Live Reporting of The Saline Board of Education Meeting, Oct. 13, 2020

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Public Comment

SHS Principal David Raft introduced the president of Saline High School's Key Club, who spoke about the "Real Men Wear Pink Campaign," which raises money for breast cancer research.Donate here.

Ryan Courtney and Paige Haddas, members of the debate team, invited people to Wednesday's forum for school board candidates. It's live on The Saline Post's Facebook Page at 7 p.m.

Ariana Hayward, a freshman at SHS, spoke to the board about resource officers. She said she feels targetted and unsafe due to their presence. 

Darcy Berwick said some students have different interactions with resource officers. Three trustees requested there be a survey of the district about the need for the officers. That survey should be done before a contract is renewed with Pittsfield Township.

Administration Report

Superintendent Graden: This continues to be the most challenging start to a school year. He praised the diligent work of staff. Graden talked about Let's Talk - the engagement app. Engagement is way up. It was up 2000 percent in August and up 1000 percent in September.

Noah Socha: The student representative talked about the sports teams' success. The marching band and student section returned. Soccer won the SEC and cross country had its final meet on Thursday. Students are relatively satisfied given the situation, from what he's heard. There are concerns. They hope to be back in the building. He plans a newsletter to the students to explain what's happening at the board table.

Heidi Pfannes recognized Trustee McVey for earning his master diamond level award in MASB training.

Michael McVey: October is national principals month. He spoke about an initiative to eliminate snow days in favor of E-learning days. Not everyone has as much access to broadband as we do in Saline, McVey has heard. In terms of finances, statewide finances are relatively stable because of carryover funding from last year and one-time funding. We may not be stable next year. Funding will stay at $8,111 per student. 

Paul Hynek: It's national cybersecurity week. Hynek attended a seminar on cybersecurity last week. School districts across the country have been hacked. He plans to forward information to Troy Wissink, the district's technology matter.

Tim Austin: Friday Night Lights, a Zoom-a-thon benefitting the Foundation for Saline Area Schools, takes place Oct. 23.

Dennis Valenti: On finances, we look OK for this year. But for the end of 2021-22, things could be worse. 

Jennifer Steben: Based on finances, there will be hard work coming up in the next two years. She's looking forward to talking about revenue generation ideas. The Sex-Ed advisory committee held an organization meeting Monday.

New Staff Introductions

Several members of staff introduced themselves.

Seclusion and Restraint Data Report

Graden said the district only wants to use seclusion and restraint as a last resort.

14 percent of Saline's students are special education students - which is close to other schools in the county. That number is slightly higher than it has been previously.

Incidents of seclusion and restraint are higher. There are 23 students who've experienced, accounting for 308 incidents on 208 school days.

That's lower than the 475 reported to the state. Graden said incidents were logged at the building level and in the services incident - so being counted twice in some instances. A couple of other instances involved incidents that were not seclusion and restraint.

Still, Graden said, 308 is a large number. But eight students generate a majority of the incidents.

Trustee Steben asked about days with multiple incidents with the same student on the same day. She asked if parents are called. Graden said parents would be called after the first instance. Sometimes parents will come and remove students from class, but not always.

Last year's data showed 19 students experiencing 230 incidents in 190 days. Those numbers would have been similar to the previous year's, if not for the cancellation of classes due to COVID-19.

There has been one instance this year. Saline's Young Adult Program is smaller this year because Milan has started a program.

"As we continue to transition of hybrid, we are requiring students to perform. It's one thing to be in an environment when you are able to do what you what. I am concerned we will see levels of anxiousness increase as education is more rigorous," Graden said.

Graden said the district is taking a holistic look at humanizing efforts.

"We are working for ways for all students to humanize the educational experience in Saline," Graden said.

Graden said special education is governed by rules and regulations. The WISD is the compliance division for Saline schools. Graden has talked with WISD officials. Their team will review Saline's procedures and training procedures. They will develop recommendations and report to the district in January.

Austin said the numbers were high, and he's glad to see an outside entity studying the situation.

Austin asked about the students who have multiple incidents. Graden said in some cases there might be a referral to a different program. There are nine Saline students not involved in Saline's program. Saline tries to provide services for its own students, Graden said.

McVey asked Graden to have the WISD examine what's happening in other districts in the county. Some have no instances of seclusion or restraint.

Graden noted some students who have many problems one year and none the next year, because of the work staff can do with them.

Graden said if you look at the students involved in the numbers, there are going to be issues the district will have to work with for many many years. Not all school districts offer Young Adult Programs, Graden said.

"Sending someone outside the district is not what we want to be as a community," Graden said.

Steben said she appreciated the effort to drill down into the numbers. Steben said the board policy is to reduce and eliminate seclusion and restraint. 

Steben asked about the district's review of the data. The district reviewed documents and looked for trends.

Graden said he would ask the WISD to provide context for Saline's numbers.

Answering a question from Steben, Graden said the WISD will present findings and recommendations. 

Steben asked what the district is doing to help the students with the greatest challenges.  

Graden said there are less than 10 programs that serve students facing some of these challenges and not send them to High Point.

Answering a question from Estep, Graden said the population is similar today.

Return to School Update

Last week the district announced its plan shifted, announcing two extra weeks of hybrid.

The district is has added its own COVID-19 data with CDC and local data. There is one COVID-19 case in the district and five people in quarantine.

Saline has had in-person class for more than two weeks. The district is seeing compliance.

Saline students wear masks. The younger they are, the better they do.

"I'm very proud of the parents. The students came ready to wear masks," Graden said.

Largely, students are behaving. He pointed to the football game as an example where students did not comply with social distancing guidelines.

