Mitchell officials concerned for future of tutoring programs
The future of several after-school, summer and before-school programs is uncertain.
Funding for the Building 21st Century tutoring programs at Longfellow Elementary, L.B. Williams Elementary and Mitchell Middle schools may soon be gone as the Mitchell School District enters the final year of a five-year grant through the 21st Century Community Learning Center.
While the district already has a grant application in the works for the next five years, Superintendent Joe Graves warned the school board on Monday night the grant is highly competitive and Mitchell may not be awarded the necessary funds.
Should the grant not be awarded, the school district will be forced to look at alternative funding.
In anticipation of losing the funding, the Mitchell Board of Education approved a motion to not renew a portion of the contracts for five instructors in the district who direct Building 21st Century programs. The decision was made during the board's regularly scheduled meeting at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy.
The Building 21st Century programs provide students with additional education outside of normal school day hours.
"It's going to be a harder and harder mountain to climb because federal funding is in reduction and we don't know how many will be funded," Graves said. "There really isn't any way for the district to fund that program, so we're going to have to go back to the drawing board and say, 'All right, what are our most basic priorities and how can we do something with them?' "
Graves said the grant's application is due in early March, but the district will not hear the results until July or August.
Until then, it's a waiting game.
"We're going to write a highly competitive grant application and we're really hoping that's going to come through," Graves said.
Monday night's decision to not renew the contracts was a reduction made should Mitchell not be selected to receive the century grants again. If the grant is secured, Graves said, the five individuals would automatically be recalled to these positions.
The five instructors include Cheryle Aslesen, Mindy Childs, Bobby Reindl, Diane Way and Beth Haar. Graves said four of the instructors will see a quarter of their contract cut as they worked as 1.25 full-time employees (FTE), while Aslesen will see .5 cut from her 1.5 FTE status.
Should the funding not come through, Graves said the district will not be giving up on these programs, and instead will be looking at other means of funding, such as other grants or private funds.
"We'll definitely go back and take a hard look," Graves said. "The best option is for this grant to come through."
Graves isn't alone in his concern. Deb Olson, president of the five-person school board, is also worried — especially for the students impacted by the programs.
"I know those are great programs for students who might be struggling," Olson said. "Certainly it is a concern, but I'm hopeful there will be something out there we can find that will help meet that need."
Graves didn't have exact numbers on Monday night, but estimated that in the after-school program at the Mitchell Middle School, there were approximately 70 students involved, and an additional 30 or so at L.B. Williams and Longfellow.
The potential loss of the Building 21st Century programs comes less than a year after the Longfellow Lions Academy was cut. The academy, which began more than two years ago, was created to fight summer regression, allowing students to engage in curriculum focused on literacy and numeracy. The program was open to all students, but held a strong impact on students with lower socioeconomic status.
The program was cut because of a lack of finances and a less-than-satisfactory impact. In the program's first year, approximately 50 students were enrolled, and in summer 2016, the program had a total of 80 students.
Since the announcement of the school cutting the academy, Graves said he has been working on finding new grants for funding. But so far, it's not going well, he said.
Lions Academy cost the district approximately $60,000 per year, and would last for several weeks during the summer at Longfellow Elementary School. Graves said he is continuing to work on funding for this program, too.
But to see students go without additional school programming is not a sight Olson would like to see, she said, and one solution would maybe incorporate a volunteer tutoring program.
"Some schools have tutoring worked out with volunteers, so that could be something we need to pursue for students of volunteers with those who are struggling," Olson said. "We have to brainstorm."
MHS parking lot to be replaced
The parking lot at Mitchell High School will soon see a major upgrade.
The school board also approved a bid from Commercial Asphalt to replace the first and second lot south of the high school, along with the road between the two lots. The bid submission from Commercial Asphalt totaled $139,062.
"Once this summer is complete, it basically finishes the project. That'll finish our parking lot cycle for a good many years," Graves said as the district has been working on lot replacements through the district over the past decade.
The replacement will last the high school at least 15 to 20 years before any updates will be needed, Director of Buildings and Grounds John Sieverding said to the board.
As part of a consent agenda that includes board minutes, claims and open enrollment, the board approved the following personnel items:
• New Hires: Lacey Schroeder, special education paraeducator at Mitchell Middle School, compensation of $11.37 per hour for 7.25 hours per day, effective Jan. 22.
• Transfer: Nancy Heckenlaible, Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, food service, from four hours to five hours, effective Feb. 6.
• Resignation: Amanda Chada, Mitchell Middle School teacher, effective 2018-19 school year; Wendy Kummer, Mitchell Middle School math teacher, effective May 25.
• Resignation and early retirement: Janelle Hearnen, Mitchell Middle School sixth-grade teacher, effective 2017-18 school year.
• Mitchell Technical Institute retirement: H Jean Starr, Mitchell Tech general education math instructor, effective June 30.
In other regular business, the board:
• Recognized gymnastics coach Audra Rew for recent accomplishments, including the team's conference championship win and the Class AA state team gymnastics championship win. Rew was also recognized as one of eight finalists for National Gymnastics Coach of the Year as awarded by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
• Approved bids for the Mitchell Technical Institute shop house. The board unanimously approved the high bid of $127,100 from Alicia Odland for the shop house, which met the minimum amount. The site house received no bids, and will be moved to private sale with a realtor. No action was taken regarding the site house.
• Approved a bid for the replacement of a cooling tower at the Mitchell Middle School. The lone bid for the replacement was received by Krohmer Plumbing for $54,459. The bid was within the district's budgetary allotment and within expectations for the total cost. Graves said the cooling tower has reached the "end of its natural life" after being installed in 1969.
• Heard board member reports. During this time, Mitchell Board of Education Vice President Neil Putnam provided information on his recent trip to the Dominican Republic as part of the 2018 Lifetouch Memory mission trip. A reading was also held of the legislative commemoration in Putnam's honor. The commemoration honors Putnam for his selection as the Associated School Boards of South Dakota Outstanding School Board Member of South Dakota for 2017.
• Heard a superintendent's report. Graves said the attendance numbers for parent- teacher conferences has been good. He also reported to the board he is focusing on two large grants for the school. One is the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant discussed earlier in the meeting, while the second is through Monsanto for funding of a program specific to eighth-graders in the district. More details will be available later this school year.