O-W School District approves plan to comply with Act 20 reading training requirement


The Owen-Withee School Board held their regular meeting on Monday, February 19. The meeting ended with a closed session lasting 1½ hours that included interviewing Kristi Ruggles for the District Administrator position. No announcement was made coming out of closed session.
The consent agenda, including minutes and claims was approved. Two questions were asked about the revenue, including one about a lunch fund donation and one about a snack donation. The snack donation is specifically for Kid’s Club.
Scott Winch was appointed as the district representative to the County Truancy Committee. This committee is required by state statute and he has already attended two meetings. He will continue to attend meetings until the end of the school year.
The 2024-2025 school calendar was approved. Summer school will run from August 26-29, with the regular school year beginning on September 3, 2024. The teachers requested three days off in March and were willing to come back for three days after Memorial Day. This is reflected in the calendar with the last day of school on May 29. This item did generate some board discussion. Board member Todd Nelson said he wasn’t in favor of going past Memorial Day. Winch said they had also talked about adding a few minutes to each school day. Board member Dean Schmelzer asked what difference it would make if April 21 were added back in as a school day and there were only two days of school after Memorial Day. There are still 4.8 snow days built into the calendar. Schmelzer felt there is a long stretch with no days off for staff from Christmas break to March. The calendar was approved as presented.
The contract for services from CESA 10 was approved with the same services as last year. Board member Julie Wendler is the district representative to CESA and said they do way more than she was aware of. She felt they have more services the district could use. She said there are also a couple of retirements of long-term CESA 10 employees coming up.
Complete Control Inc. was approved to add the air handling equipment to the Fitness Center. The unit will be added on the back side of the storage area and will be a Fund 46 expenditure. The total cost is $50,380. Wendler asked about whether the funds from the football activity account had been transferred yet as they held a fundraiser for the Fitness Center in the fall.
The operational referendum was discussed. The district has added a few students this year. The mill rate was $7.53 per thousand of valuation. It is now projected to be $7.12 next year even with the referendum. A flyer has been created to explain the need for the referendum. The information given on the flyer says, “As district leaders our primary goal is to provide the best educational opportunities for our students while also being responsive to our taxpayers. Over the past several years the board has strategically managed the property tax levy by paying down debt, reducing staff, and identifying and receiving grants for the district. We are at the end of a five year nonrecurring referendum (expiring this year) and we need to ask for another nonrecurring referendum to continue to offer services at the same level for another four years. The past five years the amount has been $400,000 per year. This year, due to inflation and rising costs, we are asking for an amount of $800,000 per year.” This is projected to create a surplus in the first two years of the referendum which will be needed in the final two years. It was felt it was easier to ask for the same amount for each year of the referendum rather than confuse the issue by asking for different amounts each year.
Elementary Principal Julie VanArk gave an update on the district’s efforts to meet Act 20 requirements. She said staff needs to be trained on the science of reading. Keys to Beginning Reading will cost $325 per teacher, that it is affordable, but done online. To save cost to the district, they would like to train Katie Hatlestad to be facilitator and train district staff. They have 13 people required to take the program, but would like the 4th and 5th grade teachers trained also. The cost with training Katie would be $6,575. The class is 36 hours and they don’t have enough subs for all the teachers to take it at the same time. VanArk is proposing using a couple of Inservice days for training. She also wondered about giving the elementary students a couple of extra days off to get more training time in during the school year. They have two years to comply. Board member Angela Greschner felt it would cause child care issue for families if elementary students stayed home while high school students attended class as often the older kids take care of the younger ones when there is no school. She asked if the kids could be left with support staff while teachers were being trained or could they work with families that needed child care. Wendler felt if they gave families enough notice, it shouldn’t be a problem. Winch said it isn’t ideal, but a good plan to meet the requirement. The proposal was approved and Winch said he would add the extra days off to the calendar. The added days off for the elementary would be November 1 and January 16. They would still have to find an additional six hours throughout the school year to complete the training. Board member Joan Jalling asked if Katie would get extra compensation for training staff. Winch responded that it hadn’t been discussed but that it was part of being a literacy coach.
