Monti School Board ponders calendar

Right now it feels like this year’s spring may never arrive, but school board members were already looking ahead to next spring at Monday evening’s board meeting to determine whether next year’s calendar should include a break for Monticello’s students.
After an initial vote failed 3-2 for a calendar that omitted a spring break, the school board passed a schedule that includes a spring break March 24-28 next year.
The board initially considered a third option, which included two five-day weekends rather than a full-week spring break. They decided against this option at the request of the district’s kindergarten teachers, who said lesson planning is more difficult when school weeks are shorter than four days.
Board members Scott Hill and Jeff Hegle voiced their support for skipping spring break, saying they liked the idea of getting as many school days in as possible before testing time. Hill said that for every parent who says they want a spring break, there is another parent who doesn’t want school going into June, which is necessary if the district does provide a spring break.
Liz Leitch-Sell said she felt the need to speak out in favor of a spring break on behalf of the overwhelming support it received among parent members of the district’s curriculum advisory committee (CAC). These parents said they find spring break to be an important time for their students to recharge, a sentiment that was echoed by the school board’s student representative Pat McNaughton.
McNaughton said he takes a difficult course load and thought he and those taking similar classes benefit from time to clear their head and regroup before buckling back down for the final stretch.
Leitch-Sell also challenged the notion that having the maximum number of school days before testing would bring the best results, wondering instead if it might be more beneficial to have a break, followed by a couple weeks to dig in with a fresh start to prepare for the tests.
Jill Bartlett said she thought spring break was a good time for families to spend some downtime with their kids, whether it’s during an actual spring break trip or just in the comforts of home.
The 2013-14 school year will begin Sept. 3, with the traditional MEA, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks; spring break will take place the last full week of March, plus a four-day weekend around Easter in April. The last day of school will be June 5, 2014.
In other business, the board:
•Approved a capital budget proposal for fiscal year 2014. Business manager Tina Burkholder said that although they trimmed an additional $229,000 from the proposal in the past couple weeks, they still ended up $63,000 above their budget for capital improvements. However, since the district currently has some one-time monies in the bank due largely to stimulus funds, Burkholder requested that the board approve using some of these funds to cover the shortfall. Superintendent Jim Johnson said one-time funds couldn’t be used to pay for ongoing costs such as salaries, since the funds will not be given again.
The proposal passed 4-1, with Jim Lindberg absent and Scott Hill dissenting. Hill questioned the decision to absorb an additional $63,000. He noted that the district has recently entertained the option of absorbing credit card processing fees as well. Hill said he thought in the past that the budget committee had always stuck within their budget for capital improvements, and he wondered whether the funds would be better spent on more direct needs for kids and their academics.
Burkholder said that using the $63,000 in one-time funds would still keep the district within their fund balance goal of 6-10 percent for next year.
Leitch-Sell said she could appreciate and empathize with Hill’s concerns, but felt these capital projects were all necessary and thought the amount of funds they needed to absorb was manageable given their current fund balance.
The board got the ball rolling on two of these capital improvement items at the meeting, approving a call for bids for a Little Mountain roof project and a project at Pinewood Elementary that would create six smaller rooms out of one of the school’s two media centers. The two media centers will be combined into one to make room for these additional classrooms, which will be used for small group instruction and would free up four classrooms for the school’s growing population.
•Accepted an $1,800 donation from the Monticello American Legion to send elementary students to Legionville for school patrol training, and a $1,000 donation from GRACO for the district’s Destination Imagination program.
•Approved a request for a full-time assistant superintendent position to begin July 1 of this year. Johnson himself was the district’s assistant superintendent until he was hired as the superintendent in 2005, and his former position was not filled due to budget shortfalls.
The district lost its director of human resources the following year, so Johnson said he has been acting in this role as well as superintendent for the district’s over 600 employees. Board members enthusiastically approved the request, agreeing with Johnson that this new position would free up his schedule enough to focus on bringing the district’s schools to the next level.
The board agreed that the Monticello district is far leaner in administrative staff than others in the state and local area, and said they felt it would continue to be leaner than average even with this additional position.
“Due to some really tough budget years, we had to cut that [position] … but it’s a need,” Leitch-Sell said. “I don’t know another district that is as thin in the district office as we are.”
•Heard a student representative update from senior Pat McNaughton about the school’s experience with the girls’ basketball team’s trip to state, which he dubbed an “incredible experience.” The team recently had a fourth-place finish at the state tournament.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, April 8 in the middle school boardroom.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.