The Hiawatha School Board addressed public concern about the Diversity Council at Monday night’s regular meeting.
The board members held discussions about the Diversity Council following a presentation by patron Jerry Aller, who has accused the district of using the council to promote the Critical Race Theory — despite the fact that the district has publicly announced it is not teaching CRT. On Monday night, Aller again called upon the board to publicly ban any teachings of CRT and enforce a discipline policy that teachers will be punished for teaching anything relating to the theory.
Aller spoke for public comment, but also appeared on the agenda for a 10-minute presentation. As is board policy, the board members do not respond to public comments, but since Aller was on the agenda, some board members felt it was appropriate to respond to his comments.
Board member Ian Schuetz said he felt the topic had turned into a “three-headed monster” and that people feel the Diversity Council is a vehicle to promote the Critical Race Theory — which essentially considered by scholars as a way to understand how society has been shaped by American racism. However many feel it is a divisive theory that separates people of color from whites. Schuetz said he felt the district should make a statement that it does not give preferential treatment of one student over another due to skin color.
After announcing that he felt the main problem was bullying, board member John Wright called upon the other board members to disband the Diversity Council by making a motion, which was seconded by board member Andrea Groth. Wright said he felt the presence of the Diversity Council was causing too many issues and that the district needed to address other concerns. However, other board members have asked to be provided more information and have the Diversity Council give a presentation.
Board member Keith Erdley, who is a member of the Diversity Council, said the Diversity Council has not focused on CRT at all — but has been looking at learning differences of what makes us all different. He said it’s not about equalizing races, not about history — but more about raising awareness of other nationalities and celebrating our differences.
Schuetz asked Wright if he would consider amending his motion to postpone it until next month until the board members gather more information about the Diversity Council. He said board members have been wanting the council to present, but considering the tense environment of people who have gathered at board meetings, Schuetz said he didn’t blame the council for being hesitant.
Superintendent Lonnie Moser said the Diversity Council was actually formed last year, but in the midst of COVID had some delays until this past spring. He said this coincided with many issues of CRT being reported in the national news, which led to the Diversity Council being tagged among those groups promoting it. He said the group was simply formed to help staff and students try and understand and appreciate the differences in each other. He said he would visit with the council to see if representatives could provide more information to the board.
In other business:
The board held a public hearing for the purpose of exceeding the Revenue Neutral Rate for the 2021-22 budget, along with the regular Budget Hearing. Moser reported that due to fewer students and a higher assessed valuation and higher bond and interest payments, there had been an increase of .493 mils that reflects as approximately $200,000 increase overall.
Following an Executive Session, the board approved the Master Agreement which called for a 4 percent increase to the base pay for teachers, which will increase it from $41,000 to $42,640.
Several additional district patrons spoke — Stuart Aller, Annette Hoskins, Dr. Deb Bryan, Linda Barnhill, Jeanette Aller and Jessica Smith — against masks. Rev. Tom Stone and Stuart Aller asked questions about the Diversity Council and expressed concern about the Critical Race Theory. Some of the patrons asked the board members to consider increasing the time for public comment from 2 minutes per person.
District Maintenance Director Chris Morey provided an update on several projects including issues with the high school track. He told board members that Beynon, the track company, had fixed the bubbles that occurred recently with additional epoxy and it seemed to be holding. However Beynon had indicated the surface needed to be made from a different material and said that would cost roughly $200,000 to the district if they changed it. Beynon is also insisting for additional drainage boxes. Board members, who have been dissatisfied with Beynon and the quality of the track for the past 2 years, say it’s time for potential legal action. They questioned whether Beynon actually laid the wrong material for the track surface in the first place. Board members directed Moser to contact Beynon and ask the company to replace the surface at no cost to the district and report back to the board.
Morey also reported on issues with the HVAC systems throughout the district, noting that the systems were roughly 5 years old and it was time to replace thermostats. He said his controls have not been working to regulate temperatures and said P1 recommended individual thermostats be placed in each room of all the buildings. Morey said this would cost roughly $18,000 plus 24 hours of labor from P1 to install the thermostats and update the controls. It was general consensus of the board to move forward with this project.
Superintendent Moser gave an update on enrollment, stating the district was at 934 — down about 19 from last academic year — as of numbers from last week. He also discussed an audit for Esser funds, plus the regular audit.
HHS Activities Director Josh Mosher discussed an opportunity for a Special Olympic bowling team and adding a coach for a season that will begin at the end of this month and continue through November for practice. He said he would gather interest at the high school for a team and the board gave him permission to begin the program if there was enough interest.