Board office roof

By Josephine May

The Hiawatha USD 415 School Board office was getting a new roof this week.

The Hiawatha School Board met Monday night and among several action items was a decision regarding wage payments to substitute teachers during the shutdown of schools.

The vote to reimburse long-term and on-call substitute teachers on a rate reflective of their average working pay was 6-1 with President Ian Schuetz casting the lone nay vote. The basis of the vote was to approve paying substitute teachers an average of what they would have worked in March, April and May. This is just one of many and decisions made for the extenuating circumstances created during the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency. While all school buildings are closed, teachers are still working long distance from home and students have computers and iPads provided by the district. Zoom meetings are scheduled regularly and the teacher is in contact with all students. Some classified — or hourly — staff is still working, such as kitchen staff and some secretaries and custodial staff. However, paras have not been working regular hours, although have been called in to help with preparing educational and personal items for the students, along with other projects.

While this was not a mandate — such as paying all hourly and salaried staff has been — but rather a recommendation from the Kansas Department of Education, Superintendent Lonnie Moser advised the board members via a Zoom conference board meeting.

“The state’s guidance is that you pay for them,” he said, noting this includes other staff that was scheduled for duties such as running a scoreboard at a game, driving teams to activities and so on.

The concern was that at least three of those substitutes work many days for the district — sometimes as long-term substitutes — and the loss of school hours is affecting their pay as well. Moser said the amounts to pay the substitutes were already budgeted in for the current year, so there will not be an additional expense.

Moser said that while he has mixed feelings about the guidelines, it seems to go in line with actions taken by districts since the governor shut down the school buildings.

Schuetz said he wondered how the district would determine what to pay? Board Clerk Sarah Windmeyer said that everyone would get what they were scheduled to work and specifically for the matter of substitutes, the district would take the average of what that person normally works and pay that amount. She said it was the fairest way to compensate the substitutes.

“There are four who would be greatly affected,” she said, noting she had checked with other districts and this method was not uncommon.

Schuetz said he didn’t want to be heartless, but the district was paying for a lot of work that wasn’t being done.

“You really step out into left field when you start paying people when they weren’t even scheduled,” he said.

Moser again stated this wasn’t a requirement — it was up to each district. However, he said it just opens up more questions about “where does it stop?”

“This was the latest guideline, so we brought it to the board,” Moser said.

In other business:

The board voted to waive semester finals for the high school.

Superintendent Moser updated the board members on the progress in the district with the Continuous Learning Plan — the education plan put into effect for long distance learning after the shut down of the schools. He said there has been some tech issues — which is to be expected — but said the IT department has been on top of things.

“Some were unavoidable and there was just no way to be fully prepared for this,” he said.

Superintendent Moser said he initially provided the staff, patrons, parents and students with daily updates, but once the Continuous Learning got underway, those communications became less frequent as teachers and principals were providing daily info to their families and students.

He noted that Monday was scheduled as a staff development day, so all-day Zoom conferences were scheduled with staff. He said staff reported things were going well, but the hardest part of the distance learning was daily connecting with the students.

District Maintenance Coordinator Matt Cluck updated the board on district projects, including the removal of several trees from the annex grounds. He said six trees were removed due to rotting and damage from storms and said he would advise replanting at least two of those.

Cluck told the board members that Hawthorne House and the board office were getting new roofs this week. There was some discussion about Hawthorne House and Cluck advised the board members that the current tenants were leaving in May and he wanted to do a walk-thru after they vacated to determine what needed to be done to the house. He knows a new porch is needed and advised that the roof was needed immediately or leaks would start. There had been some discussion at a recent board meeting about whether the district wanted to keep the historic home that once served as the home of the administrator of the Hiawatha Academy. The house had fallen into disrepair. Cluck said he hoped to provide the board some direction at the June meeting.

The board approved a 3-year Capital Outlay plan of projects detailed for each year. No bids have been put out for any of these projects as this is a tentative plan and some projects could be pushed off for another year.

Among projects on the plan are parking lot improvements at the elementary school, carpet and tile replacement at the middle school, concrete repair at the bus barn, a new tractor, carpeting at the elementary, ADA compliant visitor bleachers at the high school, new tennis courts, a new school bus, service truck and a mini van, auditorium seating a the high school, a new dump truck and more. Capital Outlay projects are funded through a mill levy specifically for district improvements.

At a special meeting April 2, the board also approved the hiring of Leighanna Stewart as a 3rd Grade Teacher, Kylah Bateman as HMS and HHS Band, and Brady Mulligan as 6th Grade History; accepted the resignations of Sara Woods, HMS & HHS Band, and Trace Woods Music and Title I Para and Tennis Coach.

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