball player Grant Smith for reaching his 1,000-point goal, and for the success of the Trojan wrestling team as well;
• heard about how students had sung Christmas carols at the Marketplace and at the Soldiers Grove nursing home;
• heard a report from Special Education Director Kim Littel about a $6,000 transition expenses grant the district had received, and work being done to customize assistive technology;
• heard about how a group of teachers had secured a grant to be able to continue the adult exercise program at the school, and discussed the possibility of opening up the district’s fitness facilities to the general public; and
• approved Stacy Butler, Allison Deckert, Doug Heisz and Sarah Kemp, as the chaperones for the eighth grade trip to Washington D.C.