One board member couldn't approve the 2009-10 school calendar ultimately OK'd by the McCook Public Schools board of education at its meeting Monday evening.
Superintendent Dave Schley told board members and members of the public, "Everyone's had a whack at it -- it's the best we could come up with. It's not going to please everyone."
Well, it didn't please board member Larry Shields, who said that the calendar "still has room to modify yet." Shields objected to the number of interruptions -- kids out of class all day and dismissed early -- disrupting students' educational flow throughout the school year.
Shields particularly objected to early dismissals for teacher in-services on Wednesdays, asking why those couldn't be moved to Fridays. "I feel the length of time without interruption makes a better student in the end," he said.
Karen Miller, the school's assessment coordinator, told Shields that having in-services on Wednesdays means that about 20 teacher/coaches can attend because there are no sports events, other than practices, scheduled on Wednesdays.
Board president Tom Bredvick said the number of interruptions has been decreased from previous calendars.
The school year starts with teacher prep and in-service on Aug. 17 and 18. The students' first day will be Aug. 19, with 1 p.m. dismissal through Aug. 28.
Students will be dismissed for Thanksgiving Nov. 25, 26 and 27; and for Christmas from Dec. 23 (1 p.m. dismissal) to Jan. 5.
Seniors will graduate May 9. Classes for everyone else will end May 20.
The calendar includes 176 total student days -- 1,158.75 hours for senior/junior high, 1,120 for elementary and 1,091 for kindergarten.
There will be 185 teacher contract days, which includes nine teacher staff days.
The calendar was approved 5-1, with Shields casting the lone dissenting vote.
The board approved unanimously the 2008-09 negotiated agreements with certificated and administrative certificated staff, which will be retroactive to Sept. 1, 2008.
Bredvick said that the board approved two items after discussing them in closed session -- the certificated staff (teachers) contract with a base salary of $28,720 (up from $27,525 last year, indicating a 4.34 percent raise); and the agreement with certificated administrators (principals and the business manager) with a 3.4 percent increase.
These contracts do not include superintendents, either interim Superintendent Dave Schley or the newly-hired Grant Norgaard.
The board authorized Schley to work with Steve Lyne, McCook, of the Nebraska FreeMasons in organizing time for that group to conduct its "Child Identification Program" (CHIP) for McCook school children.
Lyne said the program addresses the need for parents/guardians to have identifying factors in the event their child is missing. Each parent will be provided with a still photograph, digital fingerprints, toothprint bite impressions and a DNA sample. A CD will include a video interview with the answers provided by children over two years of age to these questions: What is your name? How old are you? If you wanted to be alone, where would you go? What is your best friend's name? If you were home alone and needed to call for help, what number would you dial?
Parents of infants and toddlers will be asked: What is your child's name? How old is your child? Where was your child born? What is your child's favorite food? What is your child's favorite toy?
Lyne said each identification takes 11⁄2 to two minutes to complete, and would be completed during school hours.
Each child must have parental permission to participate, Lyne stressed.
All of the identifying items generated during the CHIP identification are given to the child's family, he said; no copies of any identification materials are kept on file by any of the organizers. Lyne said that the Masons retain only the permission slip.
The CHIP kit is provided free of charge.
Schley told board members that the CHIP program is "an outstanding opportunity," and strongly encouraged parents/guardians to participate. "I can't see any negatives, all positives, in this," Schley said.
He and Lyne will schedule time for McCook students to participate between now and April 20.
Although records provided to the school board by the food service provider to McCook Public Schools indicates that the number of free and reduced-price meals has decreased in McCook, actual applications in the business manager's office show an increase in that number.
Larry Young of Sodexo told board members that the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals as of Jan. 31 2009, is 505, which, he said, is down 43 students from September 2008 and down 71 from September 2007. He said too that the percentage of free and reduced-eligible students is 36 percent, down 1 percent from September 2008 and down 3 percent from Sept. 2007.
Young said that the decrease "is not the norm," especially with today's economy when parents are opting to access help with lunch prices.
MPS business manager Rick Haney said his figures for students eligible for free and reduced-price meals do not match Young's. A physical counting of approved applications for the 2008-2009 school year indicates that 600 students were approved for free and reduced-price meals. This compares to 522 in 2005-06, 582 in 2006-07 and 615 in 2007-08. "In reality, our free and reduced numbers have gone up," Haney said, stressing that these are the numbers that are reported to the Nebraska Department of Education as the McCook school district's poverty component in the determination of state aid.
Young provided daily breakfast and lunch counts through Jan. 31, indicating the sale of 150 daily breakfasts through Jan. 31, an increase of 30 breakfasts since 2006-07 and an increase of two breakfasts since 2007-08. Through Jan. 31, the daily lunch count of 701 meals is up 33 meals per day (5 percent) over the 668 lunches served in 2007-08 school year, and nearly equal to the 700 lunches served in 2006-07.
Sodexo's total meals are calculated by adding breakfast, lunch and equivalent meals (ala carte), and Young said that the daily total meals are up 77 meals (7 percent), from 1,016 total meals in 2007-08 to to 1,093 through Jan. 31.
Young's figures indicate that through Jan. 21, McCook's daily sales and revenues are up $301 (12 percent) from $2,239 in 2007-08 to $2,540 through Jan. 31. The increase, he said, is in part due to an increase in a reimbursement rate from the federal government.
