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COVID-19 task force gives update; budget plans discussed

By Lea Kopke
Press Times News Intern

SUAMICO – Figuring out how to safely return to schools in the fall is like trying to put together a million-piece puzzle, said Howard-Suamico school board vice president Garry Sievert.

An update from the COVID-19 Comeback Planning Task Force team was presented at the Monday, June 22, school board meeting.

“There’s lots of pieces to the puzzle,” Sievert said. “How do students get here? Who is screened at the door? Who is going to do that? What do we do if a student is ill? What equipment should be in a classroom?”

Earlier in the day, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the Education Forward plan, an 87-page guidance document school districts are encouraged to use in plans to reopen schools this fall.

Superintendent Damian LaCroix said Education Forward is a non-binding guidance document, but the district and task force plans to use it as a starting point.

“We need to do more work on the local level to execute,” LaCroix said. “We’re already considering a lot of this at the task force level. We are responsible for plans and protocols. We are really on our own, but I think it’s best to try to work on the county level.”

He said he has already met with a Brown County group of healthcare systems, Brown County Health and Human Services, school districts and the Greater Green Bay Chamber, and he will meet with them again Monday, June 29.

“We’re coming up with plans that reflect the values of the community…,” LaCroix said. “We’re going to do our best to ensure a safe environment, but we can’t give 100-percent assurance or guarantee.”

Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development and one of the action team leaders, said 30 task force participants were engaged in helping develop contingency plans.

“The analogy we used is really having a toolkit,” Smith said, “and having the ability to pull multiple tools based upon what’s in the DPI guidelines and/or what decisions may be made on the local level.”

He said the team is planning for three possible contingency plans: virtual learning, in-person learning or a hybrid.

Smith said a district-wide survey, in which there were more than 2,000 parental responses, found 75 percent of parents would send their child to school if it was open.

After analyzing the survey data, he said there were three areas of concern.

“We need to brainstorm around what does the structure or schedule look like when we return,” Smith said. “How do we also keep an assessment of student learning needs at the forefront of the work? And ultimately, how do we learn from our experience during the spring closure and improve the overall structural learning experience for our students?”

Brain Nicol, director of communications, said the district plans to release information from the task force regarding the reopening of schools July 2 and 21.

Future budget talks

LaCroix said the theme for the next few years is the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good, he said, was the 2019-20 year.

LaCroix said district facilities saw great updates and expansions, 427 staff saw an increased salary, technology updates led to an annual savings of more than $300,000 and the district was one of only three districts in the state to have a flat tax rate.

However, he said he believes 2020-21 could be the bad because of a more uncertain path.

LaCroix attributed this to the pandemic causing such a drastic drop in the economy.

“It’s going to be costly to reopen and accommodate different occupancy levels,” LaCroix said. “Older buildings that have sat unused are going to require extra attention.”

He also discussed how a potential budget repair bill from Madison would affect the district.

“We’re looking at the potential for flat revenue,” LaCroix said. “It would be great if revenue didn’t get modified, but we’re doing scenario planning.”

In preparing for the 2020-21 budget, he said the district will plan for each possible scenario: normal, flat and reduced revenue.

Currently, the district is tentatively focused on the flat revenue plan, but LaCroix said staff will not know for sure until later in the school year.

The ugly, he said, could possibly be 2022-23 and beyond, due to a projected $2-3 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin.

For now, however, LaCroix said the focus needs to remain on the upcoming year.

“We need to get clarity… especially in a pandemic environment,” he said. “How do we need to adapt and adjust to best help our students and families?”

Two teachers awarded Golden Apple

Two district teachers were recognized as Golden Apple Award recipients at the board meeting.

Howard-Suamico school board president Teresa Ford, left, honors two district teachers, Amber Kalishek, center, and Anne Schmidt, for receiving the Golden Apple Award during the Monday, June 23 board meeting. Lea Kopke Photo

Amber Kalishek, a fourth-grade teacher at Bay Harbor Elementary, said she was excited to be one of the two teachers to represent the district.

Kalishek said she believes the learning environment and encouragement from leaders at her school helped make this award possible.

“I think a lot of it comes from our principal, who allows us to try new things and be authentic,” she said.

The other recipient was Anne Schmidt, who is a Bay Port science teacher going into her 25th year of teaching.

“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Schmidt said. “Numerous times I’ve thought about applying. It’s hard to be proud of winning during this exact time, because we’re not getting the fanfare, the special treatment. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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