ACSD Board of Directors discusses shortages in substitutes throughout the school district

by Brianne Eilers

The Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) Board of Directors met twice during the month of December.

A special meeting was held Friday, December 3. Under the consent agenda, the board approved the following personnel matters: Cody Snitker as Middle School girls track coach and Jack Regan as Middle School wrestling coach. The board also accepted the following resignations: George Farning from his custodian position; Kendra Reburn from her paraprofessional position; and Lauran White from her paraprofessional position.

The board also approved a Sunday gym usage request from Waukon Heat Volleyball, as well as a field trip to La Crosse, WI for the Middle School 21st Century After School Program. The board also approved the ACSD 403(b) Plan Amendment.

Under new business, the board approved the purchase of two vans from Decorah Auto Center for $48,420. That amount was the net total after an $8,500 trade-in.

The board held its regular monthly meeting Monday night, December 20. Board president Al Rissman was absent, so the meeting was presided over by board vice president Erik Helgerson. Board member Brent Byers attended the meeting via Zoom. Under the consent agenda, the board approved After School Program staff; John Papp as a boys basketball volunteer; and Jeff Haas as a night custodian. The board also approved a Sunday usage request for Waukon Youth Wrestling.

During the Communications time, the board heard about the third grade PLC (Professional Learning Community). Sara Rettalick and Karlie Fahey gave a presentation explaining some of the teaching collaborations and strategies used by the third grade classrooms for reading and math. They also noted that they have students do a daily survey to help gauge how they are doing that morning to help with the social/emotional learning aspect. The teachers also communicate with parents on a daily or weekly basis.

In his Superintendent’s report, Jay Mathis noted that the end of the first semester is closing in, so students are taking semester tests. He also reported that holiday concerts “were a hit.” The district also has had its first early out for winter weather.

Mathis also reported that the district is continuing to look for applicants for support staff positions and substitutes, but it’s a struggle. He thanked everyone for their cooperation and willingness to help where needed. He also noted that he feels the benefits of IPERS needs to be communicated to staff and applicants.

Mathis and Building and Grounds Director Bill Hennessy will be meeting with Vic Amoroso to make recommendations for use of ESSER funds in the Middle School to update HVAC or windows. Mathis also reported that the district did not have to make a switch in vendors for school alerts, as the current provider “dropped their price considerably.” Mathis also informed the board that should there be a vaccine mandate for staff, the district has some forms and policy ready.

Waukon High School Principal Jennifer Garin reported that the Construction class house project is coming along. The roof, soffit, fascia and framing are done, and they have been waiting on doors and windows to come in. After electricians and plumbers complete their rough-ins, the students will install insulation and hang drywall.

Welding students are working with Benjegerdes Machine of Waukon to make four carts to haul two full wrestling mats, a request from Waukon High School Activities Director/Assistant Principal Brian Hilsabeck. The Engineering class designed blueprints for the project. Garin also reported that the Civil Engineering and Architecture Classes are working on the floor plans for next year’s student house project. Plans will be presented to a potential buyer.

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) students collected 324 pounds of food in their recent food drive. Eighty of those FBLA students will attend the State Leadership Conference in March, and several students will participate in District Leadership Conference in January. The FFA fruit sale fundraiser has been completed. Waukon High School received a commendable rating from the recently completed Iowa School Performance Profile.

Hilsabeck submitted a report updating the board on high school winter activity participation numbers. ACSD will host the Northeast Iowa Conference (NEIC) Music Festival January 17, as there is no school that day in the district. The High School Band and Choir Concert was held December 13. Hilsabeck thanked the administration team, school board, teachers, custodians and support staff for their hard work and support during the first semester.

Waukon Middle School Principal Luke Steege also acknowledged and thanked the Middle School staff for their dedication during the first semester. He noted that around the state, districts are struggling to find substitutes and even hold classes, and he thanked the teachers for coming to school and serving students. The middle school girls basketball season is completed and was successful. There were two middle school home wrestling meetings held in December also. Steege also thanked Tim Lund for putting together groups of band students to travel around to the schools in the district to play Christmas songs during the holiday season.

