Despite a snowstorm for much of the day, a near capacity audience assembled when the Manawa School Board met Monday, Feb. 17.
Four residents addressed the board about their concerns regarding what is taking place in the district, as well as the image of the district.
Jackie Beyer, town clerk for the town of Little Wolf, shared with the board some of the discussion that took place at the most recent town of Little Wolf meeting.
“Taxpayers are not happy,” Beyer said.
She urged all board members to be part of the decisions that are made.
She deferred the rest of her time to Manawa Mayor John Smith.
Smith started his comments by stating he had requested to be on the agenda for the school board meeting, but that request was denied. Later in his comments he stated he was offered a private meeting with two of the board members and District Administrator Ed Dombrowski.
“That I denied. I don’t want that,” Smith said. “My comments should be heard by everybody.”
During his public comments, which lasted around 10 minutes, Smith talked about his concerns with the image the school district with the general public. He also talked about the issue of low morale in the district, and teacher turnover.
“A lot of people have left now and taken jobs for less money in other districts,” Smith said.
Smith said the board often refers to Act 10 as a reason for some of the turnover. But Smith added that when he has spoken with teachers who have left, Act 10 is not given as a reason for leaving.
Smith also told the board that he is alarmed when he talks to parents and they tell him they don’t want to stand up and be heard by the board.
“They feel as though their children are going to pay with retaliation in the end,” Smith said. “That’s not just one parent, I saw 10 parents in the last week, since the Little Wolf board meeting.”
After Smith’s comments, Kurt Kreklow, board president, said Smith had a lot to offer. Kreklow also said this was the first time he had heard some of those remarks. Kreklow recommended inviting Smith to a Policy and Personnel Committee meeting to get more details from Smith.
Michael and Holly Gray each addressed the board regarding their son, who is a student in the district. Their concerns revolved around issues their son is having within the district getting the special teaching his doctor has recommended.
Holly Gray added that the school district isn’t giving her any answers.
Michael Gray asked why the district isn’t following the plan the doctors put together.
After their comments, Kreklow said the district will follow-up with the family.
Four board members spoke during the board comments portion of the meeting. Board member Stephanie Flynn commented about employee turnover in the district.
She said she reviewed records regarding turnover in other districts since 2010.
“The public records show movement throughout the school year among all six districts,” Flynn said.
Board member Helene Pohl also spoke about turnover in the district.
“I have expressed concerns as well and appreciate the work done by Miss Flynn demonstrating that the percentage of folks leaving our district is proportionately the same as other neighboring districts,” Pohl said. “I want to reassure the public that I have interviewed personally each one who has left the district and the Personnel and Policy Committee is looking at a more formal exit interview process to make sure we keep improving as a district.”
Kreklow informed the board that he followed up with a resident who spoke at the January board meeting about the image of the school district.
Board member Paul Sturm said, “I’d like to begin my statement by reminding everyone here what is truly important in this district, and that is student achievement.”
He then addressed the comments from the first couple of speakers during the public comments portion of the meeting, and the comments made at the town of Little Wolf meeting.
“First, I’d to make it clear to those who might not be following what is going on in the district that we have an organized campaign taking place by a relatively small group of people who I characterize as friends and family of disgruntled ex-employees of the district,” Sturm said. “These are the people you may have heard around town making a number of accusations stating half truths, mixed with personal opinions, as well as things that are flat-out wrong. Sadly, these people have used these misstatements to recruit a number of well-intentioned folks to their cause.”
Sturm went on to state that the “continuation of the campaign” was being witnessed at the board meeting.
He cited that the research done by Flynn proves the turnover in Manawa is comparable to the surrounding districts. He said most of the turnover in the district was due to retirements or resignations for reasons not involving problems with the administration.
“Again, the facts do not support the narrative many of you have been given,” Sturm said.
Sturm said he was disappointed people didn’t get both sides of the story before making public statements.
