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Jackson schools make plans for reopening, will review in August

The Jackson R-2 School Board talked about the re-opening plan for next school year, with multiple scenarios planned for how school will look in August. Superintendent Dr. John Link said the District is currently putting together four plans for the initial reopening.

The plans include one that is primarily face-to-face learning except for students unable to attend due to health concerns, the second plan is hybrid learning with a rotating schedule of face-to-face learning and remote learning, the third is a plan with short-term sporadic closures which shift learning to remote and the last plan is 100 percent remote learning.

Which plan the District uses to start the school year will be decided on Aug. 3, but Link said the District may have to use parts of all these plans as guidelines and local infection levels change throughout the year.

We may wake up at 6 a.m. and may have to call a COVID snow day and be out for a day or two,” Link said. “Any day that we are out of school and we’re virtual, we are doing new learning. It’s not going to be just engagement, so as teachers are putting together lesson plans, they have to put together plans that can be switched to virtual overnight.”

Link also said the District is currently talking to every teacher to see who isn’t comfortable coming back to face-to-face learning this fall. The current plan is for those teachers to be in charge of distance-teaching students who are unable to come to school due to health concerns.

He spoke about the difference of the plans for younger students compared to high schoolers. Link said elementary students can be held in contained groups but high school students spread around the school more.

He mentioned that changes might have to be made to give older students more flexibility to avoid having students congregate. “I think you are going to see a lot of high schools start running like colleges, where kids show up for two or three classes during the day and leave and then come back,” Link said.

The District will phase in its face-to-face plan on a smaller basis during June Kids’ Camp and summer school in July. The June Kids’ Camp started on June 8 and will run through June 26. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Beth Emmendorfer said there were between 50 to 60 students that attended the first day of kids’ camp.

During the kids’ camp, students are kept in small groups, students have their temperatures checked before coming in and parents are not allowed in the building. In addition, two nurses are monitoring the building.

For summer school, parents will be asked to screen student’s temperatures at home, students will have personal water bottles and classes will be kept to around 15 students.

In other action

• The Board will meet for a special meeting on June 23 to approve the budget for the upcoming school year. Director of Finance Terry Gibson said the state started cutting funding to the District in April, with more cuts in May.

The District received $80,000 less than expected to the classroom trust fund in April, and an additional $175,000 in cuts were seen in May. A sizable cut of $650,000 was announced for June and the District expects another sizable cut in July. About 30 percent of the District revenue comes from the state.

The District does have $450,000 allocated from the federal CARES Act. In addition, the District may be able to receive additional CARES Act funding from the county to help fund any coronavirus-related expenses. “There is some help available to offset some of the cuts, but the net impact is definitely going to be a negative for us,” Gibson said.

Cuts will be made to the budget, but Link said the District will probably run in the deficit for the next few years. Gibson added that the District’s reserves are strong, and they should be comfortable until state funding rebounds.

• The Board recognized Dr. Beth Emmendorfer for her work in the District. This month’s Board meeting was her last before her retirement. Emmendorfer worked for the District for 30 years and ended her career as the assistant superintendent of elementary and student services.

Both administrators and School Board members praised Emmendorfer for her commitment and integrity in her role. A scholarship in her honor had been put together by many of her colleagues and a brick that will stay in the District has been engraved with her name.

“This is just the best place to work,” Emmendorfer said. “It’s been a fun ride, and I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
• The Board approved the meal prices for students and the eligibility criteria for free and reduced lunch prices. Student meal prices stayed the same as last year.

Elementary lunch meals will cost $2.70 and elementary breakfast meals will cost $1.65 next year. Secondary students will pay $2.95 for lunch meals and $1.90 for breakfast. Reduction prices for those who qualify will be $0.40 for lunch and $0.30 for breakfast.

Meals that the District has been giving out during the shutdown have been reimbursed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Link said that the USDA meal reimbursements have already been approved through September and may be extended to the end of the next school year.

• The tuition rate for non-resident students was raised four percent, with the eventual goal to have the tuition rate equal the amount the district spends per student. The rate was set at $9,117 for next year.

According to Link, the District spent $9,677 per student during the most recent school year, but the tuition rate was set at $8,767. “We are actually letting students come across the line to our school for less money than it actually costs us to educate them,” Link said.

He said the increase in the per-student cost has increased in recent years due to hiring more teachers and implementing more technology for each student. Next year, the estimated cost per student is expected to be over $9,900.

Link said he didn’t want to increase it too much over one year and hurt surrounding school districts that pay tuition for high school students. Most of the 40 non-resident students are from the Nell Holcomb School District, although there are some non-resident students who are eligible to pay tuition because their family pays property tax in the District.

Link said he doesn’t expect to lose any students due to the increase in tuition, and they will increase the tuition over the next four or five years to get the tuition and per-student costs to be equal.

• Changes were made to several technology usage and personnel policies. The major update for the technology policies was adding a process for students, employees and other uses to request that a website be unblocked.

The personnel changes dealt with changes to required references and criminal background checks. Most of changes were due to the state’s House Bill 604 that passed last year.

The District is now required to seek a reference from the school where an applicant has been most recently employed, and to disclose to potential school employers if a former employee left the District due to allegations of sexual misconduct with a student. The criminal background check policy was changed to reflect that all volunteers left alone with students must undergo a background check.

Additionally, resignations of contracted staff no longer must go before the Board to become effective, and the Board must approve staff reassigned or transferred between schools if the employee’s compensation, benefits or contract is changed.

• Transportation bids were awarded for the coming school year. Co-Op Service Center in Jackson received a bid for gasoline and diesel fuel, Richardson Tire in Cape Girardeau received a bid for tires and Morgan Distributing in Jackson received a bid for oil, grease, transmission fluid and anti-freeze.

• An update to the District’s wellness policy was approved by the Board. The changes include setting Jessica Maxwell as the new wellness program coordinator and adding new breakfast and lunch nutrition guidelines. Each school is allowed five fundraisers per year where food and beverages may be sold, and teachers are encouraged to use non-food alternatives as rewards.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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