What is school going to look like next year?
It’s a question that Kamiah school officials grappled with during Monday’s regular board meeting. The only certain answer at this point is that no one knows.
The response to COVID-19 continues to create far-reaching implications such as how teachers will teach, will parents keep children at home, or how will the district afford to operate under a partial shutdown.
“It would be nice to know what the direction is so we can plan,” said Superintendent Steve Higgins during his monthly report. “No one knows for sure. It’s kinda disturbing. It’s kinda got me frustrated.
“I can tell you right now based on what I am hearing,” he paused, “it will not look the same. In what manner I do not know.”
Higgins then dived into an update on Governor Brad Little’s request for schools to reduce expenditures by 5%. “They are freezing the career ladder so there is no money coming into your certified and pupil personnel services.”
The IT staffing line item and classroom technology line item are also slashed along with content and curriculum line items. Discretionary funds will also be reduced.
Higgins said the SRS funds will come in and help support what is to be cut by the state. “The district will be able to absorb reductions without affecting programs so we’re very thankful for the SRS funds to come in.”
The district anticipates receiving about $210,000 in SRS funds, according to Business Manager Patty Hamilton.
Continuing with his report, Higgins said high school principal interviews will be held on Wednesday. There are three applicants. High school principal Peggy Flerchinger will be moving to the middle school and was approved at a wage of $70,000.
“Do we open up the middle school if we are not going to have school next year?” asked Board Chairman Rikki Simler.
“Obviously not,” replied Trustee Brandaan deGroot.
“I believe you will have school in some form,” said Higgins. “But what that population looks like is unknown as some parents may choose to keep their kids at home.”
deGroot asked if there was a serious discussion about schools being open in Idaho.
“It’s a topic,” said Higgins.
“The reality of it is I think we’ve done a great job of doing what we can. I wouldn’t do this permanently,” said deGroot. “I would enroll in a homeschool program to be honest. Is there not an awareness of people just baling out of the school completely?”
Higgins said his opinion of the end of the academic year was that there was very little instruction going on and a lot of delivery. He said the state would still be testing and requiring accountability.
“What’s your plan if you have teachers who refuse to come back and teach because they don’t feel safe?” asked deGroot.
Higgins said he believes there are teachers who will not feel safe returning to the classroom. “The reality is a contract has to be extended but if the teacher wants to stay home and send work then someone else must be hired to do classroom management.”
deGroot asked if contracts could contain verbiage requiring the teacher to be in the classroom, barring state mandates and sickness.
“It’s a massive concern not only with me but I’m sure statewide. Every school in the state is going to be looking at this saying what if?” said Higgins. “I don’t know.”
District Clerk Tracy Lynde clarified that the contracts do not contain language requiring them to teach from the classroom.
“So any teacher right now could just go home and teach over Zoom for the rest of the school year and they are legally allowed to do that?” asked deGroot. “This whole thing, besides what it really is, has caused a whole pile of excuses and I’m dealing with a number of them right now. If you have just one individual that for whatever reason they do not want to come, they are now legally allowed to sit home.”
If a teacher opts to teach from home the district would then have to pull more funds from the general fund to pay for a substitute to be in the classroom.
“Who cares about the money? Those kids are not getting an education whatsoever. There is no way that would ever work,” said deGroot.
Higgins felt the state board would need to address the issue and say, “If school is in session the contracted teachers would need to be on site.”
He said when the COVID issue came up teachers were given the option of working at home or at school. “It’s my assumption that that’s going to be the same choice if this thing [COVID] continues to go up, gets worse, the trend starts to climb.”
Higgins said he would check with legal about what can be done within contracts.
Flerchinger reported on upcoming graduation plans. When she mentioned that some students may not graduate deGroot commented somewhat incredulously that they had three months of extra credit yet could not improve their grades enough to pass.
With teachers’ salaries frozen by the governor this year, Simler wondered if the Kamiah Education Association would want two years of increase next year.
The district’s health insurance costs increased 7-8%.