Live Reporting of the Saline Board of Education Meeting, Nov. 24

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The following is reporting from the Saline Area Schools Board of Education meeting of Nov. 24, 2020.

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All members of the board were in attendance.

Public Comment

No comments from students.

No public comment.

Administration Report

Superintendent Scot Graden said the last couple of weeks have been challenging, with rising COVID-19 cases in the community and a rising number of students and staff in quarantine.

"That's obviously pushed us to a spot where we are in fully-remote learning," Graden told the board. "It's not lost on the administration how challenging this is for the families, how challenging this is for staff. This is not where any of us wanted to be at this time."

Graden applauded the families who've been through exams and conferences in this very different environment.

"I appreciate all the efforts as we provide the best we can for our students," Graden said.

Graden encouraged people to take time to rest and relax this weekend "to recover from what was a tough end to the month of November us."

Student Representative Update

Student Representative Noah Socha provided an update to the board. Socha reported students completed exams in a virtual environment.

"We thank the teachers for all the hard work they did in helping us get to the end of the Tri," Socha said.

Clubs continue to meet remotely. Student Council turned in thank you cards to staff to thank them for their work.

Socha said students want to return to in-person instruction.

"While students are accepting of the virtual reality that we are having to endure, we all eventually want to go back to school. As a student and on behalf of all the students, I implore all the members of the community to please do their part in following the guidelines so that we can get the numbers down and eventually go back to school," Socha said.

Board Member Remarks

Trustee Paul Hynek said he attended the Citizens for a Quality Coalition Committee. He said members announced their commitment to the community group.

Trustee Michael McVey said he attended the Washtenaw Association of School Boards meeting with Board President Heidi Pfannes.

"I am proud and honored to say that Heidi Pfannes passed the presidency over to me," McVey said. "We are looking forward to getting passed this COVID and trying a couple of interesting things as an association."

McVey said he attended other Michigan Association of School Board training and updates.

Trustee Dennis Valenti gave a "shout out" to the SWWC culinary arts program and Chef Sam Musto.

"I am looking forward to a delightful Thanksgiving dinner prepared by our culinary arts program and I look forward to reporting back to the board how tasty it was," Valenti said.

Valenti also reminded people Saline Area Social Service is an agency that helps people in need.

Trustee Jennifer Steben commended Socha for his words and gave well wishes to staff and students to have a "very well-earned, safe and restful break."

Trustee Susan Estep said she attended the MASB Views from The Capitol program, which reviewed the MDHHS health order that closed high schools, among other things.  Estep said it may become problematic to continue using Zoom for board meetings. The MASB is pushing to ensure school districts retain this option during the lame-duck session, Estep said. 

Estep also attended the Washtenaw Intermediate School District legislative breakfast. It was also attended by US Rep. Debbie Dingell, State Sen. Jeff Irwin and State Rep. Donna Lasinksi, among others, Estep said. Estep said they talked about the upcoming lame-duck session and what it might mean for education.

Board members were reminded by President Heidi Pfannes not to use Zoom's chat feature to speak to each other. They were talking about the culinary arts program's Thanksgiving dinners, Pfannes noted.

Human Resources Department Report

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Curt Ellis provided a report on human resources.

Ellis noted a retention rate that's common in education. 63-66 percent of people hired from 2015-18 are retained. That gives the district some opportunity to make changes in terms of diversity and inclusion, Ellis said.

The district is above the state retention rate, but a bit below selected similar districts.

The certified staff is much younger than it was once, Ellis said. 41 percent of the district has worked in Saline for less than 10 years.

Ellis said a younger workforce has different needs. Younger teachers also bring new ideas and excitement but it presents challenges because there is less experience, Ellis noted.

The district saw 119 personnel leave the district from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. There were 93 new hires. Two teachers took a leave of absence. 

Superintendent Scot Graden said the district is a significant employer in the community. He said there are challenges in operationalizing school.

Trustee Paul Hynek asked if the district keeps stats on why teachers leave. Ellis said that 40 percent of the staff who leave do so because of a spouse finding new work. Of the remaining 60 percent, half go to another district and the other half leave the profession.

"Is retention a 21st Century value?" Ellis asked.

He said that while other professions are transitory, schools felt their profession wasn't. But Ellis said the truth is, it probably isn't.

Answering a question from Trustee Estep, Ellis said there were fewer teachers leaving before this year than last, despite COVID-19. That's because of the severance package that was offered, Ellis said.

Graden said the district hasn't been growing like it was in the early 2000s. Enrollment has been stable.

ACTION ITEMS

Appointed

Jenna Saldana was re-appointed to the Saline District Library Board of Directors by a 7-0 vote.

The board approved revisions to Operating Procedure 0175.1 on school board board conferences and workshops.

Return to School Update

"To make a long story short, we've continued to see a rise in where things are going," Graden said, referring to the COVID-19 data tracked by the district.

Graden said we're seeing the second spike that many people anticipated, pointing to a positive test rate that went from three percent to over seven percent.

Graden explained why all in-person learning is paused even though the state order only cancels high school classing.

"It's our ability to operationalize school," Graden said.

Too many staff have the infection, are quarantined, or are managing family members who are quarantined and dealing with related issues.

A survey shows parents' desires haven't changed much according to a recent survey.

The next trimester begins after Thanksgiving. The district will analyze local COVD-19 metrics Dec. 1 and announce next steps Dec. 2.

Trustee Dennis Valenti asked what other districts in the county were doing. Graden said every district in the county is fully remote. He noted Lenawee and Livingston County have in-person school. Wayne County has also removed fully remote, he said.

New Board Member Orientation

On Dec. 16, recently-elected board members will join current board members, Graden and others for orientation.

The Consent Agenda

There were several resignations and one hiring in the human resources department. Rachel Bell has resigned as cosmetology tech for the SWWC, Kenneth Spicer and David White have resigned as custodians and Pamela Warmanen has resigned as a food service employee at Saline High School. Jeffrey Claiborne was hired as a mechanic for the transportation department.

Public Comment

Chris Bull spoke, addressing the HR report by Ellis. He said he was thinking about teacher retention and salaries. He said he wondered why the district doesn't honor a teacher's previous experience when they come to Saline from other districts.

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