(PHOTO BY BILL O’CONNELL, STAFF)
By: Bill O’Connell
Attempting to conduct business as close to usual as possible, the Swanton Board of Education (BOE) held their first meeting since Ohio Governor Mike DeWine began implementing state-wide social distancing measures to battle the spread of the COVID 19 virus which included the closure of all public schools.
All BOE members were in attendance and able to participate as were Superintendent Chris Lake and District Treasurer Joyce Kinsman, by way of a Facebook Live Video Broadcast, an internet program that also allowed members of the public to remotely attend.
Ms. Kinsman began the meeting by giving a financial update that dated back to February because of the cancellation of the March BOE meeting. She asked the Board to approve the transfer of Nexus Pipeline tax money, $291,730, from the General Fund to the Permanent Improvement Fund but also informed the Board that Nexus was appealing to the Ohio Department of Taxation to lower other local tax obligations.
The Nexus tax money was significant enough to warrant a change in the Five-Year Forecast, however, without a decision of the tax appeal and the unknown of the financial impact of the pandemic, the forecast has become very cloudy.
Mr. Lake then addressed the District’s response to the adversity placed on it by the State of Ohio’s directives to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic.
“I want to start off by giving a huge thank you to my administrative team and the entire staff of the district for making this transition to this school closure incredibly smooth,” he said, “The admin team met for the first time on March 11 to discuss our options for keeping school moving forward should we be forced to close. By March 12 we were informed that school would be closed for three weeks, and we needed to have a plan immediately.
Without missing a beat, the team ran through all our options and by Friday we were implementing a transition to online learning for our students. The work that the teachers put in over the next three days is nothing short of remarkable. It was truly inspiring to see how all the teachers jumped right into the task of adapting to this new reality and all the while their main concern was doing their best for the students.
So, in only three school days Swanton Local Schools moved all of their learning online, and we did all of this without needing ODE (Ohio Department of Education) to tell us how to do it. Currently all students in grades K-12 have a Chromebook at their disposal, thanks to the hard work of the tech department, and their teachers have already created many amazing lessons for them to work on. This is a great example of what happens when you have intelligent, talented people and you stay out of their way!
I also need to thank Christian Martinez, all of our wonderful food service staff and our bus drivers for the work they have put in to help keep our students fed during this time. Before the Governor closed schools, Christian came to me and said that we could provide meals for the kids for as long as we needed.
This program was put into place on Monday March 16, literally one work day after the announced school closure. The district delivers two meals a day to four locations around the community, and we will continue to do so for as long as we can.
I would be remiss if I did not also thank Charlene Blankenship and Chris Elliot who have insured that the Backpack Buddies food program will continue to be of service to our students during this time.
Finally, I want to thank our awesome custodians who are using this time to disinfect the buildings and work on a laundry list of projects. I can’t wait for the kids to return and see all of your hard work.
As a superintendent you are only as good as the people you have around you. I can proudly say that there is no finer group of people than the staff of the Swanton Local School District. They have always put kids first and this crisis makes that abundantly clear.
There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the remainder of the school year and graduation is the topic most on the minds of our seniors and their parents. I want to assure every senior that we will find a way to hold a graduation ceremony for you at some point in 2020.
Mr. (Jason) Longbrake, Mr. (Anthony) Menna and I have been looking at all the possible scenarios for how the year might play out, and we have decided to aim for an August date as the earliest possible time and by holding the ceremony outside in the football stadium we could still provide social distance for those in attendance.
I am asking for seniors and their families to keep the first three Sundays of August open on their calendar. We realize this might not be ideal, but we are committed to providing you with a graduation ceremony so you can make those memories that last a lifetime.
The legislature passed a bill two weeks ago which put an end to state testing for this year for all grade levels. Most significantly the test for the third-grade reading guarantee will not take place and all of our third-grade students can be advanced to the next grade level. The recently passed legislation also address the Edchoice debacle for next year.
The current list of ‘failing schools’ has been frozen for the 20-21 school year which means that Swanton will not be on the list of eligible schools! Edchoice will continue to be debated next year and public school advocates will need to continue to fight to keep this misguided program from destroying our funding.”
Board President, Steve Brehmer, inquired about the financial options of the school’s employees. “How does the government relief package affect our workers that have been laid off?”, he asked. “I don’t think the system’s worked really well with the amount of people trying to apply for unemployment. I feel their frustration on that.”
Ms. Kinsman replied that most of the school’s employees are on a 260-day contract and will continue to get paid. Others are eligible to apply for unemployment and, while checks may be delayed because of the overwhelming volume of applicants, the payments will be dated from the time of the layoff.
Mr. Lake then addressed how well the online schooling was working. “By and large most of the kids are logging on and doing their work. Some are not. We are tracking them,” he said. “We have some kids that haven’t logged on or done anything.
Some have logged on and done everything for every teacher except maybe one class.” Mr. Lake said teachers and administrators are making phone calls to parents and students to encourage them to complete their assignments.
“We’re doing our best to reach out. Our biggest concern is for seniors who were not on track to graduate in March. As of March 17th, there are probably about less than a dozen of those kids,” he estimated. “Had we been in school we would have had them ready to graduate because they would have been with us and we would have put them on credit recovery.
Now that they’re on their own its been more difficult. Again, high school administration has reached out directly to those folks. We’ve sent some letters home and have let them know that its very important that they get this stuff done if they intend to graduate. We are on it. It’s been our number one priority.”
The next meeting will be held on May 20, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. most likely using the Facebook Live Streaming Video again.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com