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California school board approves substitute pay raise

Raise will allow district to be more competitive by Garrett Fuller | June 28, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Democrat photo/Garrett Fuller — The new secure-entry vestibule is seen Friday outside California Elementary School. The current main entrance, left, will be utilized during events or times when the door is manned. Parents and visitors will be required to use the new entrance, to the right, which will feature electronically-controlled doors and a security window. The vestibule improves safety at the school by limiting visitors' access to the rest of the building.

Although summer has just begun, the California R-I Board of Education is already preparing for the upcoming school year.

The board approved a slew of items for the 2023-24 school year at its June 21 meeting, including an increase in substitute teacher pay and a 20-cent increase to meal prices. Board members also discussed the formation of a Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) committee and changing building administrator participation in school board meetings. Assistant Superintendent Matt Abernathy also provided a brief update on summer projects occurring throughout the district.

Superintendent Daniel Williams recommended the board approve a $17 increase in substitute teachers' daily rates. The increase boosts the rate to $112 per day, or $16 per hour for certified positions (which include teachers and nurses) and $14 per hour for non-certified positions (which includes paraprofessionals, cooks, secretaries, custodians and other positions). He said the increase is necessary to remain competitive with surrounding districts.

"We actually have community members that go to neighboring districts to substitute instead of coming here, where they live, because the pay was better," Williams said. "I think this is going to be advantageous for requiring more subs on our daily sub list."

According to data collected by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) through a substitute teacher survey, a majority of substitute teachers reported pay between $75 and $125 per day. Nearly 43 percent of participants reported daily pay between $75 and $100, and more than 34 percent reported between a $100 and $125 daily rate.

Meal prices were also increased at the meeting. According to a document attached to the meeting agenda, the district previously diverted funds to avoid increasing prices before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Federal funding that provided free lunches during the pandemic has dried up, forcing the district to raise prices or "move non-federal funds into Food Services."

The board agreed to a 20-cent increase to all meals across the district. Elementary lunches will now cost $2.20, middle and high school lunches will cost $2.50, breakfast will cost $1.65, and staff lunches will cost $3.35.

Williams said most districts implemented incremental changes over time during the pandemic to avoid a sudden price hike, adding the district previously charged $2 for elementary lunches while DESE wanted $4 per meal.

"Well, I'm not comfortable making that big of a jump all at once, but I do think this 20-cent increase is the first of several years that we need to keep increasing to get more on line with what the state recommendation is," he said. "I don't treat our meal program as a money-making venture, but it should be a break-even venture (where) we're able to pay for all of our food supplies, our equipment (and) our staffing through that program. I think if we can, in the next few years, get to that $3 mark, we'll still be able to be in good shape financially."

According to its website, the Jamestown C-I School District charged $1.60 for breakfasts, $2.10 for elementary school lunches, $2.45 for high school lunches and $3.15 for adult lunches during the 2022-23 school year. Jefferson City School District charged $1.25 for elementary school breakfasts, $1.50 for middle and high school breakfasts, $2 for adult breakfasts, $3 for elementary school lunches, $3.25 for middle and high school lunches, and $4 for adult lunches during the 2022-23 school year.

Williams also asked board members to recommend potential community members for its CSIP committee. The committee -- consisting of students, parents and district officials -- will brainstorm ways to improve the district, which are compiled into a plan approved by DESE every five years. The plan must comply with specific DESE Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP) 6 guidelines, which focus "on continuous improvement for all schools, the preparation of each student for life beyond high school and promoting practices that lead to healthy school systems," the DESE website said.

"The Department believes high expectations, a clear vision and a few very focused, high impact goals will be critical to drive the improvement efforts necessary to bring about positive results," the website continued.

"We have, kind of, the scoring rubric of 'here's what must be included in that plan in order for us to score well,'" Williams said. The CSIP makes up a portion of the district's Annual Performance Report, which is how the district is graded by DESE.

While the CSIPs are rewritten every five years, they must also be annually revised and adopted by the board to ensure the district is making progress toward the goals. The board must also review progress toward goals quarterly, Williams said.

To help with the process, Williams said district administration were recently trained by a specialist in writing and scoring the plans. Meetings with district stakeholders will begin in mid-July, and the plan must be complete by mid-August. Once complete, he continued, a panel of retired superintendents will review the plan and provide feedback. The district can revise the plan before DESE's Oct. 1 deadline.

Williams added the new CSIP is "a dry run" because DESE moved the deadline to this year from October 2024. As a result, the plans won't affect districts until the 2024-25 school year.

