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Rapid City school district board votes to start school Sept. 8
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Rapid City school district board votes to start school Sept. 8

Rapid City Area Schools

The Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education voted Monday night to start the school year on Sept. 8.

Superintendent Lori Simon said the recommendation to move the start date from past years came from the elementary and secondary learning planning groups and that it gives staff more time to prepare for the fall.

The plan provides seven additional days of “critical training and planning for staff ahead of the start of the school year,” Simon said at the meeting. Moving the date will also allow the district to see any impacts from the upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and other tourism “on the spread and peak of COVID-19 in Pennington County and our community,” Simon said.

Simon said she will provide an overview of the back-to-school plan to the board Thursday in a study session. Simon previously said a preview of the plan would also go out to staff and families by Friday before the board reviews and votes on the plan at a special meeting Aug. 4.

Budgeting for COVID-19

The board also unanimously approved the 2020-21 budget for the district. Coy Sasse, director of business and support services, said the COVID-19 response is the ultimate “peel the onion” situation.

“Every time we peel a layer off, there seems to be multiple layers underneath,” he said. “Every one of those layers comes with decisions to be made. Every one of those decisions has dollar signs attached. Because this is a situation none of us have ever been through, it’s very difficult to foresee what those decisions and costs are going to look like. To be frank, this is a costly situation.”

COVID-19 expenses for the district from its $4.5 million in CARES Act funding, according to Sasse, include:

  • $413,000 was shared with the district’s non-public schools, per federal guidelines;

  • $3 million for the district’s one-to-one computer initiative, which assures each student has a laptop for online and remote learning;

  • $165,000 for Canvas licensing, which allows students to access their courses, grades, assignments and discussions using a mobile device or laptop;

  • $40,000 for Google Drive certification;

  • $70,000 for a nurse coordinator;

  • $135,000 for personal protective equipment;

  • $20,000 for summer school credit recovery;

  • $111,000 for computer cases;

  • $530,000 for related expenses.

Sasse said these aren’t the only COVID-19 expenses the district will experience. The district has identified new needs since budgeting for CARES Act funds, which Sasse said will carry new costs upwards of $1.6 million. The new needs are as follows, he said:

  • $450,000 for building modifications, like nurse stations and sick/well areas;

  • $1.3 million for remote learning technology;

  • $70,000 for additional PPE needs;

  • $330,000 for nursing support.

Other major budget issues include pay negotiations, as approximately 80% of the district’s expenses include salary and benefits, Sasse said. The high schools will also need more signage, he added.

Activities plan

The district also voted to move to phase three of its activities plan, which would allow both Stevens and Central high schools to start soccer tryouts from July 27 through Aug. 1, choreography sessions for competitive cheer and dance teams, and focused instruction sessions for volleyball and other sports.

The plan was passed 6-1, with a dissenting vote from outgoing board member Christine Stephenson.

“When this was first introduced, I requested that I’d really appreciate to have medical input” on the phases, Stephenson said. “Students need these sports, it’s good for social and emotional health, it’s good for physical health. I get all that. I’m 100% on board with that, but it’s my understanding we’ve had some cases of COVID-19 among our high school athletes in phase one and two.”

Jared Vasquez, activities director at Stevens High School, said there have been two cases of COVID-19 in athletes at Stevens. Jordan Bauer, activities director at Central High School, said one athlete there has tested positive for COVID-19.

Stephenson asked to hear more from medical experts who thought it would be safe for the school district to continue with sports that involve more than 10 people, but didn’t see a letter or enough information from medical experts by the time the board voted in the meeting.

District updates

A three-year grant of $419,082 also passed for Western Dakota Tech. The technical school will begin offering distance education and telemedicine at several off-site locations: White River, Whitewood, Lakota Tech High School and Monument Health in both Sturgis and Lead-Deadwood.

Both Stephenson and board President Mike Roesler left the board Monday night as Clay Colombe and Jim Hansen took their places for Area 5 and Area 4, respectively.

Curt Pochardt was elected the new school board president after a nomination by board member Brian Johnson. Matt Stephens was elected first vice president and Brian Johnson was elected second vice president.

Other new additions to the school district include Mark Gabrylczyk as new assistant superintendent, and Angel Lee as the new Title VI manager.

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