The California R-1 Board of Education met its state requirement to implement a COVID-19 return-to-school plan with only a few days to spare.
The board approved a Safe Return to In-Person and Continuity of Services Plan (SRCSP) on Wednesday. The state required action on its reentry plan from the board before the academic year started Monday.
During the meeting, the board decided to leave tax rates the same as last year, considered starting a girls soccer program and revisited a proposed bell tower.
The SRCSP is required by state law to be updated every six months.
Earlier this year, Missouri health officials declared COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic, but is an endemic, meaning it remains in the community, but transmission is somewhat contained and the disease is no longer stressing the state's health infrastructure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines. The board discussed how to update the SRCSP to match.
The board agreed to change guidelines surrounding quarantine and masking requirements, seating charts and water fountains. Students no longer have to stay home if a close contact, such as a family member, tests positive. Students will still be required to stay home if they test positive, and can only return after five days if they are showing signs of improvement without a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (not treated with medicine). Students will be required to regularly receive COVID-19 tests for a short period following their return.
California High School Principal Jeff West said it's imperative students can remain in the classroom.
"I worked in a community where kids were isolated for a long, long time," West said. "I'm not saying COVID is not dangerous, but isolation, in my opinion, is far more dangerous because of the long-lasting effects of not being in school and not being with friends."
The Missouri State High School Activities Association has relinquished control of "Return to Play" guidelines for athletes to individual districts.
The board set tax rates for the 2022-23 school year at the meeting.
According to information published on the school district's BoardDocs web page, a new portal streamlining access to board documents, the district submits tax forms for the district's operating levy and debt service levy to the state auditor for review and approval. The operating tax levy ceiling, including the incidental, teacher and capital projects funds, are evaluated based on adjustments to State Assessed Railroad and Utility (SARRU) revenue as well as the district's locally-assessed valuation. The debt service levy is based on the next two years of bond payments, current assessed valuation and the existing account balance.
The district's SARRU revenue decreased, while the operating levy ceiling increased.
Williams recommended keeping both levies at the same rate. This is in part to keep the promise (to no further increase taxes) made for the 2020 Bond Issue, which helped make the addition at California Elementary and Middle schools a reality.
"Many people ... don't recognize that the true law behind this is it's no-debt-service tax levy increase when you run those bond issues, so you could increase your operating levy. If you had a fund 2 or a fund 4 levy you could increase those as well," he said. "That's just not my philosophy. I think if we run a no tax increase bond issue, you don't put it in fine print that it's debt service."
In a no-tax-increase bond issue, only debt service levies (or fund 3) cannot be increased. Fund 1, or the operating levy, can be increased up to a ceiling approved by voters. Fund 2 or fund 4 levies, which contains funds for teacher salaries and capital improvements respectively, can also be increased. The district does not have a fund 2 or fund 4 levy.
The board agreed with Williams and voted to maintain the current levy.
The board revisited discussion on a bell tower proposed by a California alum. The individual, a member of the class of 1975, inquired about donating the bell tower after seeing a tradition at a Kansas school where students would ring the bell on the first day of their freshman year and when they graduate. The board tabled the discussion last month to acquire more information.
The board vocalized concerns over the proposed location for the 20-foot tower and its purpose.
Board member Brandy Brockes said funding could be used more wisely. She also said she was concerned about the maintenance costs for a bell tower.
"I wish that amount of money could be used for something more useful in the school," she said. "... That's a large amount that could be put toward a program."
Superintendent Daniel Williams said he would not be in favor of creating a tradition for the bell.
"I would let that (a tradition) play out on its own," he said.
The board again tabled discussion on the bell tower to get more information and to see if the donor would be willing to compromise on design and location.
The board also revisited the idea of adding girls soccer at California schools. The primary concern about adding a girls soccer program is a lack of interest and participation. But, the cost is also a challenge.
Some board members were concerned the addition of a new program might place other activities already struggling with finding participants, such as track, further in the red.
Williams said a limited number of conference schools offering girls soccer might mean California would face larger competitors, such as schools in Columbia or Jefferson City. Only four Tri-County Conference schools offer girls soccer -- Blair Oaks, Southern Boone, Boonville and Osage.
He added creating more opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom can help them in the classroom.
"I appreciate ... having a robust offering (of activities) to our students," Williams said. "Students being engaged in co-curricular and extracurricular activities definitely leads to more instructional success."
Despite the desire to create another option for students, high school activities Director Bobby Sangster said there's more to the issue than just creating a new sport.
"When you start a program, you want to make sure you do it right," he said. "And you want to make sure you check the boxes because of how challenging it is, not only for the students, but the coaches and what they're faced with."
The board also discussed starting a girls soccer program with just a junior varsity team, but some members were concerned a junior varsity team could diminish interest with older students. However, a JV team would allow the district to ease into the sport.
"It is a different animal competing at the varsity level than it is playing club ball, playing JV ball, playing youth ball," Sangster said. "I would be very hesitant to put our coaches and our athletes in that situation."
The board agreed to gauge interest from students with a survey.
Board President Derek VanLoo congratulated winners of the Moniteau County Fair Youth Art Show. Forty-nine California R-1 students received awards at the fair, including 23 California High School students.
The board also:
• Approved the resignation of Beth Admire, a former cook at the high school.
• Approved the consent agenda, including: payment of bills for August, payroll, a list of certified and non-certified substitutes, Parents as Teachers agreements, and more.
• Approved the July 20 and 25 meeting minutes.
• Approved the $200,000 prepayment of 2019 Series bonds.
• Scheduled a time for a facility walk-through and budget workshop for board members.
• Approved the 2021-22 annual Secretary of the Board Report.
•Discussed health savings account contributions, facility usage fees (no change) and building access cards.
The board adjourned into a closed session at 9:50 p.m. The next board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 21 in the high school media center.