Board faces preschool, elementary issues

A motion to hire one full-time elementary teacher in the Broken Bow school district for the 2012-2013 school year passed by a 4-2 vote Monday night. The request was made by elementary principal Kim Jonas, after she presented the board with the current and projected enrollment figures for the next few years. With lower elementary class sizes currently at right around 70 students, Jonas is concerned about only having three sections of 4th grade available for those larger classes. The district prefers to keep section sizes at 17-18 students, which is where they are currently at. However, with a larger class coming into 4th grade next year and the three to four years after that, those sections would increase to 22-23 students. Jonas says the main reason for concern is the fact that 4th grade is a challenging year for both students and teachers. "That year gets pretty intense," Jonas said. Each of the board members weighed in with their thoughts on the request, with Ken Myers expressing concern about budget challenges facing the district and the affordability of hiring another teacher. Both Myers and Matthew Haumont agreed that in a perfect world it would probably be best to have another teacher, but just didn't feel like it was in the best financial interest of the district at this time. Don Davis pointed out the amount of money the district allots for athletic-related facility issues and said he believes student's learning should be the top priority. John Evans and Tracy Popp both agreed with Davis's comments. Popp said that while she agrees with Myers and Haumont about being fiscally responsible, the board also has an obligation to provide the best possible learning environment for the students. "It's all about balance," added board president Michelle Zlomke. In other action, the board gave final approval authorizing Zlomke and Superintendent Virginia Moon to purchase the real estate directly east of the high school practice field for $13,000 plus closing costs. The purchase was approved at the February board meeting. The resolution passed Monday was strictly for the purpose of authorizing specific individuals to sign the papers for the transaction. The school plans to tear down the existing structure on the property and covert the site to a parking lot, which will create an additional 20 parking spaces near the front entrance of the high school. The board gave unanimous approval to a partnership between the existing preschool and Head Start, and adding a third section of preschool. Principal Jonas explained that the addition of a third section is necessary in order for the district to stay below the Rule 11 requirement of 17 students per section. The current program will no longer meet NDE requirements for program hours. Jonas says preschool special education student numbers are increasing, and special needs students to peer models ratio is no longer 50/50. She says to bring that back into compliance a morning and afternoon program is needed four days a week. The district has applied for an Early Childhood Expansion Grant to partner with Head Start. This would allow the district to serve the increased number of students in the preschool program. The 3-year grant offers $50,000 each year. Jonas says the grant, state aid for the additional students and special education reimbursement should off-set most if not all of the additional costs associated with expanding the preschool. At the end of the three years, the district would have to absorb that cost. However, Jonas says other available funds should also help off-set that cost with little financial impact to the district. While they won't know until June if they will receive the grant, Jonas says everything she has been told up to this point has been very encouraging, and she has every reason to believe the school will qualify. She conveyed to the board somewhat of a sense of urgency in making a decision on the issue, as teachers with an early childhood/SPED certificate are not available in great numbers. She says right now the available pool is good, and it is important to hire as early as possible. The motion to hire an additional FTE early childhood teacher was unanimously approved. Other items at Monday's meeting included a presentation by Joe Shea on the 1-3-5 year plan for facilities for the district, and a presentation by Jana Kaelin and Lori McAbee on the unveiling of the school's new and improved website. The next regular meeting of the Broken Bow School Board will be April 16.