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Board discusses expansion of School-To-You program

By James Grob,

Attending class from home might not just be a temporary tactic employed to battle safety considerations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For certain students, it might be the best way to learn.

This according to David Voves, Charles City’s School-To-You coordinator, who presented information regarding the program to the Charles City School District Board of Directors at Monday’s meeting. School-To-You is a state-mandated online learning option that will be available for the entire school year.

“This is to serve our families, maybe because of a health constraint, or maybe because they want to experience a different type of learning,” Voves said. “We continue to be invitational, and we are starting to get students who are outside of the Charles City School District.”

Voves told the board that currently about 235 students in the Charles City School District — about 15 percent of total enrollment — are choosing to attend class virtually, via School-To-You. The students represent all grade levels.

“That number has been pretty consistent,” Voves said. “We’ve seen it range from 15 to 19 percent since the very beginning.”

While School-To-You is Charles City’s response to COVID-19, Voves said that there are more and more families and students who are interested in attending classes off-campus. He said that some other schools in northeast Iowa have already created “virtual campuses.”

Voves said the School-To-You program is serving a third grader whose family moved to Chicago, but she still gets her education from Charles City. Another elementary student, who lives in Omaha, is planning on moving with her family to Charles City in the spring, and she began her education in Charles City virtually at the start of the school year.

Voves said there is also a high school student who shares homes between her parents, one in Charles City and one in Wisconsin, and she can continue her education in Charles City while she is with her parent in Wisconsin.

“We can use this program to continue to drive our enrollment numbers up as well as meet the needs of our families,” Voves said.

Charles City educators Marie Conklin and Scotti Hagensick were also at the meeting Monday to describe the program in more detail.

“I’m very pleased to hear the idea of expanding this and keeping it around, hopefully past COVID, if we ever get done with it,” said school board Vice President Pat Rottinghaus. “I just think it provides an experience that some kids need and want, rather than the typical classroom experience.”

In other business Monday, superintendent Mike Fisher provided an update on COVID-19 in the district. Fisher told the board that the district has had just one case reported in the last three weeks, and that there are some individuals in the district who are under quarantine, but those numbers have remained relatively low compared to earlier in the school year.

“We feel like our students are making wiser decisions, and we continue to implore them to do that,” Fisher said. “We are coming into cold and flu season, so we can’t let our guard down.”

Also at the meeting:

• The board discussed district COVID-19 leave. At the Aug. 8 meeting, the board established a District COVID leave bank and donated 500 days to the bank to be used after an employee exhausts all other available leaves for long-term COVID illnesses.

• Terri O’Brien, director of finance, led discussion on how the district has used instructional support levy funds in the past. O’Brien said the district has purchased miscellaneous supplies, classroom furniture, copiers, software, band equipment, textbooks and library books, among many other things.

O’Brien explained that In 2005, when the district increased the levy from 4% to 7%, the additional 3% was used for salaries and benefits. This allowed the district to avoid expenditure reductions during the times of declining enrollment and/or low supplemental state aid.

The instructional support levy allows funding to be generated through income surtax rather than property tax, if approved by the voters.

• The board approved a memorandum of understanding with the CCCESA that amends the number of employee hours forgiven when school is cancelled for students from two to three days. Any days missed beyond the three days may be made up so there is no loss of pay.

• The board approved a memorandum of understanding with the CCCESA for the creation of voluntary donations of sick and personal leave from one staff member to another. The CCCESA, teacher association, added this wording one year ago, and the district wants to create equity between the two associations.

• The board approved the second reading of board policy 101, the educational philosophy, mission of the school district.

• The board approved the 2021 Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) legislative resolutions. Director Scott Dight will attend the IASB annual meeting and delegate assembly virtually and vote on the district’s behalf.

• The board approved the appointment of Danielle Bonnstetter, Central Services office assistant, at a wage of $10 per hour, effective Oct. 27.

• The board approved the appointment of Karleen Sickman, girls basketball mentor coach, at a salary of $3,000.

• The board heard from Harry Heiligenthal, Iowa Association of School Boards, who joined the meeting virtually for training on ​“How to Have Difficult Conversations with Grace.”