Crookston School Board, Long Range Planning Committee news and notes

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Crookston School Board and the district’s Long Range Planning Committee covered a handful of topics at their recent meetings. Here’s a look at some of the items discussed:

SUMMER SCHOOL

    When it came time for Crookston School District principal reports at the school board’s most recent meeting, the topic of summer school came up with board chair Frank Fee saying he hopes the district doesn’t give up on discussing it after hearing there could potentially be federal and state aid available. Superintendent Jeremy Olson said his admin team has “talked a little” on the matter and, while agreeing that summer school would “absolutely be a great thing”, he’s not sure if relying on summer school alone to curb learning loss will get the district to where they need to be.

    Olson noted that there has been a lot of learning loss as a result of school attendance and the district has supports in place such as the recently approved additional Title 1 teacher and their after school programs.

    “There’s not going to be a magic silver bullet; we aren’t going to put all our eggs in the basket for summer school,” Olson said candidly.

    School board member Mike Theis asked Highland Elementary School principal Chris Trostad about his school’s attendance and asked if he had seen any shifts recently. Trostad replied saying distance learning attendance has gone down “significantly” and “it’s getting harder and harder to get those kids on.”

    “We have no idea what those kids are doing on the other side of that screen and we’re trying to communicate with parents,” Trostad explained. “We’ve been pretty effective getting through to most students, but not hearing back from parents is concerning so we’re trying to step in and demand contact; it’s a major issue.”

    In a different light, Crookston High School principal Eric Bubna told the board he expected to see some “pretty big dips” from 7th and 8th grade math and reading scores but they came back a little better than they were expecting.

    “We appreciate the efforts the teachers are putting in to make distance learning possible,” Bubna added, as he expressed his feelings on the first week back with all grades in person at the high school minus those who continue to choose alternative learning. “It’s somewhat of a normal feel.”

STAFF VACCINATIONS

    Superintendent Olson mentioned his attitude at their last meeting was “a little despondent” in regards to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, but since then they’ve had 83 vaccinations in the course of days - “a nice supply all of a sudden came in to our school district.” Olson reported that every staff member that has opted to do so has received their first round of vaccinations and, overall, the process has gone “very well.”

    “I’m at a much better place now,” he admitted. “Once our staff are fully vaccinated then our staff will no longer have to quarantine if there’s a positive case.”

    Olson reminded the board about their “operational issues” in November 2020 and said they’ll have to consider how they’ll handle things should some staff become ill after their second round of vaccinations.

    When asked by school board member Dave Davidson how many staff have opted out of getting vaccinated, Olson said the numbers have changed and the district is close to 80% being vaccinated.

    “So the 20% who chose not to, how does that affect the 1 out of 5? How does it affect our operations at school?” Davidson wondered.

    “We’ve been clear with staff - you can be afraid of COVID or you can be afraid of the vaccine, you can’t be afraid of both,” Olson answered. “I’m not real concerned about that; each person has the right to opt in or opt out.”

NEW BUS GARAGE

    The district is in the process of moving into the new bus garage located behind Highland Elementary and Transportation/Building & Grounds Director Rick Niemela said he’s been hauling things back and forth, and it will take some time to completely operate out of the new garage. Olson added that some of the district’s “punch list items” for the new bus garage aren’t moving as quickly as they’d like, but they’re still planning on scheduling a showing first for the bus garage committee and then something will be set up for the public.

    When school board chair Frank Fee asked if buses are currently in the new garage, Niemela said some of the buses are and the new office is functional. Fee jokingly asked if all the buses fit in the new garage and Niemela answered that they will “eventually.”

    “I want you to walk through the new bus garage and then go immediately downtown and walk through the old bus garage,” Olson challenged the school board members. “I didn’t realize how bad things were; it was actually quite eye opening.”

CHS BUILDING SIGNAGE

    Superintendent Olson said in a phone call with the Times that when he first arrived in the district there were some discussions about exterior signage for Crookston High School like a lit sign on the curved wall and something for above the main entrance. Going through prior budget reductions had to put the idea on the back burner, but now, after last year’s “healthy fiscal year”, Olson and the Long Range Planning Committee are bringing signage back to the table with numbers and concepts.

    “We will go through slowly and get opinions, and what it might look like,” said Olson. “We’re walking through this methodically and will add it to the budget for the spring or summer.”

    Olson added that they’re considering a lit sign that might say something like “Crookston High School” on the curved wall and “Home of the Pirates” above the main entrance, but ideas are still being considered.

BUDGET PROJECTIONS

    Olson told the Times that nearly every quarter he communicates with the Long Range Planning Committee on budget projections with annual projections starting off month-to-month and then tracking the progress with deficits and surpluses, later actual expenditures replacing those projected numbers as a means to allow the district to see where they’re headed before the audit. Currently, the district is tracking for a “red” budget but nothing is “set in stone”, said Olson, and he wanted to prepare the committee at their last meeting.

    “If we are like we are on paper we will finish the year with a red budget,” he explained. “We did put some cushions in and we wanted to catch it before with an early warning if we would be in red territory.”

    Olson said budget projections currently have them at -$577,000, but numbers will be lower as they have some “padding” in the budget.

    “Where we saw that jump was in August and September when we had to purchase things like PPE (personal protective equipment) and masks, plus temperature checkers and other additional expenses we normally don’t have,” Olson described. “We do plan on ending the year in red territory, but much smaller than $577,000.”

    “I don’t believe at this point we have a structural budget issue,” he added.