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Jackson schools receive clean audit

The Jackson R-2 School Board approved an audit by Beussink, Hey, Roe & Stroder during its regular November meeting. Auditor Jeff Stroder said the District received a clean audit report and the District’s finances statements were fairly stated.

Stroder said the Board should feel confident in the reliability with the financial statements the District has, saying his team did not have to make any adjustments to the financial records during the audit process.

“We did not make any adjustments at all to your financial statements, and that’s incredibly rare,” Stroder said. “I issue more than 100 reports every year, and I can count on one hand the number of times we were able to put a clean opinion on financial statements without any adjustments at all to the numbers.”

Stroder said there were a few issues found through the audit, all of which were minor and all of which have been addressed by the District. The issues included a communication gap for reporting to the state the number of hours students receive homebound assistance. Stroder said this was the first year this was mandatory to audit and it was an issue with every district he audited.

Other issues found was that a random sampling of free or reduced meal applications that the District tested should have been just applications from families near the cutoff, and that the District did not have an internal control in place to make sure the District did not use unapproved vendors using federal funds.

Stroder said the District did not use any excluded vendors using federal funding, but did not have a process in place to make sure. He added that this requirement was not pointed out in the grant agreements, so it was unlikely anyone in the District would have know this was required without special training.

“In my opinion, these were not big deals,” Stroder said. “All three of them have already been addressed and already taken care of.”

Superintendent Dr. John Link said this was the first time this firm audited the District, so minor issues were likely to be found. “I’m happy that he found something,” Link said. “We’ve had the same auditor for years and years, and we wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything.”

In other action:

• The Board approved a program evaluation for the District’s English Language Learners program, which helps students for whom English is not their first language or whose home language is not English.

The Jackson District currently has 37 students identified as English language learners and an additional 13 students have been moved to monitor status as English learners.

English learner teacher Lana Piner said the District doesn’t currently have any students who are beginning English learners who have just arrived to the United States. She stated that is probably due to people limiting travel due to COVID-19.

Piner and English learner paraprofessional Gail Estes work with students and teachers to help these students learn English and succeed at school.

“We don’t just teach students,” Piner said. “We work with teachers too, and we do a lot of collaboration.” She added that in the past five years, English Learners programs have switched from pulling students out of the classroom to having EL teachers come into the classroom.

“When you pull a child out, they are missing what is going on in the classroom,” Piner said. “You want them to be learning that language along with the content, and that’s what our students do from pre-K to high school seniors.”

Piner and Estes are working with students face-to-face and with students who are participating in the Ignite Online program. “We have been Zooming separately with a couple of our EL first graders and they’re rocking their math, they’re rocking ELA and science and it’s just exciting to see that happening,” Piner said.

There are currently 10 languages represented in Jackson schools – Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Portuguese, Konkani (Indian dialect), Polish, Thai, Arabic and English.

Piner said they are currently putting together a plan with the Cape Girardeau Public School District for smaller districts in the area to use. Piner said they have had smaller districts reach out to them when they receive their first English learner student and don’t know what to do. “We are just trying to share information out and give those districts some guidance,” Piner said.

• The Board approved an evaluation for the District’s transportation program. The District has 73 buses that run about 3,000 miles each school day.

All buses have two inspections a year – one in March done by the State Highway Patrol and one in July done by the District’s certified inspectors. Drivers also attended monthly safety meetings.

Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder said last year the District averaged 2,900 students riding the bus. “We haven’t gotten to that level yet this year, but the numbers are creeping up. The longer we go, the more kids that are riding the bus,” he said.

Kinder said they are currently running around 58 bus routes a day. “The routes are flouting right now because of our driver shortage,” he said. Kinder said Director of Transportation Carol Woods and the District’s mechanics have been driving some of the routes during the driver shortage.

Board Member Greg Farrow asked how many drivers were needed to be fully staffed. Kinder replied that “if we had four more solid ones, that would help. Six would be even better.”

Kinder said many of the bus drivers are older and are at risk to getting COVID-19. “We have a driver who’s really ill right now,” he said. “It has not been traced back to a school event, but it has really hit home this week.”

• First grade students from North Elementary performed their American symbols musical for the Board. The students dressed up in Revolutionary-era outfits, with some of the students dressed up as American symbols such as the Statue of Liberty, the bald eagle, the American flag and the Liberty Bell.

Usually students would have gone into the community to perform this musical presentation, but face-to-face performances were limited this year because of COVID-19.

• Two positions on the School Board will be open for the general municipal election on April 6, 2021. Both positions are three-year terms. The two seats are currently held by Board President Kelly Waller and Sheila King. Both Board members have told The Cash-Book Journal they are still considering whether they will run for reelection.

Filing for the School Board seats will begin at 8 a.m. on Dec. 15 and will end at 5 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2021. Candidates will be able to visit the Board of Education office at 614 E. Adams Street in Jackson to file.

• The Board approved a new roof for the old C Building at Jackson High School, replacing a 24-year-old roof that is out of warranty.

“During the COVID break, at one point we had a massive leak,” Kinder said. “We tried to patch it, but what is happening is that the roof is coming loose. The right kind of storm could suck the whole roof off.”

Kinder said District staff has patched it for the time being, but he worries every time there is a big storm. Teachers in affected classrooms have had to be moved. He added that if the roof was installed properly, it should have lasted for another 10 years.

The approved bid was $230,000 from CWC Roofing in St. Louis for a mechanically attached rubber roof. Kinder added CWC Roofing would also add more insulation.

Kinder said the new roof will be installed in May or June after school lets out. He added that the District has already planned on replacing the windows on the outside of the building this summer.

• The District approved a bid for Burnett Landscape Management for lawn mowing throughout the District for 2021 and 2022, with an option to continue to contract for a third year.

In 2020, the District split lawn-mowing services between Burnett Landscape Management and DJ Landscaping & Lawn Care. Kinder said the Burnett has gotten great reviews throughout the District and outbid DJ Landscaping.

• The Board approved a statement of support for changing community college service regions. The District is currently in Three Rivers Community College’s service region and the proposed change would allow the District to relocate to Mineral Area College’s service region.

Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy said Mineral Area College is currently working with Southeast Missouri State University for its students to take Southeast classes while being a Mineral Area College student. Lacy said that means students could use their A+ program funds while taking Southeast classes.

He added that dual credit classes through Mineral Area College cost $58 per credit hour, while Southeast and Three Rivers classes cost around $95 per credit hour. “There is no obligation on our end to do classes with MAC, but if we do, it would save our kids a tremendous amount of money.”

Lacy said by approving the statement of support, District staff can start talks with Mineral Area College. He added that the school can still do dual-credit classes directly with Southeast.

• The Board approved changes to 13 District policies and rescinded an additional policy. The policy on the admission of exchange students was rescinded and will now just be a District procedure.

Changes were made to the policies covering sexual harassment under Title IX, salary deductions, family and medical leave, staff grievances, professional staff positions and fringe benefits, support staff positions and fringe benefits, evaluating principals, support staff and the superintendent, speakers at district events and work certificates.

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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