Saline Board of Education: In-Person Learning Plans Pushed Back Due to Rising COVID-19 Data


The following is reporting from the Saline Area Schools Board of Education Meeting for Oct. 27, 2020.


Public Comment

Brian Boze, president of the Saline Education Association addressed the board. Boze thanked Superintendent Scot Graden and the Board for cautious models in regards to teaching. Staff are working hard, he said. Students are excited, but staff are anxious, he said. It appears students and staff are finding a comfortable rhythm in the hybrid model. But, he said the situation is fragile. He pointed to rising quarantine numbers in the district and a positive test at Heritage Elementary School and elementary school students leaving the classroom to be tested for COVID-19. Boze said maintaining continuity is important to "our mission." The continuity is fractured by students and staff who quarantine. With too many fractures, it begins to break, he said. Boze urged the board to continue to be thoughtful and measured in its approach to instructional models, keeping the health and safety of all stakeholders paramount.

Shelly Grove discussed how the Saline High School resource officer (a police officer from the Pittsfield Township Police Department), has benefitted her family and other students.

Kelly Hansen, a Saline rep on and chair of the WISD Parents Advisory Committee, spoke about the organization. The group advises the WISD on planning and implementation of special education programs and services. Parents with concerns with special education issues are invited to reach out to Hansen and Kelly Van Single at

Administration Update

Superintendent Scot Graden said staff, students and families continue to work to ensure the fragile learning environment in Saline progresses.

"None of us planned on being part of a pandemic, however, we will continue to push to get as much academic content and social/emotional support for all for all of our students," Graden said, applauding efforts around the school district. "I am very proud of the efforts we are making.

Graden announced data related to Zoom. Since Sept. 1 the district has had 23,128 Zoom meetings with about 667,000 participants, encompassing 1.8 million minutes.

"There's a lot of content being delivered  digitally," Graden said.

Board Updates

Student rep Noah Socha provided an update to the board, detailing the successes of student-athletes. Science Olympiad placed high in a recent competition. The Culture Appreciation Club wrapped up a month of talking about China with a lantern art project. Student council is having a pumpkin carving contest. Socha said he reviewed results of a survey of students about learning during COVID-19. He said there are varying opinions. To prep for the election, senior class president Sayoni Bandyopadhyay sent out voter registration information to 18-year-old students. A mock election ballot was sent out to high school students, with results to be announced Wednesday. Socha urged all people eligible to vote in the election.

Trustee Jennifer Steben attended an MASB seminar on mental health and stress management.

Trustee Tim Austin joined the Friday Night Lights Zoom with the Foundation for Saline Area Schools. He commended the foundation for getting people together and pulling off the event.

Trustee Paul Hynek spoke about last week's Citizens for a Quality Community meeting presentation on dementia-friendly communities. Hynek said the Saline Police Department has remodeled part of the basement into a weight room for staff. People can donate extra gym equipment to the SPD.

Trustee Michael McVey said he spent time trying to build a group of people to serve on the Washtenaw Association of School Boards.

Trustee Susan Estep urged people to vote in the election and reminded people to take their ballots directly to their polling place. Estep said Heritage had NWEA testing last week.

President Heidi Pfannes thanked teachers and parents for doing an amazing job engaging kids as much as they can.

Pleasant Ridge Virtual Student Presentation

Pleasant Ridge Elementary School Principal Kenyatta Hughes introduced some of the school's brightest and best virtual learners.

"We are living in a largely unprecedented time," Hughes said. "Our staff, teachers and families are stepping up to meet the evolving needs of our students."

Audit Report

The annual audit, for the year ending June 30, 2020, was presented by Jeff Higgins, of Plante Moran.

General fund revenue increased 1.03 percent to $58,451,829. General fund expenditures fell 1.86 percent to 57,025,316. As a result, the district grew its fund balance to $4.1 million, or 8.2 percent of unrestricted revenue - the highest its been since 2015.

Higgins noted the district spends more than neighboring districts on instruction. 64 percent of general fund spending is spent in the classroom. Ann Arbor and Dexter are at 62 percent. Chelsea is at 60 percent and Milan is at 57 percent. The average for Washtenaw County is 54 percent.

Trustee Dennis Valenti commended Assistant Superintendent for Finance Miranda Owsley for an audit with "no material adjustments."

"Which is pretty good. There were no surprises, which is extremely good," Valenti said.

The audit was adopted by a 7-0 vote.

