Education Notes

Gibraltar Reopening High School, Switching to Five-period Day

Gibraltar Area School District officials, teachers and parents are preparing for more big changes in the middle of this unusual year of education during COVID-19-prevention protocols.

Gibraltar is eliminating a somewhat grueling two-block schedule and switching to a five-period day March 2. The district also announced a March 2 reopening for grade 6-12 students to attend classes in person five days a week instead of every other day. Parents still have the option to keep students home to participate in classes online.

To give middle school and high school teachers time to prepare, Gibraltar educators will have full-day planning days without students in the building on Friday, Feb. 26, and Monday, March 1.

Superintendent Tina Van Meer told the school board the district has worked hard to keep students and teachers as safe as possible from COVID-19 transmission, and district officials have also heard a steady stream of comments from parents who want their children to return to classrooms.

This week, bus driver Bob Gilbey told the school board that even before daily attendance by junior high and high school students, his bus is already filling up, to the extent that he can no longer guarantee six-foot social distancing among students. The superintendent said the district informed parents at the beginning of the school year that riding the bus would be one activity with a greater risk than most other situations in the school building. Van Meer said that if any bus rider is in close contact with anyone who has the virus, all bus riders and the driver could be quarantined.

Board member Angela Sherman expressed concern about not having grade K-5 students in school Feb. 26 and March 1 because the sudden decision to have a planning day for educators gives parents too little time to juggle their schedules.

Sevastopol Moves to Full-time Classroom Learning

On Feb. 18, Sevastopol’s school board approved welcoming students into classrooms five days per week while continuing to maintain social-distancing efforts.

For more than half of this school year, Sevastopol students have spent some of their weekdays in school and some at home, participating in classes live via the internet.

Beginning Monday, March 1, all students will have the opportunity for in-person instruction daily. Parents who want to continue 100% remote learning were asked to notify school principals. Masking will still be required, and quarantine periods will remain at 10 days for a tested positive case and 14 days for anyone within proximity of a positive case.

Superintendent Kyle Luedtke advised parents to keep child care plans in place in the event that positive COVID-19 cases require the district to revert back to the A/B model. As of Feb. 18, the district had one “active, positive” COVID-19 case – its first and only case since Feb. 3, Luedtke said. The district has had 91 fully recovered cases to date.

Sales-Tax Balloon?

During an online winter convention, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) approved a resolution to lobby legislators to allow schools to create a “one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, technology and tax relief.”

“District electors would need to approve a one-time revenue purpose statement before these sales-tax funds could be expended, and funding from the sales tax could not be spent on supplies, hiring additional staff or employee salaries and benefits,” the WASB resolution states. “This one-cent sales tax is intended to provide equitable, designated funding for all public schools and all students, distributed on a per-student basis, as a new, ongoing revenue stream for the stated purposes and should not be used by the legislature to replace existing state revenues or for other purposes. This tax should remain in place for a long enough period of time to enable schools to borrow (issue bonds) against this revenue stream.”

In addition, the WASB requests the requirement of a super majority of both the state Assembly and state Senate to overturn this legislation.

Local school superintendents had not all heard about the WASB idea. Sevastopol Superintendent Kyle Luedtke said he started hearing discussions of sales taxes for schools back in 2003, and he doesn’t believe it was a new idea then either. He said he wasn’t sure how much the district would benefit, and he would have a concern that if schools received sales taxes, the state might cut back on other sources of funding.

Gibraltar Area School District Superintendent Tina Van Meer did not mention sales tax as a No. 1 goal when asked about it, but she pointed to several parts of the governor’s budget proposal that would benefit the district. In brief, those range from the state converting special-education aid to a “sum sufficient appropriation, ensuring that aid is not prorated and that the state meets the level of support it promises,” to increasing state aid and grants for mental-health initiatives and increasing aid to districts with sparse populations in relation to land within the district.

Federal COVID-19 Relief for School Districts

The approved Department of Public Instruction’s plan for allocating Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Grant dollars – which came through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act – means districts can apply for grants through the program, and it’s possible for very small districts to benefit a bit more than larger ones. 

The program sets a $100,000 floor for every local education agency, so tiny Washington Island School – with an enrollment of 58 students – most certainly would apply for funds, said its business manager, Sue Cornell.

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