Mandates could tighten Tonasket Elementary space even more

TONASKET – Early projections for 2014-15 enrollment still look solid, said Superintendent Paul Turner at the Monday, April 28, Tonasket School District Board meeting. And while that is good news for staying the course for next year’s budget, it continues to highlight the district’s facilities needs.

“We’re excited about how our year has gone (with steady enrollment),” Turner said. “We’re averaging 1,078, and in April we were at 1,066 FTE/ Also remember that we’re expecting that 1066 to be right at 1,050 for next year. But we’ve had a very good kindergarten enrollment we’re excited about.”

The district budgeted for 1,030 students this year and 1,050 next year, with the higher estimated number intended to compensate for the fact that the increased staffing is being paid for by dollars from the new levy that won’t start coming to the district until the middle of the next school year.

The number of students the district serves, however, has been the topic of some discussion in the community as to why it has become difficult to house 300 fewer students in the facility built in the late 1990s.

Board member Ty Olson asked what the answer to that question was.

Turner said it was a combination of having to meet state standards of increased programming options while at the same time meeting lower student-teacher ratio requirements. He added that the space squeeze will only get worse even if enrollment holds steady.

“We have four classes per grade level which we didn’t have before. We didn’t have all-day kindergarten and we didn’t have pre-school in the building. … The state is looking at looking at kindergarten through second or third grade to a 17:1 (student-teacher) ratio. Instead of being 23:1 (where it is now).

“When we’re looking at facilities, the way this plays out, we may need to have a different conversation with the elementary.”

As Board Member Lloyd Caton observed, “That would create four more classrooms.”

Turner added that he had the opportunity to give Sen. Brian Dansel a tour of the TSD facilities.

“Jerry (Asmussen, Board President) and I took took him around, met with student and staffs,” Turner said. “We talked extensively about our facility issues and the needs we have and the overcrowding. It was a good visit; he does see our needs. What comes of that we’ll have to wait and see.”

Group Work Camp visit approved

The board approved the use of the facilities by Group Work Camps during the summer of 2015, a non-denominational faith-based group that will be visiting the area to do work projects for elderly or veterans that are unable or can’t afford to do those things on their own. The group, which is doing the same thing in Okanogan this summer, is having its visit facilitated by Community Action, and executive director Lael Duncan made the request at the previous board meeting.

“They will be footing the bill while they come and work for our veterans and elderly,” Turner said. “For the district there is no cost, and they have plenty of liability insurance. It’s definitely a win situation.”

Olson said he was concerned about the economic impact on those who do “handyman” type work in the area.

“I’m very much in favor of helping or elderly, our veterans, anyone that’s in need,” he said. “My concern is we live in an area that is challenged economically. There’s an entire level of business that is done … not by companies like mine, but people that are handymen, who do what they can to get by. They don’t charge as much as mainstream frontline companies, but it is part of their income to do these small projects and small jobs… A lot of those folks that make a bit of their income from these types of jobs pay taxes. They’re part of the levy and bond.”

Turner said he didn’t think that most of those who would be having work done would even be paying for those kinds of services.

“We’re talking about very low income as far as who would get the assistance,” he said. “I’d (say) it’s going to be a matter of something getting fixed or not fixed at all for someone on a very tight income.”

Presentations

There were a number of presentations put before the board, including Trevor Terris’s ASB report; a presentation by Chelsea Freeman’s Alternative High School class; and reports by each of the adminstrative staff.

Elementary principal Jeremy Clark said during his report that staff that participated in “learning walk-throughs,” part of the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Process, gained insight from the 90-minute task.

“That was a great opportunity to use the Marzano framework, discussing learning rigor and reflecting on their own practice,” Clark said. “Some of the most powerful insights I heard were from the teachers that are non-TPEP evaluates right now. There was a big sense of relief … that we’re going to be OK with this. The conversations around classroom practice were great.”

Special Education Director Liz Stucker said the special education/life skills restructuring was underway, including a move to the middle school building due to the lack of available space in the elementary.

“Parents are being notified and we’re having conversations about the shift,” she said. “We’ll have to amend IEPs and discuss the schedule in between the two buildings.

“Also LAP (Learning Assistance Funds) will be allowed to stay in the program from one more year. We will be able to implement some of the (state-mandated funds) this year, but the funds won’t be pulled out of the school-wide programs … for one more year. It gives us the opportunity to make the shift and identify the cost of funds that have to be pulled out, but it will be an easier transition.”

The board board also approved the technology committee and the instructional materials plans; approved a number of readings of various district policies that are currently being updated and revised; and approved the purchase of a new natural gas-fueled bus to replace one of its diesel vehicles, which will be sold to another district.

The meeting was delayed for about half an hour due to an executive session to deal with a student discipline issue.

The school board next meets on Monday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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