Government

WSSD Board Meeting Jan 2022

The district held its single board meeting for January this week. As expected because there was one meeting this month instead of two, it was a long meeting. Video is available on Youtube and the agenda on the school district’s website. The school safety plan was not on the agenda, so no changes were made to the plan ahead of the district moving to optional masking on Feb 7th.

Reports

The student representative reported on the district’s MLK Day activities and changes to how teachers learn to pronounce student’s names at the start of the school year to be more inclusive.

The superintendent spoke about the continuing evolution of the district’s Covid dashboard, which remains a work in progress. Covid cases are declining. More information on the next steps will be shared at the end of the week.

The DEI audit focus groups took place over January. Student focus groups will be held in early February and the executive summary will be presented Feb 18th with full results at the March 2nd Educational Affairs Committee meeting.

January is school board recognition month and the superintendent listed principles for the school board to consider, but it wasn’t clear where these came from or how they’d be implemented.

On Feb 16th from 6-8 pm the DCIU will hold a zoom workshop titled “Anxiety and Children with Autism“.

The superintendent summarized the work of the committees covered in more detail later in the meeting.

Board Comments

The board highlighted the improvements made to the district’s ventilation systems. The improvements made during Covid continue to be implemented with denser filters, higher throughput and automated systems warning of faults.

Focus Topics

The first focus topic discussed successes at the high school so far this year, discussing athletics, arts, academics, activities and altruism. High school students presented a video (about 31 minutes into the meeting if you want to watch).

The second presentation reviewed the sleep-start time study. The board has eliminated most of the proposed planned schedules and decided to focus on either keeping the current schedule, adopt schedule A or schedule E. Schedule A essentially moves the high school start from before the middle school start to after the elementary school start. High school would be 8:30 – 3:05 in this plan with the other schedules largely unchanged. Schedule E would delay the start to school but make 5th block mandatory to make up for the lost school time. Lunch time would also decrease to 30 minutes.

The district will continue to investigate these plans but with a strategic planning process starting next year, it wasn’t clear to the board if these major changes should be made before the strategic plan. There was also discussion of removing the high school’s block scheduling, but again, it was noted that would be a major change that should be investigated independently of sleep-start time issues.

Board Announcements

The board met on Jan 22nd for an informational meeting – there seems to be little record of this meeting. They also met in executive session for personnel matters.

Regular Business

The board passed its regular business with little comment and no dissenting votes. Lentz noted in the finance section that the opt-out budget resolution they passed caps the school district tax increase at 3.4%,. It does not finalize that as this year’s increase, just sets an upper limit.

Public Comments

A Swarthmore resident commented on the need for called in comments to the board for people isolating due to Covid. He also noted that the school taxes make living in the district unaffordable.

A resident on Putnam expressed concern about the guidelines allowing students with Covid to return after 5 days without testing negative.

Another Swarthmore resident read a letter signed by 100 residents opposing the optional masking policy that the district is advancing.

A resident from Wilder complained about his efforts to pay a late per capita tax. Editor note, I agree – the district’s poll tax remains a terrible idea.

A resident from Wiltshire threatened board members with a personal lawsuits for acting unconstitutionally. Most of the statements were right-wing misinformation.

A resident from Swarthmore noted that the wrestling tournament this weekend will be held in honor of a wrestling coach (Mike Miluski) that recently passed away suddenly. She also commented that if board members aren’t willing to attend meetings or go through the budget line by line they should resign.

One of the Swarthmore residents spoke again about his experiences volunteering in the ERs and how busy they are due to Covid.

Another resident of Swarthmore spoke in opposition to the masking optional plan pointing out that masks remain recommended and that school policy affects the greater community, who’s medical resources are already strained.

The superintendent asked the district nurse to speak in response to the comments. Board member Voet asked about the experiences of neighboring districts that went mask optional earlier, but the district nurse failed to respond directly to the question. She suggested the state’s board of health contact tracing method obscures linked transmission in schools.

In response to board member Whitsett’s efforts to get clarification, the district nurse suggested that each school building represents a separate community. Editor note – Which is obviously illogical. How do SHMS and SHHS reflect different communities? They obviously draw students from the same area.

Board member Whitsett asked questions until it was clear that the final mask optional policy is still being written so the district nurse couldn’t give clear answers. When the policy was finalized it would be clear. Editors note – it’d be a first, most of the district’s Covid messages have been long and confusing.

Committee Reports

A large part of the meeting concerned reports from the Nov, Dec, and Jan committee meetings. The superintendent and board repeatedly asked for community members to participate in these meetings, which often run over 2 hours long. Another editor note – Going to every meeting would be over 10 hours per month. The board and administration fail to recognize the limited free time parents have and their responsibility to keep us informed rather than placing the burden upon residents to do it for them.

The policy committee moved forward on a variety of policies. But for many it was hard to follow the changes. When Superintendent Palmer introduced changes in her final semester, she made it clear in brief what the changes were, which policies were being created and which were being deleted, and which policies were changing to comply with state law. It was much harder to follow the report given here, I hope the board returns to Superintendent Palmer’s very clear systematic approach to new policies clearly indicating additions and deletions.

Unfortunately, one of the changes, which reduces policy changes from three readings to two, will further erode district transparency. With only two readings, policy changes will pass possibly before minutes from the meetings where they’re first considered are approved.

Other changes advancing relate to board appointments to committees, students attending tech schools, athletic concussions, admission of students (Kindergarten and 1st grade), tobacco and vaping and student recruitment by schools, employers and the military.

The facility committee reviewed the tennis court resurfacing, sidewalk/stair problems at CADES, preparation for winter precipitation, delays to the final part of the high school secure entrance, the leaking WES roof, the swim scoreboard replacement, the auditorium lighting and sound project, the new marquis sign being ordered for the middle and high schools, the locker room renovation, the planned aqua water line and King Field ADA improvements.

The finance committee reviewed turnover in the business office, the new Forecast 5 software, the 2021 draft audit, the 22-23 budget process, the business office lockbox and the contract for next year’s busses.

The educational affairs report highlighted how little use these reports can be. The calendar process was discussed, even though the calendar passed over a month ago. Federal programs were discussed, including Title 1 funding for math and literacy at NPE, Title 2 for professional development and Title 4 for instructional resources. The Ed affairs committee also discussed the upcoming comprehensive special education plan coming up this year.

The Pennsylvania School Board liaison discussed bills making their way through the state legislature including a bill for schools to provide resources to help homeless students graduate, a program for early literacy, and a bill to allow meeting notices to count as published even if not actually published by a newspaper. New science standards are also being adopted which will have to be followed starting in the 2025 school year.

The district’s DCIU representative stated that the DCIU is having an open house for those interested in technical education and the DCIU is working on a technical unit to repair student devices, hopefully saving districts money and providing faster repair turn-around.

Categories: Government, WSSD