“I can tell you for certain not a single one of these people approached me to try and get their facts straight,” Sturm added.
Sturm commented about what is implied to those teachers hired to fill a vacancy created by a teacher leaving.
“What messages are they sending to the dedicated and energetic new teachers hired recently,” Sturm said.
Sturm addressed the subject of property values in regards to turnover, which he said was brought up at the town of Little Wolf meeting. He said the board instituted annual stipends to administrators who moved their residence to the district. He added that the board proposed paying a residency bonus to teachers for residing in the district, as well as a bonus to teachers outside the district who bring their children to school in the Manawa School District.
“Honestly, I’d like to see the elected officials from the city of Manawa and town of Little Wolf stop their misinformed criticism of the district and work with us constructively to improve it,” Sturm said.
Regarding morale, Sturm said he found in board minutes that people have been speaking about poor morale since the summer of 2009. He said the board and the administration are not the same as they were in 2009, but poor morale is still being discussed.
“Morale is an issue in most school districts and it is not solved with simple solutions like raising salaries or firing administrators, as some have suggested,” Sturm said. “I want to make it clear that the board and the administration are well aware of the issues and concerns of our staff.”
Employee morale is a complex issue, and can’t be solved with a quick fix, Sturm added.
“If we are going to grow the district and strengthen the communities it encompasses, we’re going to have to start sitting down and speaking directly to one another,” Sturm said.
District administrator report
Dombrowski informed the board that for 2014-15 school year, the district currently has eight students open enrolling out of the district and one student open enrolling into the district.
Dombrowski said the district has put together some programs regarding medical administration. He said this topic came up at the last board meeting.
Dombrowski informed the board that he contacted by phone and had a conversation with the parent who wrote a letter to the board regarding a medical issue with her son. This parent also attended the January board meeting. He also asked the other parent, who is an employee of the district, if there were other issues. Dombrowski said the employee told him there were no other issues.
STAR testing results
Little Wolf High School Dean of Students, James Quinn presented to the board a summary of the 2013-14 winter STAR testing results.
The seventh grade reading score increased from 6.7 in the fall to 7.3 in the winter. The math score increased from 6.8 to 7.9.
Eighth graders saw their reading scores increase from 7.3 to 7.7. Their math scores increased from 7.8 to 9.
Freshmen increased their reading scores from 8.5 to 9.1. Their math scores increased from 9.5 to 11.9.
Sophomores increased their reading scores from 9.3 to 9.4. Their math scores went from 12.5 to 12.9+. A 12.9+ is the highest possible score.
4K early entry
Tammy Sjoberg, Manawa Elementary School principal, informed the board that the language coordinator with CESA 6 informed the district there is no formal test for 4K. The coordinator referred to a Standard Based Report Card to see where the child was at in terms of skill level. The test was given in the child’s native language.
Sjoberg said the coordinator’s recommendation was to wait until next school year to admit the child to 4K. One of the reasons being the child had not developed the skills in her own language.
“Therefore, putting the child in an English language environment without a one-on-one aide would present a lot of difficulties for that child,” Sjoberg said.
The CESA 6 representative gave the parents some resources to help the child prepare for 4K, Sjoberg said.
When it came time to approve the 4K early entrance request, board member David Strebe made a motion to approve the request. The motion did not receive a second, so it did not go to a vote.
• The board unanimously approved the 2014-15 school calendar. The option the board approved was the second option presented at the January school board meeting.
• The board unanimously approved a contract and non-renewal for Michael Kelleher as long-term substitute chemistry/science teacher for 2013-14.
• The board unanimously approved hiring Tammi Mitchell as ES food service aide.
• The board unanimously approved hiring Valerie Johnson as long-term sub for special education aide.
• The board unanimously approved hiring Nick Hericks as athletic director.
• The board unanimously approved the spring sports coaches for 2013-14.
• The board unanimously approved changing the start time of the March school board meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. to help accommodate Manawa City Council members wishing to attend the school board meeting.