Return to School Update

Graden went over some of the metrics the district wants to see before it shifts from one learning model to the next (from hybrid to in-person).  The district had been considering transitioning to in-person learning in the elementary buildings starting Nov. 4.

Every two weeks, a health committee reviews the numbers. On Oct. 15, things were looking pretty good. But the situation has turned in the wrong direction.

The goal is to have zero COVID-19 cases and zero students and staff in quarantine. As of Monday, the district had four positive cases and 31 staff and students in quarantine. Graden said the numbers have grown since then.

The district would like to see a 3.0 percent positive test rate - at the highest - in Washtenaw County. It's currently at 3 to 3.5 percent and rising.

The district would like to see less than 10 new cases per 100,000 and is currently seeing 23.5 per 100,000 residents.

The district would like to see flat case counts, but instead they've seen county case counts almost double.

Graden reported evidence of compliance (mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing) is strong.

Regional data on spread is also less than encouraging.

Graden said the district hasn't seen spread in the buildings, but it must consider precautions. 

"I do think it's important to note the cases we've had have not had ongoing transmission from the school setting," Graden said. "But it does put us in a spot where we need to consider reducing the density to affected buildings."

Graden said while he's advocated for more in-person learning, particularly at the lower grade levels, conversations with the health department "indicate now may not be the time to move forward with plans for more in-person time."

Graden said that while many families want more in-person learning for their children, many staff are anxious about the current COVID-19 data.

Graden took time to clarify points around exposures and close contacts.

"They are two very different things," Graden said.

A close contact is defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. That period must be within two days previous to the illness onset to the time the patient is isolated.

Graden said the district has had situations where a person leaves school Thursday, starts to feel symptoms, doesn't come to school on Monday and then test positive. By definition, they are not a "close contact" of anyone who was in school on Thursday.

"The presence of somebody who eventually tests positive in a school building does not mean that everyone in that building is a close contact," Graden said.

Students and staff have been quarantined based on being in school with someone who tested positive, Graden said. But, he said, there has not been evidence of transmission in school, which is what defines a "school outbreak."

Graden also spoke about transmission rates in younger children. He said across the country, there hasn't been much transmission in students 10 and under.

That's one of the reasons the district is hopeful there may an opportunity for more in-person learning in grades K-5, Graden said.

"Although, I will tell you, given the spread we are seeing in the community, it also gives us pause," Graden said. "There's a time and a place to move forward, but now is not that time."

The secondary schedule remains the same, with hybrid models continuing through the end of the trimester (Nov. 24). The selected learning models will continue in the same format at the elementary level with perhaps some changes to Friday's formats.

"While many families want to be in person more, they also want to know what to expect," Graden said. 

Of note, Graden said, the Saline Alternative High School is going four days a week, in-person, because it can be done safely.

A community survey will go out Nov. 5-9. Families will be asked if they want a gradual-to-in-person model or virtual model. There is no option to choose a "hybrid" model, as it's just part of the transition to in-person.

Graden said the district would have one more checkpoint at the end of November. If the numbers aren't better by then, families likely shouldn't expect more in-person learning in 2020.

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is not local
This is unverified


"General fund revenue increased 1.03 percent to $58,451,829. General fund expenditures fell 1.86 percent to 57,025,316. As a result, the district grew its fund balance to $4.1 million, or 8.2 percent of unrestricted revenue - the highest its been since 2015."

While this is welcome news, it is misleading and needs to be called out. Going into Feb. 2020 the district was on pace to end the year with a deficit of $1.2 million and the fund balance was going to be around $1 million. As a result of the shutdown of the schools and one time funding for COVID expenses the district received a one time boost of $2.1 million for COVID and saved $1.2 million in operating expense for the period March through July 2020. The combined swing in the balance sheet was $3.3 million. 

Given that this is a one time deal (unless you want virtual schools in 2021-22 school year) then the actual fund balance should be seen as being closer to $800k. Going into next year the expected spend rate will be $1.2 million more than current budgeted spending, so without this one time "gift" of the pandemic we were heading toward being insolvent by December 2021.  The District has a structural deficit that has been created by unfunded expenses since 2015 and needs to be addressed through structural changes in the spending model of the district. The formula is well understood 87% of the budget goes into the classroom and fiscal discipline is a requirement of everyone to make the district run well.

All that is missing is the political will to do what is difficult but necessary for the security of our dedicated faculty, support staff and the educational excellence that Saline is known for. 

Revenue will be the same, one time funding is going away and the expenses will be higher. Time to step up Trustees. 

David Zimmer

I disagree with this
This is not local
This is unverified