Live Reporting of the Dec. 8 Saline Board of Education Meeting.

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The following is reporting from the Saline Area Schools Board of Education meeting.

Public Comment

Holger Markgraf said he was disappointed the district has elected to not offer elementary school to students during COVID-19. He asked what data was being used to make the decision.

Saline High School Principal David Raft and Woodland Meadows Principal Michelle Sczechowicz thanked outgoing board members Tim Austin, Paul Hynek and  Heidi Pfannes for their service.

Mary Marshall, teacher, spoke as a parent, thanked the educators for the work they're doing for students to create meaningful learning.

Katy Clark, a parent with two children in the district, supports the in-person instruction. She said her daughter has anxiety and benefits from in-person teaching. She suggested the problem with finding substitute teachers may be the low pay in Saline. She said the community might volunteer for substitute teaching if they are aware of the issue.

Administration Update

Superintendent Scot Graden said the district's maintenance staff continues to work. Hornet Homeroom has been supported by community education staff, teachers, and more. The administrative team is also fatigued and feeling pressure in a challenging environment, Graden said.

Board Update

Trustee Tim Austin said the Foundation for Saline Area Schools had a strong Giving Tuesday fundraiser and has exceeded expectations for the year.

Trustee Jennifer Steben thanked the outgoing trustees for their service. She said trustees attended professional development seminars on CBAs.

Trustee Michael McVey thanked the district for CBA professional development training. He thanked the outgoing trustees and said he enjoyed working with them and said they were diligent board members.

Trustee Susan Estep also thanked the outgoing board members for their service. She said they hoped to stay involved in the district and community. Estep said she took a "ton" of MASB classes this week and is certified with advocacy skills. She intended the International LGBTQ summit and said it was empowering to be participate. She said it's difficult to be an LGBTQ person in office and hoped others would be encouraged by seeing others like themselves in leadership roles.

Student Rep Update

Noah Socha, Student Rep to the Board, thanked the board and administration for looking out for the students' best interest and health. Socha has reached out to the principals of other schools for information about activities in the other buildings.

Socha said the National Honor Society is conducted its city-wide canned food drive Dec. 12.

He thanked staff and teachers for valiant efforts during these difficult times.

He said many students would love to return to hybrid school, and eventually, to fully in-person learning. He implored people to follow safety guidelines throughout the holidays.

Board Stipends

Trustee Dennis Valenti moved and Steben seconded the motion to pay trustees $30 a meeting. That figure is unchanged.

Graden said they were "woefully underpaid" for what they do.

The motion passed unanimously.

Board Organizational Meeting

Graden said on Jan. 12 the organizational meeting takes place before the first regular meeting of the year.

The motion was passed unanimously.

The board approved Dennis Valenti has chair of the organizational meeting. All of the current officers are outgoing, Graden said, which was a unique situation.

Return to School Update

Graden addressed local data. He said the district's dashboard numbers look better, but Graden questioned if it was because the district was in a remote environment. Graden encouraged students and staff to continue reporting COVID-19 cases and quarantines to the district.

Graden said county numbers are higher than targeted numbers. The positive test rate in the county is nearly double what it was several weeks ago. The cases per 1,000 remains higher than targets.

"School at scale is a problem for us," Graden said. "We do not feel like we can do K-8 safely."

Graden referenced data set for a "safe restart." Graden said the state wants to see declining  hospitalizations and a trend in the right direction.

Graden said the district is still providing Hornet Homeroom (for K-5 students), one-on-one special education, and some South and West Washtenaw Consortium and technical education classes - the latter a new carve-out in the recent state order. Students from other schools will participate in the vocational classes - but will cohort with other students from their own schools.

Graden said the district is seeing success in remote learning.

"Our staff has been incredibly thoughtful and innovative in how they developed strategies to make sure that our students can be successful in remote and and virtual environments," Graden said.

He cited the Girls Who Code Club at the middle school is created a buzz, social bonds and fun for students.

He also talked about the Sleigh Ride video created by Ben Culver and others in the district.

Graden said the district will return to hybrid learning (for those who chose in-person learning) on Jan. 11, if conditions allow.

"I am hopeful as we moved into 2021 about what learning can look like for our students and what it can look like for our families," Graden said.

Trustee Steben asked about the decision to facilitate in-person learning for the carve-out segments before Christmas.

Graden said one-on-one environments and career tech can be done safely. He said for special education students, a potential eight-week gap could have been significant.

Trustee Steben asked what Graden is hearing from parents.

Graden said he's hearing from parents anxious about their child's learning. 

Trustee McVey said he was relieved to know nurse Karan Hervey approved the return of 300 special education students to classrooms. McVey asked what circumstances might reverse that decision.

Graden said they are creating unique environments in several buildings with social distancing.

Trustee Estep asked what extra precautions would be in place.

Graden said there would be more physical space. There will be alternative entries and pathways into buildings.

Trustee Estep said she assumed families were in agreement with the one-on-one service.

Graden said some families have elected not to participate. But the vast majority want more in-person learning, Graden said.

Trustee Estep asked about Hornet Homeroom and the capacity. Graden said it's about "what can be done safely." He said the district is managing its numbers. It's at or near capacity at Harvest and Pleasant Ridge (near 30 students).

Trustee Valenti said he'd like the district to look farther out to take care of kids once they can return. 

"I suspect there's going to be some loss of learning. Once we can safely come back, how do we deal with that loss of learning we've seen?" Valenti said.

Graden said the district is thinking about it. He said it's fair to predict that things are going to get better. At that point, the district will assess where they are at and determine how to get better, he said.

President Heidi Pfannes reiterated to get the kids back in school. 

"We need to sit tight this holiday. It's hard because we all want to celebrate. But we need the kids back in school. It takes a whole community to make that happen," Pfannes said.

Finance Committee

Trustee Dennis Valenti said the committee met Monday and mostly discussed remaining Sinking Fund dollars. Valenti said the district's hard assets are in good shape. The district's bus replacement plan was dashed due to COVID-19. The district will need to reassess the bus replacement schedule, Valenti said. The district is still getting calls from parties interested in buying school property, but there have been no firm offers, Valenti said.

Austin said the district is in much-better place than it was in 2016. 

"That three-legged stool we talked about in that 2016 bond is really in good shape right now," Austin said. "It's done  a lot of good things."

Consent Agenda

The consent agenda was approved. It included the retirement of Heritage Elementary School teacher Jennifer Turner.

Public Comment

FSAS Executive Director Annherst Kreitz said she wanted to make sure Trustees Pfannes, Austin and Hynek understood how appreciated they were for their support of the foundation, and their work for the schools.

Closed Session

The district went into closed session for the purpose of collective bargaining. The board emerged at 8:20 and approved a one-year deal with the Saline Education Association.

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