School district preparing for possible virus closure

It seems like the entire world is talking about the ongoing Coronavirus situation, and the North Branch School District is no exception. During the March 5 School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton gave the board an update on how the district plans on handling the threat.

“We get so many calls every day, I can’t even tell you,” Henton said.

Henton said she has communicated with a number of different local and even national resources regarding the outbreak.

“All of the advice is pretty much the same,” she said. “It’s all about hygiene right now.”

Henton went on to say that as of that moment, nobody was recommending closing schools.

“With that being said, we have to be watching because we know that schools are closing in other areas of the country,” she said. 

At the time of the meeting, there had not been any school closings in the Midwest, however the Osceola, Wisconsin schools did end up closing for a day on Tuesday, March 10 in order to do a major preventative cleaning in the wake of a person who tested positive for Coronavirus having attended an event at the high school the previous Saturday.

Henton said the district’s supplier of cleaning supplies was coming in the next day to go over possible different, stronger chemicals the custodians could be using. 

“I just wanted to let you know we are staying on top of it as best as we can,” Henton said. “We are still going to follow the advice of the Health Department and the Department of Education.”

What if schools need to be closed?

The most obvious alternative if the schools needed to be closed for an extended period of time would be an on-line class schedule, however that also poses some problems for the district.

“If we have to do on-line learning, there is a statute that says you have to notify families and you have to consult with your teacher unions,” Henton said. “And you have to do that by a certain date. I am guessing that if we had to do e-learning, the state would excuse that statute (but) we just don’t know.”

Henton mentioned that as of this time, the district does not have an “e-learning” curriculum set up, but they were looking at having one put together for next school year. She added that if it does come down to being mandated to close, there are staff members who have been working on implementing some form of e-learning.

“They know what has to be put in place if we have to do it,” she said.

Budget reductions approved

Also during the meeting, the board approved recommended budget cuts to accommodate for a $500,000 deficit versus previous projections.

According to Director of Finance and Human Resources Todd Tetzlaff, who presented the board with the recommendations during their Feb. 27 work session, this year’s cuts were less than previous years due to the district ending 2018-2019 better than projected, current enrollment is higher than projected, plus a $99,000 Safe schools allocation.

The brunt of the cuts was a total of 11.25 FTE (full-time equivalent) in staff positions. Included in that amount is one maintenance technician, two intervention teachers, one science teacher, one behavior technician and 3.75 educational assistants.

Other changes that were highlighted, some of which would also help reduce the budget but some of which were possible due to the smaller deficit included the discontinuation of WiFi on buses for lack of use, a $20 increase to activity fees, the appointment of the interim Middle School principal to full-time status, the hiring of a full-time assistant Middle School principal, plus several other items.

Board chair Kirby Ekstrom applauded the staff’s being able to make these adjustments with minimal (less than one) increases to class sizes.

“One of my concerns has always been and will always be class sizes, especially at the elementary level,” Ekstrom said. “I was somewhat happy to see class sizes won’t be changing drastically. I would still like to see reductions in that area, but under the circumstances, I understand it’s not possible. We’re not losing a whole lot of staff (this time).”

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