Schmelzer reported that the delegate session went well at the WASB convention. He went on a tour of Parkside School. He learned there are 156 schools in the Milwaukee school system. Wendler attended some sessions on mental health. She talked about a pilot program that is putting social workers in schools. The program is partially funded by the county. Wendler said this allows them to deal with issues as they happen. She felt O-W could either work with the county or CESA on something similar. Nelson attended legal sessions, including on Freedom of Speech issues.
Under Administrator Reports, Elementary Principal Julie Van Ark said the Inservice Day went well and most of the staff was trained in Crisis Prevention. On February 8, the lower elementary students attended a movie in Medford. Upper elementary students will be going roller skating at Melody Gardens. The PLC Book Study is giving staff tools for writing instruction. O-W may be a pilot school next year. The Read-In is March 1. Parent/Teacher Conference are coming up. Child Development Day is February 29, with 30 kids invited.
Middle/High School Principal Nate Johnson said his staff also did Crisis Prevention training, along with Forward testing training. In regard to Privilege Cards, at the end of first semester the high school still had 68% of students eligible, the middle school gained a percent, rising to 70% of students eligible. The PBIS team continues to look for ways to motivate students. Students would like to have cellphone use during lunch. That hasn’t been approved but middle school students can go to the gym during Hawk Time now. Students in 9th grade can now go to the Hawk’s Nest and middle school students to the library during Hawk Time. The Alternative Program began on January 22 with nine students. Johnson has gotten positive feedback from students and attendance for those in the program has improved. Behavior referrals are also down. In November, there were an average of 12 referrals per week in the high school, December had 16 and January had 10 by the 19th. Since the Alternative Program started, the average has been 2.5 per week. The students were able to do their Bruce Mound Trip and all had a good time. There are 24 FBLA students who finished in the top three at Regionals and will be going to state. Solo/Ensemble has one band student going to state. Both basketball teams will be hosting home playoff games. CESA 10 is still working with staff on curriculum. They are preparing for the juniors to take ACT tests on March 12. Freshman and sophomores will be going to CVTC that day.
District Administrator Scott Winch said they got the original mural design for the Forward Center from the architect. Stratford Sign did a mockup. Kris Karaba and Larry Herington like the design and were happy with the cost. A few students would like to participate in two sports this spring, mostly those who want to do golf and track. They are looking at how Gilman does this. Wendler said that it came up before in regard to Volleyball and Cross Country, but Winch didn’t feel it would work as well for fall sports. It was suggested Winch talk to the coaches to get their feelings on this.
Under Committee Reports, Winch said that the policy committee needs to meet to update policies. He suggested using Neola. There would be a fee involved, but they would update policies as needed. The board suggested waiting until after the April meeting to decide. Schmelzer said that Buildings and Grounds had met and talked about upgrading the compressors in the shop.
Under Communications/Future Agenda Items, it was suggested that a waiver similar to Gilman’s be used once the Fitness Center is open to the public. Nelson said the same thing should be done for use of the Forward Center in regard to key fob entry. Schmelzer also wanted it noted that board members had received a letter from someone asking for information. The letter was not signed and had no return address. He said he doesn’t want to receive any more unsigned letters as he can’t respond to their concerns if he doesn’t know who they are.
Before they went into closed session, Terry German was given the opportunity to speak as he hadn’t arrived in time for public participation at the beginning of the meeting. He spoke about the country being a mess. He mentioned the discussion of social workers in school, adding that when Pete McMillan was the guidance counselor, he told everyone to go to college so they didn’t have to do manual labor. He said he feels sorry for the board. He said they need to do something about spending money because if something is not done, it will no longer be the United States of America. He heard of places where first grade kids get laptops. He said he is not much for electronics, that grade school kids are on cellphones all the time. He said if kids get in trouble in school, there is a difference between abuse and discipline.