East and West Elementary Schools Principal Samantha Thornton thanked all of the family and friends and community members who attended the East Elementary concert and art show in December. Families from East and West schools attended a Computer Science night December 9, which was very successful. November professional development was about new curriculum for students in pre-K to fifth grade.

ACSD Curriculum Director Eliza Philpot reported that Instruction Coaches are attending the Teacher Leader Academy through Keystone Area Education Agency (AEA) throughout the school year. In January, there will be a presentation to all teachers on the five SEL (social emotional learning) competencies. Philpot and Instructional Coaches meet with teacher leaders monthly before professional development days to give them time to ask questions.

There will be a book study on Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess during the second semester. The new math curriculum is in full swing. A K-12 team is working on a district plan for computer science.

Buildings and Grounds Director Bill Hennessy reported that they will be installing radiant panels at East Elementary over the Christmas break. His staff will also be at work waxing hallway and gym floors, deep cleaning bathrooms and other projects. Hennessy thanked his staff for their hard work, especially being short one person on the high school night shift. He also noted that they will have to repair a little bit of damage from the windstorm at West Elementary. With the unusual temperature fluctuations, they are also continuing to tweak the heating system to keep everyone comfortable.

Technology Director Andy Reichard noted that they will be updating the West Elementary camera system. There is a BenQ Interactive Display Panel being demonstrated in classrooms to see if it would be practical to use in the district. Laptop sleeves have been purchased for high school students to use with their own bookbags. Students would turn in their laptop cases to the school.

Food Service Director Jess Keenan reported that her staff has been doing some extra cleaning and received a compliment from a repairman who came to work on a stove. He noted that he rarely works on equipment so clean. Keenan also thanked her staff for helping her out and teaching her a lot during the last few months. She noted she had been trying to help fill in when someone is out and that her staff has been patient and really great at teaching her the job.

Transportation Director Andrew Eberling reported that he had heard from Waukon Feed Ranch, and the fueling station should be in and operational for the second semester. He noted in his report that it had been tough to keep drivers lined up for things. They are having trouble finding people who are willing to get a CDL and drive a school bus. He thanked his drivers and substitute drivers for their flexibility. He also noted that if the situation continues, they may have to look at combining some routes.

Under New Business, the board approved a bid from Hoglund Bus Sales in the amount of $111,899 for a 48-passenger propane-powered bus. The board approved two SBRC requests: an MSA for At-Risk/Dropout Prevention - $297,706 and one for LEP Allowable Costs - $9,384.13.

The board then moved to discussion on adjusting the Tech Assistant pay. Superintendent Mathis explained that Marcus Bell, the district’s Technology Assistant, helped a lot during the transition of having a new Technology Director. Mathis stated that he felt the raised was deserved, due to the work Bell has done with the district. The board approved raising the hourly rate of pay for the position from $17.16 per hour to $19.50 per hour.

The board then moved on to discuss a night custodian shift differential. Mathis proposed that each night custodian receive a $1.00 per hour shift differential on top of their scheduled pay. Mathis noted that this would potentially help to retain help, as well as attract future applicants. He pointed out that the night custodians are responsible for setting up and cleaning up after events, as well as classroom cleaning. The board approved the shift differential.

The next item was a proposal to pay out unused personal leave. Mathis noted that due to a shortage of substitutes this year, staff have been stepping up to keep things running. He proposed that the district pay individuals who don’t use up their personal days the same as what a sub would have been paid for that day if they were gone. He noted that this is not saying staff can’t use personal days or roll them over to the next year but would be another option for them if they choose not to use personal days. It would only be for the current school year and would be paid out of ESSER funds. The board approved the proposal.

Discussion moved on to 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 early retirement incentives. Mathis explained that the plan would be to accept five eligible applicants one year and five applicants the next year. They would each receive $20,000, with payments spread out over five years. The board approved the incentive and Mathis noted that information would be sent out to eligible staff for them to consider.

The board approved the purchase of a new wrestling mat from Dolamur Sport Surfaces for a total of $11,025. Mathis noted that this mat would be very lightweight compared to the mats they have now, making it easier to move.

The board also set the dates for its January 2022 and February 2022 regular meetings. Due to the fact that the meetings were originally scheduled to take place on days when staff was not at school, the January meeting will now be held Tuesday, January 18 and the February meeting will now be held Tuesday, February 22.