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Crookston School Board accepts CARES Act funds, adjusts 2020-21 calendar at special meeting

Jess Bengtson
jbengtson@crookstontimes.com

    The Crookston School Board accepted CARES Act funding at their special meeting Wednesday morning which includes a budget prepared by Superintendent Jeremy Olson that has money set aside for a third Title I teacher plus cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for the district. The board also approved an adjustment to the 2020-2021 academic calendar and a three-year contract with Olson, who reportedly told board members of opportunities elsewhere he may be interested in pursuing should they become available.

CARES ACT FUNDING

    Superintendent Olson told the board that adding a third Title I teacher with CARES Act funds would bolster reading and math to boost metrics for students who may have “fallen backwards” during distance learning. When questioned, Olson said the Title teacher would target younger grade levels with the focus being on Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade and office space will be created for that new teacher.

    He added that they’re also looking to use CARES Act funds for the loss of technology and filtering for current technology, plus administrative fees for handling the grant would be included.

    Board chair Frank Fee, later, asked Olson if, “god forbid”, the district has to go back to distance learning only during the upcoming school year if every student will be able to have internet access, and Olson answered that he can’t make any promises. Olson said the district has purchased 10 “hot spots” (portable internet-providing devices) to loan to students and he’s working with providers to see what they can do and cannot do for internet access.

    “Hot spots are costly because you pay for the device and the wireless bill for the hot spots, but we did budget for 10 hot spots if we can’t find another way to get internet,” Olson explained. “When talking with providers, it doesn’t seem like there will be a widespread no-cost option (for student internet access) like we had in the spring.”

    At the end of Wednesday’s special meeting, board member Mike Theis asked about technology loss and accountability from distance learning that occurred during the 2019-2020 school year and Olson stated there are currently $37,000 worth of electronic devices still out on loan, but they’re working on a mode to recover those devices.

    “$37,000 is a lot of money; we do have some that are broken and some were accidental,” Olson admitted. “We will be mandating that families bring those (devices) back and we are on step one of a maybe four-step process.”

    Olson answered other questions about CARES Act funding from board members that included the general fund, teacher’s salaries should they get sick with the COVID-19 virus, and “World’s Best Workforce” and achievement gap problem solving.

2020-2021 ACADEMIC CALENDAR

    Superintendent Olson said the upcoming school year in Crookston is the first time he’s come to reduce instruction days and increase staff development days, but felt staff needed early August workshop days for technology training and safety training, plus modeling discussions. The state will be informing schools what model of education will be used in late July for the upcoming school year which could include three options: (1) All in-class instruction, (2) Hybrid of in-class instruction and distance learning, or (3) Distance learning only.

    Crookston School District’s 2020-2021 academic calendar changes include staff workshop days August 11-12 and a workshop day June 1, 2021 versus June 3, 2021, plus the last day of classes for students would be May 28, 2021 (before Memorial Day) versus June 2, 2021.

    “Kids would get out before Memorial Day which I think our families would appreciate,” Olson explained. “We would do additional training for staff and get classrooms set up before the year begins, plus figure out any last-minute things or changes to our existing plan.”

    Board member Dave Davidson mentioned that the academic calendar would still need to be approved by the CEA, Crookston Education Association, which would be voted on later Wednesday, and the board’s vote would be contingent on the CEA’s approval.

OLSON CONTRACT

    Board member Tim Dufault, who served on Superintendent Jeremy Olson’s contract negotiations team, said their recent meeting involved “pretty reasonable negotiations” and there were good reviews on Olson’s performance which made it “easier going forward with this.” Dufault added that negotiations were able to be “hammered out” in one session before Fee said that Dr. Olson stated there were some jobs “out there” that Olson may be interested in if they came up. Fee said Olson told them he would give the district “ample notice” if he were to want out of his contract.

    Davidson asked Olson about a law that holds the board from keeping an employee in contract should they give notice about another job and Olson explained there is a “breach of contract” issue if the district wanted to pursue it, but generally it’s not pursued in Minnesota as there is a “high bar” and the district would have to show damages. Olson mentioned that he does everything to promote Crookston and make it look good before Fee said the district has had three “very good years” with Dr. Olson and hopes they have four more years with him.