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School district hopes to avoid shortage of teachers, bus drivers

Posted 7/21/15 (Tue)

By Jody Michael
The Divide County School District has filled one of its six open teaching positions, superintendent Sherlock Hirning told the school board at its regular meeting Tuesday last week.
The new hire is a man from Missouri who will teach math in the high school. In addition, a candidate for the high school’s vocational agriculture position interviewed with Hirning late last week. The other four openings are in the elementary school.
At the previous month’s board meeting, the district made an effort to help ease potential candidates’ housing fears by grabbing a handful of rental units to make available to them.
But that has not paid any dividends so far -- not even for the one new hire, because none of those units will accommodate his two pets.
“If people are bringing pets, those places aren’t going to work,” Hirning said.
Hirning and the board are looking for a rental space that will allow multiple pets.
The school district also continues to have openings for bus drivers, which have become even more scarce as one driver will not be returning this upcoming school year. Without any additional drivers, Hirning said students might face even longer bus routes.
Hirning is working with architectural firm EAPC to determine the most cost-effective solution for replacing the heating systems in both school buildings, considering both installation costs and annual operational costs.
That decision will help board members determine whether to pursue another public vote on a bond issue or building fund levy increase, depending on the dollar amount.
“Whatever we do is going to be centered around our heating,” board member Steve Feil said.
Voters rejected a $20 million bond measure for renovations and expansion in April, and a June measure to increase the building fund levy by $250,000 was also unsuccessful.
Hirning said a cost analysis of various energy sources led EAPC to recommend a geothermal heating system.
“In their experience, geothermal is the best way to go,” Hirning said.
EAPC also suggested placing the heat pumps above the ceiling, and that it could make sense to replace aging light fixtures at the same time if possible.
“It’s easier if they don’t have to drill through cement walls,” Hirning said. “So they ask, ‘How bad is your lighting? You should do that now, put in a suspended ceiling, and we’ll put it above the suspended ceiling.’ Then it’s another $200,000.”
Hirning said such an overhaul would be worth the expense if the school can procure the necessary funding. He cited the “unbelievable difference” in one elementary classroom that recently received new lights after suffering some water damage.
“Go up to Mrs. Overbo’s classroom and look at that room, and then look into a different classroom,” Hirning said. “It’s like day and night; I’m not kidding you.”
The next school board meeting, on August 11 at 7 p.m., will include a hearing on the district’s 2015-16 budget at 7:30 p.m.
Student fees
Board members deliberated whether the “season pass” that grants students admission to all home regular-season sporting events should be among the mandatory student fees for every high schooler.
“For the ticket-takers, it’s easier if all students have paid their pass,” Hirning said. “If you aren’t requiring everybody to buy one, then you have to make sure those who did buy one have it on them, and you know what that’s like. They lose them or forget them.”
Board member Jessica Busch said the activity pass revenue benefits every student, even those who don’t participate in extracurricular activities.
“The activity ticket also covers lyceums, technically,” Busch said. “Some would say, ‘We’re not sports families, we don’t use the activity pass,” but there are lyceums that are part of it, too.”
“Maybe we need to have a few more lyceums to have a valid reason to make everyone buy it,” fellow board member Holly Krecklau said.
Hirning said adding lyceums is a good idea in theory but difficult in practice.
“They’re hard to get, it’s expensive and they’re hard to schedule,” he said.
The school already lists the activity pass as a required student fee but have not been strictly enforcing this, as students could choose not to purchase a pass.
Hirning said he would look into whether the school can legally levy the activity tickets as a mandatory fee.

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