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California school board discusses public comments, remaining bond issue funds

by Garrett Fuller | September 28, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.
Democrat photo/Garrett Fuller — FILE — The California R-I Board of Education discussed its public comment policy and priorities for remaining 2020 Bond Issue funds at the September meeting Sept. 21 in the California High School media center. The board will next meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 in the California High School media center.

While students were outdoors enjoying Homecoming festivities, the California R-I Board of Education spent Wednesday night holed up in the high school media center for its monthly meeting. Among topics discussed at the September meeting were public comment periods, how to use remaining bond issue funds and more.

Responses to COVID-19, critical race theory and other divisive topics transformed school board meetings across the nation from mundane meetings to politically-charged battles packed by parents and political activists. Although the California school board escaped the effects of such topics, it still hoped to be proactive in preventing future issues from arising by reviewing board Policy BDDH-1, which outlines rules for public comments.

Superintendent Daniel Williams said the current policy states the board is responsible for establishing time limits and uniform times for public comments, individuals will only be able to speak once and only items from the posted agenda can be discussed. Those wishing to discuss a topic not on the agenda must contact the district at least five days prior to the meeting to have it added to the agenda.

Williams recommended the board establish time limits in the policy to prevent problems from arising in the future. He said the board doesn't want to send the message that it's trying to limit discussion to avoid public comments on controvsersial topics.

Williams shared a boilerplate with the board that would establish a 30-minute public comment period, with a uniform time limit of five minutes per speaker. If there are more than six speakers, the time would be divided evenly.

The boilerplate was approved with one amendment: The board will be able to establish additional time limits if a large number of people wish to speak.

After updating Policy BDDH-1, the board discussed priorities for remaining 2020 bond funds. Williams suggested earmarking the money for the replacement of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at California Elementary School and district-wide security upgrades after the outcome of a 2020 bond steering committee meeting. The steering committee, composed of community members and district officials, offers input on the needs of the district.

"During that meeting, the comments were really focused on where we see ourselves as a district financially for the next few years," Williams said. "I think the resounding voice of the committee members was that we do have some things that we really want, but there's also some things we really feel like we need to take care of on a needs basis as far as taking care of our current facilities, HVAC systems and adding additional security measures to the district."

Williams said an HVAC system at the elementary school is one of these needs. He said a new system would come with a $500,000 estimated cost. He added Daikin, a manufacturer of HVAC equipment, would be able to lock in the cost and warehouse the unit until it is ready to be installed next summer. Labor rates for installation could also be locked in.

"On the labor rate side of it, we are not seeing huge inflation, but on the product side of things we're definitely seeing huge inflation currently," Williams said. "That's really across all areas, and it's simply speculation from the HVAC industry and construction industry, but there are some that are forecasting 15-30 percent inflation from today's prices to nine-months-from-now prices. That's significant on a half-million-dollar project."

Another item Williams and those on the committee prioritized was the installation of additional security upgrades. Specifically, he is interested in having a SafeDefend system installed in every classroom in the district. He had a similar system installed at a previous district he worked for.

The SafeDefend system consists of a biometric sensor in every classroom that would automatically alert school officials and law enforcement in the event of an active shooter or intruder situation. It also features a safe in each classroom that would be stocked with defensive measures, such as pepper spray and pepper bombs, along with first aid and trauma kits.

While he hopes it will never be used, Williams said the SafeDefend system could be the difference between life and death in an active shooter situation.

"Anything we can do to help distract and disorient an assailant is a positive thing," he said.

Williams said the estimated cost of the SafeDefend system is $185,000 for the entire district. He said installation of the system would be completed by district staff. The equipment would be inspected annually, and drills could be conducted to ensure staff know how to use the equipment and allow law enforcement and other first responders the opportunity to prepare themselves.

Another safety upgrade prioritized was the installation of bulletproof film on all low-level windows. The film has a one-way mirror effect, allowing people inside to see out while leaving people on the outside unable to look in.

While discussing remaining funds from the 2020 bond, Williams discussed a potential future bond that could add an auxiliary gymnasium, weight rooms and an indoor baseball/softball facility to the high school. The bond issue would be brought before voters in April 2024, when Williams said the district would have approximately $5.5 million in bonding capacity.

"A great building location would be right outside this wall (on the southwestern corner of the high school), where we could actually have a connection to the existing high school, which would be much safer for our kids other than walking across a parking lot, through cars and traffic some days, to get to the weight room," Williams said. "There is a threat out there, just because it's not 100 percent secure, but the biggest threat is usually weather, where it's raining and you've got to run from this door (on the southwestern corner of the high school) all the way down to one of those ag shops."

The board approved a motion to earmark funds for the replacement of the HVAC system at California Elementary School and district-wide security upgrades.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved an amendment to tiered-monitoring policies IGBC, IGBCB, IGBCA, IGBE and IGBH. These policies relate to parent and family involvement and engagement, programs for migratory students, programs for homeless students, programs for students in foster care and programs for English learners. Williams said the board is required to reapprove the policies every five years and update information as needed.
  • Continued discussion on use of district facilities by travel teams, California Parks and Recreation leagues and other organizations.
  • Approved checks and financials.
  • Heard reports from district administrators, including maintenance reports from Assistant Superintendent Matt Abernathy and Williams. Maintenance reports included the repair of a drain line in the new elementary school multipurpose room, cosmetic concerns at the California Performing Arts Center, a water leak in front of the high school and a new pitching mound at the high school baseball/softball field.

The California R-I Board of Education's next scheduled public meeting is 6 p.m. Oct. 19 in the California High School media center.

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