Young reported that daily operating expenses (of 97 cents per meal) through Jan. 31 take into account a 37 percent increase in the cost of milk and an 11 percent increase in the cost of baked goods. A beef recall in 2007-08 increased the cost of beef products, he said. Labor has increased 3.5 percent over a year ago.
A year ago, in the 2008-09 school year, the food cost per meal was 78 cents.
Paper costs have decreased slightly, from 6 cents per meal to 5 cents per meal due to new paper vendor agreements and ecology-friendly choices. Fuel and transportation costs have decreased with the drop in gas prices, he said.
The actual per-meal cost for the 2008-09 school year through Jan. 31 shows a 4 percent increase in food costs, a 1 percent increase in labor costs, and a 20 percent decrease in paper costs.
Expense control measures implemented for 2008-09 include:
* Increased cost controls.
* Increased monthly district and Sodexo revenue/expenditure reporting reconciliation.
* Increased marketing for free and reduced-price meal benefits programs.
* Increased marketing of meal programs and nutrition awareness.
* Maximizing the use of district and Sodexo resources.
* Maximizing the effective use of USDA commodity items and commodity processed items.
To promote healthier meals and a more cost-effective meal environment for students, Young said, Sodexo implemented a new menu cycle at McCook's elementary schools to feature more kids' favorites, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily offerings. Sodexo also offers a "Color My World" salad bar and various limited-time offers in the secondary schools.
Young concluded his report by explaining environmental factors that affect the program: "The USDA doubled its school lunch reimbursements, MPS experienced a lunch price increase this year, and a drastic decrease in the price of fuel has also aided in the success of this school year thus far."
The board declared these items "surplus" and will sell them on an upcoming consignment auction (details to be announced later):
Old counter tops, old paper towel machines, kitchen doors, 35 sections of three-inch irrigation pipe, school lockers, blue mats from the Central Elementary gym, chairs, student desks, teachers desks, computer desk, old milk cooler, auto scrubber machine, weight racks, vacuum cleaner, air filters, old stands, science lab, aluminum door from offices and an air conditioner.
The board approved a two-year agreement with Southwest Public Schools that will allow Southwest students to compete as members of the MHS swimming and diving team.
Board member Maury Green volunteered to be the MPS nomination to fill Seat No. 12 on the Legislative Committee of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, replacing former board member/nominee Mike Gonzales.
Board member Diane Lyons encouraged fellow board members to attend a meeting with McCook Art Guild members on Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the art guild gallery in downtown McCook, to discuss developing an art program for MPS.
Lyons also reported that she and math teachers recently discussed "Saturday School" for students struggling with math skills, the implementation of basic math competency testing and lengthening math class times.
Schley reported that state aid for 2009-10 "is still up in the air." The Nebraska Legislature backed off on its initial certification, and now won't certify state aid until April 1, he said. "It's fair to say," he said, "that we're not expecting an exuberant amount of state aid, but we're not expecting to lose a lot of money either."
McCook Elementary PTO representative Sharlyn Coleman encouraged board members to help with ticket sales -- as members have done in the past -- for the school's annual family carnival night, scheduled Friday, March 20, starting at 4 p.m., at McCook Elementary.
Board members and administrators made these "Positive Comments":
Austin Larson, student body representative: Thanked the MHS Student Council for sponsoring the 2009 Color Day dance.
Green: Said that input from Cathy Jones, Karen Miller, Lynda Baumbach, Sharon Bohling and Gayle Sharkey and their dedication to education made his decision-making process regarding the schools' approval of the A+ online learning system and his endorsement of it "so much easier."
Board member Shane Messersmith: Said that the superintendent search was enjoyable, although a string of meetings with four candidates made it seem "like groundhog day (referring to the movie "Groundhog Day") over and over and over again." He said that board members laughed, and argued and screamed at each other, but eventually came to a consensus.
Shields: Said that he looked forward to board meetings throughout the week of the superintendent search. "We came together," he said. "It was fun," envisioning opportunities for the board to build from those experiences. He also said he has received many positive comments from the community regarding the search process.
Board member Scott Johnson: Said he appreciated "the excellent input" from the community, administrators and certificated and classified staff during the superintendent search that ultimately led to the hiring of Grant Norgaard of Leigh. Johnson thanked candidates Rick Haney, Paul Calvert and Vernon Fisher "for excellent interviews."
Board member Diane Lyons said she was tickled by kindergartners' enthusiasm about hitting the 100th day of school recently, while seniors are counting down the other direction -- 53 days until graduation.
Board President Tom Bredvick thanked superintendent's office secretary Deb Meyers for her help during the week of superintendent interviews. "She gave 110 percent," Bredvick said. Bredvick said he appreciates community interest in the school and hopes that frank and open conversations and questions will continue. "This board has had fun looking to the future," Bredvick said.
Haney reminded the board that its decisions often-times affect many people "behind the scenes," such as the school system's technology specialist Dan Shiers, whose workload will be increased with the introduction of the A+ online learning system. Yet Shiers continues to do an excellent job, Haney said. Haney also commended Bev Anderson for her work with the school system's food service, saying that the district's lunch program is running very smoothly; and Sharlyn Coleman, who led tours of the school facilities and community for the superintendent candidates.
Schley commended Sharon Bohling for her commitment to the school, saying that she's early to school and late working with kids. "She basically lives at school," he said.
Schley praised business manager Rick Haney, citing his professionalism in his situation as he applied for the superintendent's position. "Rick, you're a pro," Schley said. "I'm proud of you, man." Schley said that during his two years as McCook's interim superintendent, he and Haney have become more than colleagues, but "very, very good friends."