The Geary County Board of Education had a full agenda for their Monday, March 20th meeting.
Due to the recent closure of all schools, the agenda was adjusted to meet some of the most urgent needs of the district. The Board had planned to vote on the early retirement benefit change at this meeting but decided to defer it to a future meeting. The Board also deferred voting on Administrator contracts until the next meeting.
The Board voted to approve to reduce the number of credits needed for graduation from JCHS to match the state requirements. USD 475 previously required 24 credits for graduation. Due to the current circumstances, they voted to reduce the requirement to 21 credits, which matches the requirements by KSDE, to ensure that current seniors will have the ability to graduate on time, this spring.
Extension of Maintenance Contracts
David Wild, Chief Operations Officer, requested that the district allow him to extend the maintenance contract with ABM for an additional year, and postpone the selection of new maintenance contracts for a period of 1 year, due to the current crisis situation. He felt it would be too difficult for contractors to be able to bid on the contracts, and it would put an unnecessary strain on the district to try to evaluate and choose a contract, at this time. The Board voted to allow him to extend the current contract with ABM for one year, and to restart the RFP process in 2021.
Pay for District Contractors – Bus Drivers and ABM Employees
The Board of Education voted unanimously to approve USD 475 busing and maintenance contractors all receive their pay during the closure. This is to include bus drivers, janitors, and maintenance contractors. However, some bus drivers may be assisting with expanded meal delivery programs by driving regular routes and delivering lunch and breakfast meals to students.
The Board of Education voted unanimously to continue not charging families for enrolling their students in USD 475 for the 2020-2021 school year. USD 475 is one of the only districts in the area that does not charge fees for enrolling fees for students. The district has charged fees for enrolling students in the past, however, it was determined that it could create a hardship for families and district staff to continue charging the fees.
Additional Staff for Early Childhood Programs
Nate Downs, Director of Special Education Services for the district, requested additional staff for the 2020-2021 school year to help in the expansion of the district’s Early Childhood programs. He asked the Board to approve two additional teachers, four paraeducators, and two additional ELL aides. The Board expressed concerns that the state of emergency could delay the next school year, which would negate the need for additional staff. Nate said that he could only plan as if operations would continue as normal, and if they do, he will need the additional staff to be able to provide full-day Early Childhood programs, at all schools, five days a week. The Board voted unanimously to approve the additional staff.
Public Hearing for new JCHS Campus Announced
The Board of Education has approved several additions to be added to the construction of the new JCHS campus. This has caused the cost of the project to increase over the original bid price of $113 Million. While these additional costs are fully funded and will not result in any raise in taxes for Geary County residents, the district is required to hold a public hearing for comments. David Wild requested the Board approve the hearing date of April 21st at 6:30 pm, as well as the public posting of the hearing to the local media. The Board voted unanimously to approve the hearing.
Internet Access for Students without Internet
Karl DeArmond, Director of Internet Technology for USD 475, has been working on a solution for students without internet access to participate in continuous learning during the school closures. He sent out a survey to families last week to determine the need for providing internet access to students and teachers that currently lack access. His survey determined that approximately 15%, or about 500 people, currently lack adequate access to the internet. He requested the Board approve up to $120,000 for purchasing of 500 wireless hotspots to issue to students and staff. The service will be offered through T-Mobile, and the district will pay the connectivity costs. The Board expressed concerns that the devices may not work in all areas, and Karl assured them that he will test the initial order of the devices by driving around the county and seeing if they work in most areas. If they do not, Karl assured the Board that he would research alternative options through different carriers. The Board voted to approve the cost for the devices and the service.
90-Day Bill Payment Authority
Merilee Fredricks, Chief Financial Officer for USD 475, requested that the Board temporarily give authority to the Superintendent to approve all payments of bills for the next 90 days, or until the State of Emergency has ended, whichever comes first. Merilee stated that this request was to ensure that vendors and employees could be payed in a timely manner, in the event that the Board is unable to meet and approve the payments. The Board will still be sent biweekly reports of the payments and will still hold veto authority over making any specific payments. Merilee pointed out that the district offices may be closed as a result of the emergency, and wants to ensure payments can still be made. The Board voted to approve the temporary measure.
The Board meeting on April 1st was cancelled, as it was a special meeting to approve payments of bills, and the final measure voted on negated the need for the meeting.
The next Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 6th at 5:30 pm.