Notes from the January 13th Board of Education Meeting

USD 475 Logo on a blue abstract background.

The Board of Education held it’s first meeting of the year this week.  Here are some of the highlights of meeting. 

Welcome New Board Members

The Board of Education welcomed it’s two new members, Kristy Haden and Ron Johnson.  Both members have children attending schools within the district, and Ron is an alumnus of JCHS.  Ron and Kristy are both eager to step into their new roles and look forward to serving their community and the district. 

Board Votes on Leadership

January is the time that the Board of Education must decide whom will serve as the President and Vice-President of the board for the remainder of the year.  The board voted unanimously to retain Mrs. Rina D. Neal as the Board President.  The Board also cast a unanimous vote to make Jim Schmidt the new Vice-President. 

Financial Matters

The Board voted unanimously to allow a transfer of funds out of the Heavily Impact Aid Fund, which will permit USD 475 to make the interest payments, in March, on the bonds for school construction.  USD 475 still owes bond payments for Spring Valley Elementary, Junction City Middle School, and Junction City High School.  The Board approved a transfer of up to $700,000 to allow the payment to be made on the interest of those bonds.

USD 475 needs to hire a new financial auditor, as the previous firm no longer serves school districts.  After an RFP process and evaluation of proposals, CFO Marilee Fredricks requested the board allow the district to hire Varney & Associates CPAs, LLC, out of Manhattan, to perform the annual audits.  The cost for their services will be approximately $19,300 per year, and their contract will be renewed on an annual basis.  The Board voted unanimously to hire the new firm.

Cybersecurity

USD 475 has over 10,000 electronic devices within the district, and it has become increasingly difficult to monitor the traffic on all of them.  In recent years, hackers have targeted the websites of small government institutions and organizations and have held them for significant ransoms.  To prevent USD 475 falling victim to a similar situation, the district has looked to increase its cybersecurity efforts.  Karl DeArmond, Director of Information Technology at USD 475, requested that Board approve the hiring of a cybersecurity firm to monitor, detect, and respond any cybersecurity issues that may arise.  His recommendation was for the district to hire Arctic Wolf, a national firm serving many clients, including other school districts.  Arctic Wolf will provide 24-hour monitoring of internet traffic, and ensure the district receives notification within 30 minutes of a detected threat. This service will cost $250,000, which secures their services for the next 18 months.  The Board unanimously approved the request. 

Additional Math Interventionist at JCHS

USD 475 consistently focuses on improving meeting the needs of its students.  One of the most concerning issues identified within the district is that 39% of high school students are at least 1 or 2 grade levels below expected performance in the area of math.  USD 475 is trying to lessen this gap by providing math intervention services to students.  There are currently 2 math interventionists serving JCHS students, but the district has requested to hire a 3rd person.  This will allow the district to add a class for math intervention and serve the needs of even more students, while also allowing for more individualized attention to the students within the program.  The Board voted unanimously to approve the hiring of an additional instructor for this program.

Attendance and Discipline

Dr. Deb Gustafson spoke about the efforts the district is making to move towards the creation of a Student Code of Conduct.  A uniformed code will allow the district to provide consistency throughout the district when it comes to enforcement of the rules, and the types of discipline used.  Principals at every school have been working together to create a system that puts infractions into different levels and then establishes appropriate responses to each level.  Dr. Gustafson also discussed the efforts to curb chronic absenteeism.  There is a direct correlation between absenteeism and graduation rates.  The district has set a goal of keeping chronic absenteeism down to less than 9%.  The middle school is currently meeting this goal with only 8.6%.  The focus will now be shifted to assist and support students that risk falling into this category.