O-W School Board tables decision on HRA contributions

By Nicole Rogers
Posted 6/26/24

The Owen-Withee School Board held their regular meeting on Monday, June 17. The consent agenda was approved, including minutes, payment of bills, the resignation of Brandi Young, the hiring of …

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O-W School Board tables decision on HRA contributions


The Owen-Withee School Board held their regular meeting on Monday, June 17. The consent agenda was approved, including minutes, payment of bills, the resignation of Brandi Young, the hiring of Caroline Wee and Kayln Speicher, and membership in the WASB and WIAA.

A resolution was approved authorizing the transfer of funds for defeasance. This is being done to pay off debt early. It wasn’t done last year due to the temporary government shutdown, so two payments are being made this year.

The contract with the School District of Loyal for Occupational Therapy was also approved. The district will keep their therapist with Loyal assuming full control of the position. The cost is approximately $23,000 plus a portion of the health insurance. She is in Owen-Withee one day per week. A question was asked about how many students she works with. The response from Elementary Principal Julie VanArk was that the therapist is seeing three high needs students plus a few others.

The $52,000 HRA contribution was discussed along with other budget concerns. Board member Todd Nelson asked if they could wait until fall to decide and see if the referendum passes in November. Board member Julie Wendler suggested meeting the staff in the middle and more can be added if the referendum passes. Board member Robyn Renderman said that one of the reasons O-W has trouble keeping staff is that other schools offer more benefits. She asked if incentives are offered to staff who don’t take the district’s health insurance or for veteran teachers. District Administrator Scott Winch said rather than put the money in as a lump sum, they could pay monthly for now and adjust things in November. Renderman asked what could be given instead if the HRA contribution was lowered. Everyone was reminded that this is a reduction to the HRA. It is not being eliminated. Winch called district bookkeeper Stacy Rasmussen and she said they could decrease the amount now and if the referendum passes, the district could put more money back into the HRA accounts in December. The money is normally deposited into the staff accounts on October 1 of each year. It can’t be taken out once it is deposited but more money can be added. Currently the IRA is $2,000 for a single person and $3,500 for a family. The board was looking at cutting those amounts by $1,000. Board member Joan Jalling suggested that it be decreased pending the referendum and that if the referendum passes in the fall, it can be added back in. Wendler asked what if they just cut it by $500. Board member Dean Schmelzer agreed with meeting staff in the middle. Renderman wanted to know what other benefit would be given if the referendum doesn’t pass. Winch said they could use Fund 46 money for maintenance needs freeing up some budget dollars. Renderman then asked about a user fee for youth sports. Winch said the money that comes in from concessions at these events is a significant amount. Wendler said she had no problem charging a user fee for events that make money. Nelson asked about the possibility of raising extra funds through advertising banners on the baseball field. Winch said they could wait a month to decide. Wendler said that organizations besides youth sports also use the building. She said they need to figure out how to support the school being here. Jalling asked if they could survey other schools to see what they are doing. Winch said they could look for donations to help with upkeep on the Fitness Center. The item was tabled until next month.

Julie VanArk gave the Achievement Gap Reduction (AGR) report for grades K-3 reading and math. She said there were some struggles with the first grade due to attendance issues and students moving in and out. There are nine special education students that had an effect on the results in the second grade. Nelson suggested getting parent volunteers to come in and help with students that are behind. In kindergarten 24 of 30 students met the reading goal and 25 of 30 met the math goal. In first grade, those numbers were 15 of 26 for reading and 20 of 26 for math. Second grade numbers were 21 of 40 for reading and 32 of 40 for math. In third grade 22 of 32 met the math goal. The two teachers used different assessments for reading, in one section 7 of 16 met the goal and in the other section 56% met the goal. Schmelzer said scores need to be better. Wendler asked if they could see ACT scores to see how students are doing there. Schmelzer said we keep losing teachers unless there are good jobs available for their spouses in this area. Wendler said support is needed from the parents. Schmelzer added that the school can’t do it by themselves, that parents need to step up too.

The Student Handbooks were approved as presented. Schmelzer asked about when elementary students eat lunch now. Lower elementary and high school have the cafeteria to themselves, but there is some overlap between upper elementary and middle school. Lunch starts later than it used to in the other cafeteria. They are also changing Hawk Time to a regular study hall, but it will still take place at the end of the day.

An update was given on the solar panels. Winch said there is now a spreadsheet on the district website showing how much electricity they are generating. He estimated that the district saved about $9,000 over the past 11 months. Last month they were able to sell electricity back to the power company.

Under Administrator Reports, Elementary Principal Julie VanArk said that report cards are out. They have averaged 100 students per day for summer school. The PLC team has reviewed staff input. They have looked at literacy assessment. They will be working on improving attendance the next school year. They will be doing a book mobile over the summer. Administration met with Chief of Police Patrick Fehlman on truancy citation procedures. There are two students that have been deemed truant in the elementary.

Middle/High School Principal Nate Johnson said there are seven students doing credit recovery during summer school. He has one truant student at the high school level, but others could have been cited. He said they need to be more proactive with families and emphasize to parents that they need to call the school when their student is absent. The PLC team is working with CESA 10 on a system to provide support to students where they are at. Behavior referrals are down since the start of the Alternative Program.

District Administrator Scott Winch said that both the middle school and high school special education teachers are leaving. One of them was running the Alternative Program. Summer projects are in progress with the air tank being installed in the shop and the sidewalk and blacktop work planned for July. Most of the ceiling tiles are completed in the Fitness Center, with flooring in the yoga room and bathrooms and plumbing to be done in the next week. He met with the incoming district administrator, Randy Bergman, and he is ready to get going. He thanked the board for having him here as district administrator and the board presented him with a gift.

The board went into closed session for about 45 minutes and had nothing to report upon coming back into open.