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First days of school go smoothly

BEA Board also learns of shortage of bus drivers and other staff

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Sep 19, 2021

BEA teacher Robyn Beach-Olson welcomed students back to school last week, on Thursday, Sept. 9.

Blue Earth Area Schools got off to a good start to the new school year, superintendent Mandy Fletcher told the School Board at their meeting this past Monday night, Sept. 13.

“Grades eight to 12 started on Sept. 7, and grades kindergarten to seventh started two days later,” Fletcher said. “We were quite happy with how things went; it was pretty smooth.”

She mentioned that enrollment numbers are up at the school, but a final tally will be taken in October.

“We did see quite a few new faces, and there were new families bringing kiddos to school,” Fletcher said. “But the numbers change some in the first few weeks.”

She did say that another kindergarten class had to be added, making four total for this year.

The superintendent also gave a COVID update, explaining that all classes are in-person and masks are not mandatory but encouraged, except on the buses where masks are a federal mandate.

“We are keeping in weekly contact with both UHD Hospital and County Public Health as far as local COVID infection rates,” Fletcher reported. “And we are prepared to follow any changes by state or local entities.”

She said they are prepared to pivot if needed, and will keep parents and families informed of any necessary changes.

Fletcher said one of the biggest concerns this year is staffing, and that it is not just finding qualified teachers.

“We have managed to fill teaching positions, but there is an issue with finding bus drivers,” she explained. “We are going to advertise openings, and put a banner by the bus garage on Highway 169.”

The district has dropped one bus route, because of lack of drivers. Fletcher added that this is an issue in many area and statewide school districts.

School Board member Ted Armon volunteered to get his bus driver license and help out as needed.

Fletcher said several coaches have also volunteered to drive buses, but that it is difficult for the coaches as they do a lot of game prep work on the bus ride.

Another transportation issue is that the School District has $90,000 budgeted for two new vans, but the type of vans they need are not available and there is a six-month wait period to get one.

In other business at the meeting, the School Board:

• Passed a motion to set the preliminary levy amount at the maximum amount allowed by the state.

Each year the district does not have enough information to set an exact number, and Fletcher said the levy number will change several times before the actual amount is certified in December.

• Approved the 2021-2022 Literacy Plan, World’s Best Workforce Report, 2021 Fall Coaches list, and the Memorandum of Understanding with the Blue Earth Area Education Association.

Most of these are items which the board deals with each fall.

• Approved many personnel items, including accepting a resignation from Mikayla Wegner (elementary teacher) and the hirings of Naseem Shahrivar (special ed teacher), Danielle Johannsen (elementary teacher), Jade Foth (Jumpstart lead teacher), Gene Engelking (custodian), Sue Farrow, Megan Jammaron and Carly Passante (K-7 paraprofessionals), and Tani Anderson (high school paraprofessional).

Also approved the retirement of Konny Wolff (paraprofessional) and the contracts for LeAnn Boettcher (.75 FTE special ed evaluation specialist), and Lennie Holland and Dar Holmseth (long term subs).

• Heard a report from Alison Schmidt, the director of Curriculum and Instruction. She gave an update on several items, including the MCA report.

• Held an hour and a half work session before the regular meeting.

During the session the board looked over the Visions Card information, discussed the board’s goals for the year, and talked about ideas to get more involvement of board members in the community.

The board also discussed adding one or two student representatives on the School Board, and decided to open it up to applications from juniors and seniors due by Oct. 20, interview several of the candidates and have a student in place by the Nov. 8 meeting.

The board also was updated on the progress of getting the four different types of Buccaneer mascots down to just one standard mascot.

With student input, this should be done by end of February or early March.