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School safety and security are priorities

Posted 1/26/16 (Tue)

School safety and security are priorities

This is the conclusion of a three-part report.
By Cecile Krimm
School patrons were outnumbered by school staff and administrators at the first of two informational meetings designed to inform patrons about the need for a $9.9 million school bond issue.
About 40 people gathered at the Noonan Community Center Thursday night, with no one speaking against the proposed projects.
District staff members and even one student used the forum to elaborate on individual classroom needs and building deficiencies.
Electric and heating
School Superintendent Sherlock Hirning served as the tour guide as business teacher Shana Haugenoe ran the controls of a video, pausing at each point where an issue needs to be addressed.
The video showed pictures of broken down or inoperable boilers and piping that is corroded in the heating system at the high school -- a system to which repairs no longer make sense.
“You get into a cost that’s higher or more expensive than if you replace the whole system,” said Hirning.
The issue of inadequate electrical service in both buildings is just as critical.
Picture after picture in the presentation illustrated the proliferation of cords and power strips employed in almost every room in the district because most rooms have insufficient outlets to support modern technology.
“The fire marshal has given us several warnings about that,” said Hirning. “We need to remove all of these power strips. We’re kind of running out of grace time,” he said.
School Board Member Holly Krecklau pointed out that about three-fourths of the cost of the proposed renovations are tied up in improving only the heating, electrical, security system and handicap accessibility.
Compared to feedback on a $20 million bond issue last spring, “It’s been really positive, so I’m really hoping it passes. I don’t know what we’re going to do if it doesn’t.”
No storage
Another issue obvious throughout the video presentation was the lack of storage -- not only for items that aren’t used on a daily basis, but for items teachers use everyday. 
Only a few rooms in the high school have any kind of cabinets in which to secure books, materials or equipment.
“Teachers have to be innovative,” said Hirning, but no matter how diligent they are, each class has educational materials piled in stacks around the edges of the room, or on ledges not designed for that purpose.
The problem is just as difficult for janitorial and administration staff, with spaces, such as the auditorium stage, serving as additional storage for items that can’t be parked any place else.
Not accessible or secure
Student Payton Mueller shared his frustration with everything from bathroom sinks that are too high to classrooms without adequate radius for his wheelchair. 
Business teacher Wendy Grote talked about how limited Mueller is when he is in her room.
“There’s no way he can get around to any other part of the classroom,” Grote said.
Mueller spoke of times when he was either trapped outside as an elementary student or, at the high school, getting trapped between the outside door and the inner doors into the commons because there is no automatic door trigger on the inside set. There’s also no way for anyone in the office to see into the vestibule.
The lack of sight into the high school entry is also a security issue. Changing the configuration of the entries to both schools is part of the master plan.
“Sensitive issues can cause parents and students alike to get upset,” said Guidance Counselor Judy Harding, and society has seen increasing violence aimed at schools.
“The high school is really at a disadvantage because you see nothing. Your blind spot is a brick wall,” Harding said.
“The idea is just to try to keep safety at the forefront,” said Elementary School Principal Tanja Brown, but controlling access and visibility at the entrance to both buildings.
Better educational spaces
Grote, whose room is curtained off from the lab where Spanish classes are held over the Internet, said “I should be able to count to 10 by now,” for as frequently as she over hears the lessons from next door.
Grote and Haugenoe each commented on how much more effective their classes would be in spaces that were actually designed for instruction with computers.
“It’s not efficiently set up and its hard for the students to see,” Grote said.
Fourth grade teacher Morgan Ames talked about the frustration of wanting to do more hands-on science lessons but being limited both by the lack of secure storage areas where experiments can “germinate” out of reach of students. Ames and other teachers also taled about the lack of operable sinks or any sink in some rooms, both for washing hands or paint brushes following an art lesson.
While much attention has been given to the need for more individualized space for special ed students, instructors Mandy Wheeling and Rachelle Krebsbach said they are also in great need of office space where student information can be kept secure.
Enrollment and mills
Hirning showed a slide of current enrollment and projections for the future.
There was considerable discussion when the bond issue failed last year about the potential for losing more students, but that hasn’t happened.
“We’re only down 13 students from last year,” he said.
Projections show a stable population of about 350 to 360 students over the next five years.
Hirning also made the point that the school has been both limited and limiting when it comes to the amount of dollars levied and also, dollars collected from oil and gas production.
The school district lost $1.4 million as a result of action in the 2013 legislature, which sought to tweak the funding formula for schools receiving oil and gas payments.
As well, the district is limited on the number of mills it can increase each year without voter approval. Currently, the district’s general fund levy is 43.24 mills compared to the 60 mills the state considers the appropriate level of local patronage.
The difference between what is levied now and the cost of 21 mills to serve bond issue debt, said Hirning, actually brings the district to within 4 mills of that 60 mill standard.
Super majority needed
Hirning explained that, unlike last spring’s vote in which two questions needed to pass, this year there is only one -- whether voters support the issuance of $9.9 million in bonds.
Last year, the proposed $20 million bond issue also required voters to okay raising the district’s debt limit.
Like last year, a super majority of 60 percent of votes cast must be in favor in order for the issue to pass. That can be difficult to obtain since voters who are not opposed, but not very motivated to see their taxes go up, may not be moved to participate in the election.
Absentee ballots, available at the district office now, could help combat the inability of some patrons to turn out at the polls in Noonan, Crosby and Fortuna, on election day, Tuesday, Feb. 9. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Jamison Krecklau, a patron from rural Noonan spoke in favor of the renovations as important for the future of the county.
“The kids that are coming out of these two schools that we want to renovate are kids who are going to be in this community 20 years from now or 30 years from now,” he said.
Crosby patron Don Anderson noted that as big as the needs are for special ed and Title students, he also believes the needs of gifted students in the district are underserved.