The district's dashboard is on the website. Positive cases will be listed on the website and families will be notified by email.

One concerning stat in Washtenaw County is the daily new cases per 100,000 people. There was a spike when college returned. It's dropped a bit since.

For the district to move to full-time in-person, the district needs to solve the social distancing issues. If the district full loads all its buildings, it cannot comply with social distancing guidelines, Graden said. Lunch is a challenge in every building.

The county isn't seeing children under nine get COVID-19.

At the K-5 level, it's more and more evident, not being in school is having a negative impact.

The district will review data Thursday. An announcement is expected Oct. 19-20 about the week of Oct. 26 and beyond.

The district has told families they can change plans at the end of the trimester. They're going to ask families to make a decision about what school will look like from Thanksgiving to spring break.

The district anticipates students might have a new teachers on Nov. 30 than they had Nov. 24, as the district tries to rebuild its schedule.

President Pfannes said she thought the administration was doing a great job managing all the moving parts.

"We didn't take the easy way out. It's confusing and hard. But I think it's best to try to get students back in the classroom," Pfannes said.

Hynek said some parents were unhappy with the extension of hybrid learning. He asked if the district can commit to hybrid.

Graden said the district is trying to manage things and be responsible.  Graden said he doesn't want to give away the opportunity for more in-person time.

Hynek said safety should be tantamount.

Valenti said the district could have made life by deciding to go 100 percent virtual. He said the community should recognize the administration worked hard to give families choices.

Estep noted that with many students going virtually (35 percent), full in-person is fewer than normal.

Graden said the reality is class sizes could be lower.

Steben asked about the impact of not being in school since last March. Graden said students are not as proficient, particularly in the area of literacy, as they were last year. Graden said the district is making plans to address this.

School Resource Officer

Graden said the district is aware of an incident with an officer and a student last year.

But the district is concerned with safety. Last year, the district had a situation that involved arrests in cases involving drugs and an assault.

The district will not be charged by the township if the school is in a virtual setting.

Estep asked about the hybrid charges. Graden said the district is being charged for four days a week.

Graden said he's not in a spot to survey parents unless directed to by the board.

Pfannes said safety is important. There could be more need for an officer with anxiety and stress.

Steben asked about Officer Dave. Graden said there is no Saline police officer in the Saline Middle School and the schools in the city. Currently, the city budget does not support that, Graden said.

Graden said school resource officers develop relationships that are important.

Estep asked about data that requires police intervention. 

Graden said the school had a situation where someone was selling drugs on campus and the officer was able to use contacts to stop that and make an arrest. He said the presence on campus needs to be one of support and familiarity, not fear.

Estep asked about having more social workers and guidance counselors on staff. Graden said we have more on staff today than in the past.

Austin said in 2016 the bond was about safety, and schools changed the way we enter buildings. Austin said those discussions came from conversations with the public. 

Estep said there is research showing that having a resource officer does not necessarily improve response times during a shooting.

Steben said she'd like the feedback of people in the buildings.

Board Finance

The board was planning a break-even budget for 19-20. When COVID-19 it, the district thought it would be a disaster, Valenti said. Instead, the district will have a surplus. A lot of expenses were eliminated.

The original budget for 20-21 was budgeting for a $1.2 million deficit. Instead, there will be a $500,000 surplus thanks to a $2 million COVID-19 relief fund from the federal government.

Valenti said the district faces something close to a structural deficit. Valenti expects 2022 will likely be a difficult year. 

"We have to find additional sources of revenue. We can't go to the state," Valenti said.  "We've cut our expenses as much as we can."

The audit is wrapping up and it looks like there are no negative surprises, Valenti said.

Austin warned there could be a revenue hit if enrollment falls.

McVey asked about the MPSERs (retirement) rate. Valenti said they appear to be increasing, which will cost the district.

Consent Agenda

The consent agenda was passed 7-0. In includes the hiring of teacher Zachar Omeles (SHS), literacy tutors Cheri Delong and Pamela Miller, human resources coordinator Rebecca Noel, custodians Christina Lambert and Sean Lambert, and health science tech Lisa Andreski.

Resignations include teachers Sara Wiest and Justin Ward, literacy tutor Linda Winchester, custodian Brian Rimer, mechanic David Malisczewski, and paraeducators Valerie Alexander and Jodie Anderson.

Public Comment

Tiffany Alexander thanked the board for looking into the seclusion and restraint policies.

Claire White said she has two children who want to return to school. Her seventh grader is losing focus and wants to return. Why can't students go back, but yet full contact sports can be played? Education should be first, she said.

Brad Gerbe said he liked the Let's Talk app.  He said he'd support prioritizing K-5 kids back in school to help with literacy.

Darcy Berwick said Pittsfield Township trustees asked parents/students be surveyed to see if they supported a school resource officer. Berwick suggested drugs and anxiety be dealt with by a social worker, not a police officer.

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A look at the Saline Finance Website will show that since 2015 the District has overspent it budget every year.( Fund Balance - Finance Department - Departments - Saline Area School

Since 2015 we have cut our Fund Balance to near zero (the Board Policy is 5%) while the average Fund Balance of school districts throughout the state has doubled during this same time period to now be an average of over 12%. With expected structural financial obligations next year we will face a state takeover of the running of our District  due to this mismanagement unless action is taken now.

Voters should remember this when voting to return our current Trustees (Hynek, Austin, Pfannes) for another 4 or 6 years of fiscal mismanagement. We can not afford this carelessness to the children and families of this community.

Fiscal discipline is one of the three accountabilities of a Trustee and these three have failed our community.

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