The use of COVID relief funds sparked discussion at the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City school board meeting last week.
A few board members recently raised concerns about the source of funding for several maintenance projects, sparking conversations during the meetup, which took place at the Cosmos Learning Center.
Board member Jeanna Lilleberg questioned a playground project, while board member Scott Stafford noted it seemed inappropriate to spend relief money special COVID for construction projects. Other school officials felt that one-time projects are appropriate because they do not involve future spending obligations as would those that involve hiring additional staff.
It was also noted that ACGC has already spent much of its COVID relief money on staffed projects like summer school and credit recovery programs to help students who have missed a lot of courses during the COVID pandemic to “catch up” to where they should be academically.
Acting Superintendent Paul Carlson pointed out that some COVID relief funds have strict usage restrictions, and others, like ESSER funds used for playground improvements, flooring replacements and other works, were less restrictive. He pointed out that administrators monitor what funds are used for what and stay within legal usage limits.
Most summer facility projects use non-COVID funding sources. The largest summer project, besides the $225,000 elementary playground, is to renovate the lighting and sound of the school’s auditorium at an estimated cost of $150,000, using capital funds. The district will also replace some elementary and middle school math and reading programs at a cost of $80,000 each and install outdoor security cameras with funds for “safe schools.”
In related action, Buildings and Grounds Manager Tom Fordyce briefed the board on a recent fire marshal inspection and things that need to be done to correct a few dozen, mostly minor, violations. However, several metal doors need to be installed, which are larger ticket items, he said.
Fordyce also reviewed a list of summer maintenance and repair projects that have been approved by the council.
Personnel changes approved
Several new teachers have been hired, mainly to replace staff who have resigned or retired. They include special education teachers Samantha Cunningham and Lydia Jorgenson, choir teacher Mila Hanson and business professor Terrin DeBoer. Alternate paraprofessionals Lauren Block and Sarah Wallace, dance team coaches Tori Dennegrud and Sloan Saba, and Knowledge Bowl coach Shane Hagstrom were also hired.
Three teachers have recently quit – primary school teachers Katelyn Powers and Nicole Ammerman, and special education teacher Morgan Lara. Junior wrestling coach Jacob Whitcomb also quit.
The board also approved a slate of coaches for the upcoming fall and winter. These included the head football coaches: David Blom; volleyball: Shawna Roemeling and Jamie Mootz; wrestling: Mike Amsden; boys basketball: Terry Miller; and women’s basketball: Trevor Heining.
Revised STEAM program
Elementary teacher Laura Bianchi led the council through a review of the district’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) curriculum and explained how the district’s goals in this curriculum area would be achieved through special projects and contributions from community members who are experts in their field. For example, school board member Paul Rasmussen, who is a highway engineer, will lead a session on civil engineering and artist Carol Slinden is planning a session on art.
Strong preschool enrollment
Director of Activities and Sports, Marj Mauer, reported on progress to date with preschool enrollment. So many children have signed up, she said, that the community education department will be adding a half-time preschool/half-time early years coordinator position for next fall.
Enrollment at ACGC increased by 15 to 20 students in the 2020-21 school year, according to figures from the district business office. Most of the growth has occurred in the early primary grades.
The board also heard a financial report from its new chief commercial officer, Blake Stoltman, who was hired through the company SMS. Stoltman reminded the board that deficit spending had been planned for this school year, due to a desire to reduce some of the district’s healthy fund balance, but that slightly higher enrollment and state and federal aid had filled the gap. part of the deficit, which is expected to leave the district with a higher balance at the end of the fiscal year next month than previously expected.