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By Brett Nachtigall

HOT SPRINGS – In its regular meeting of the Hot Springs School District last Monday, May 8 – prior to the final day of classes this Thursday, May 18 – board members covered a variety of agenda items, including hearing a number of presentations, and approving next year’s 2017-18 calendar and preliminary budget as well as a number of contracts for services.

One agenda item, addressing the open board member position, was however postponed until after two separate closed door Executive Sessions which were held at the end of the board meeting. According to Business Manager Deb Ollerich, no one from the public had submitted a petition to run for the vacant seat in the upcoming election, so the school board was accepting applications to appoint the new board member. She said there had been some applications submitted for the position for the board to consider, but after coming out of Executive Session, the board decided to postpone making a decision on how to fill the vacancy until the June meeting.

Included in the presentations last Monday were ones from outgoing Senior Class President Sarah Lane and Student Body President Kali Hill, several FFA members reporting on their recent state convention, and senior Valedictorian Adam Nelson and Salutatorian Sarah Lane who each gave their commencement addresses for board members to hear.

Board members praised all of the students who gave presentations, especially the members of the FFA, as both Supt. Kevin Coles and Board President Scott Thompson said they had been hearing a lot of good things about the students and their instructor Tanna White.

Later in the meeting, the school board also approved the 2017-18 school calendar, which does have some noted changes from the current 2016-17 calendar, including a shorter Christmas break but two additional vacation days in the second semester, a more balanced total of school days between semesters, and one more day of overall classroom time.

During the current school year, students and teachers were out of school over Christmas break from Dec. 16 through Jan. 1, for a total of 17 days. Next year, the Christmas break will be Dec. 22 through Jan. 2 – a total of 12 days. Also when looking at vacation days during the second semester next year, students will get back the President’s Day holiday on Feb. 19, as well as an additional day over Easter (March 29-April 2) for a total of five days off for the holiday.

The moving around of vacation days then makes for a more balanced total of school days between semesters, with 69 in the First Semester , and 75 in the Second Semester – a difference of six days. During this current school year, there were 65 days in the First Semester, and 78 days in the Second Semester – a difference of 13 days.

The 2017-18 school calendar totals 144 days of classroom time, with the first day of classes as August 21, 2017, and the final day May 17, 2018. The current 2016-17 school calendar had 143 days.

An additional change to next year’s calendar is a notation in regards to Storm Days. The previous calendar had identified make-up days in the event of a storm day happening. That came into play this past year when classes were called off due to an impending winter snow storm. Easter Monday was identified as the make-up day for the missed day. However, school board members ultimately voted to not make it up due to still having the adequate number of required instruction days without making it up.

For the 2017-18 school year, rather than pre-identifying make up days, the calendar instead states, “if needed, storm days will be made up at the discretion of the school board.”

Ollerich also presented her preliminary 2017-18 budget to board members, and stressed that the budget was “still a work in progress” and created per a state requirement to have some preliminary numbers by the May meeting.

As reported following previous school board meetings, the upcoming school year will face some financial challenges due to some unfavorable audit findings which show a history of the Hot Springs School District outspending their incoming resources.

Ollerich said she had asked the principals from each of the buildings to come up with some cuts and that she will have a much better idea of the final numbers by July, when a final budget will need to be approved.

A glance at the bottom line of the preliminary budget presented last week shows a modest cut of just $8,366 to the General fund when compared to the published 2016-17 budget, and also a $20,876 decrease in the bottom line of the Capital Outlay budget compared to prior year.

A more closer look at those two budgets however shows some substantial movement of expenditures between the General Fund budget and the Capital Outlay budget, primarily in the areas of “Care and Upkeep” of the buildings, with decreases on one side with comparable increases to the other side within the same area.

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The most significant change when comparing the 2016-17 published proposed budget and the 2017-18 preliminary budget is in Special Education, which shows a reduction of $340,405 in bottom line expenditures, which is around a 24 percent less.

Supt. Coles noted during the meeting that the school is anticipating receiving less money through grants in the coming year.

As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, board members approved a number of resignations/retirements from classified employees, including: Lori Libra (Technology and Data Coordinator), Kelly Harkless (Administrative Secretary), Dawn Crossman (Paraprofessional), Annie Nelson (Paraprofessional), Nikki Shaw (Title 7 Liaison) and Zachariah Priem (Custodian).

Several service contracts were approved, including ones for Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, School Psychologist, Speech Therapy and Technology.

The technology contract with Golden West garnered the most discussion, as it also carried with it the largest dollar amount – approximately $10,000 month. Board member Mark Walton, citing the very high monthly cost, questioned whether the school was really getting that amount of value from the company. Supt. Coles said he had done some research last year to determine if it would make sense to do their own IT work rather than contracting it through someone like Golden West, and he determined then and still believes the amount paid to Golden West is of good value. Building Administrators also spoke highly of the service they got from Golden West.

During the Administrator Remarks near the end of the meeting, Elementary Principal John Fitzgerald gave an update on the one-way street near the elementary school and said it took effect Monday, May 8, and said it had been going good. He also reported on some planned changes in the fifth grade.

He said, in order to help prepare students for the transition from elementary school to middle school, fifth grade students would start to move more from class to class to receive different instruction from different teachers – with teachers specializing more on specific subject matter like middle school teachers rather than teaching a variety of subjects to only their classroom – but still with a “home room” concept involved.

Board member Kim Henningsen expressed some concern with this, but added he would support Mr. Fitzgerald if he determined it was the best way to go. Henningsen’s concerns involved how it impacted teachers who became elementary teachers due to wanting to teach multiple subjects, and how it would also impact the ability to recruit new elementary teachers to the district who were not accustomed to this model of fifth grade instruction.

Fitzgerald said a number of other schools in the area have already started using this model for fifth grade.

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