In addition to the CSIP committee, the district will ask for additional input from community members with an online survey.

The board also revisited the format of its meetings, specifically building administrators' participation. Previously, building administrators -- principals, assistant principals and athletic directors -- were required to be present for all board meetings. However, some board members felt that having them present at meetings not affecting them can waste their time.

"This was discussed several months ago, maybe in the fall, about administrator attendance at board meetings, where some think that -- worry about, for a lack of a better term -- wasting administrators' time sometimes," Williams said. "Where they're here and there's few questions that are asked of them."

The board originally discussed the topic at its October meeting, when it started program spotlights for meetings.

Williams suggested rotating between administrative teams at each meeting. For instance, he said, the high school's administrative team -- Principal Jeff West, Assistant Principal Tim Beydler and newly-hired Activities Director Mike Beeman -- might present at a meeting, followed by the elementary team in the following meeting.

"They're probably going to give a more comprehensive report," Williams continued. "Usually they would provide some type of a visual display, a PowerPoint, (and) give a 10-minute presentation about what's happened in the past few months."

Building administrators affected by business in the meeting, especially the closed-session part of the meeting, will still be required to attend. The high school team will begin with a presentation at the July meeting.

Projects update

Abernathy also provided a brief update on summer projects under way across the district.

At the elementary school, the new secure-entry vestibule is nearly complete. Drinkard Construction Get It, LLC., completed construction of the room -- which secures the school from visitors, who will mostly be limited to accessing the vestibule itself. The building's main entrance has been moved left of the old entrance, as the vestibule was constructed in an old room. Inside, visitors will be separated from school staff by a security window. Staff can admit guests to the rest of the school via an electronically-controlled door.

Abernathy said the room is complete, and Stanley and IWR -- project subcontractors providing the doors and security window -- were on site to complete their parts of the project. Mid-Mo Telecom & Security, of Jefferson City, will later install key card readers to allow staff to unlock the doors.

Higgins Asphalt, of Tipton, will begin work at the elementary and middle school campus. In addition to asphalt work, Abernathy said it will install new drainage systems, which will accept increased runoff caused by removal of the island in the front parking lot. Part of the work will also include installation of a box drain in the district's lot behind the downtown Central Bank branch. Kusgen Construction will install drains in the elementary school sidewalk, which Abernathy said will happen for free.

"(Glen Kusgen) has done multiple projects for us already at no cost because ... he just wants to be there for the district and do things to make sure that the district is up to par," he said. "He did six different jobs last year for me. And of those six jobs, there were two of them that they just kind of did pro bono because they felt like it improved the appearance of the district."

Thermal Mechanics Inc., along with Lehmen Heating and Cooling, of Jefferson City, have installed all cassette-style air handler units in the elementary school's 2004 wing. With summer school ending, the contractors will complete running refrigerant and electrical lines between the air handlers and the roof. The outdoor portion of the system will be installed on the roof and connected to the lines currently being run.

Abernathy said the district's maintenance department had nearly run all conduit for networking the SafeDefend equipment. After all conduit has been installed, the technology department will pull networking cables through the conduits to prepare for installation of the equipment. SafeDefend will later be on site to install the safes and equip them with included items -- first aid items, defensive measures and tools -- that can assist during a life-threatening situation. The SafeDefend safes are automatically unlocked when a staff member activates one of the biometrically-activated panic buttons to be installed in every room throughout the district's three buildings. In addition to unlocking the safes, the system also automatically notifies law enforcement -- from California Police Department to the Missouri Highway Patrol -- of a potentially dangerous situation. SafeDefend representatives will also be on site in August for training and orientation.

Other business

In other business, the board:

Finalized its 2022-23 budget, adjusting to reflect final expenditures for the fiscal year.

Approved its 2023-24 budget, which will be revised in August with new assessed valuation figures.

Approved 2023-24 bus routes as required by state law. Williams said most bus routes are completed within an hour before arriving or after leaving the school, with the last stop on the longest rural route being slightly more than an hour out on average.

Approved 2023-24 monthly Board of Education meeting dates. The meetings are scheduled for July 19; Aug. 16; Sept. 20; Oct. 18; Nov. 15; Dec. 20; Jan. 17, 2024; Feb. 21, 2024; March 20, 2024; April 17, 2024; May 15, 2024 and June 19, 2024.

Approved 2023-24 facility usage fees. The fees are the same as previous years. The board also clarified that steel cleats are not permissible on the baseball/softball field. The rule is not new, but will now be strictly enforced.

The California R-I Board of Education will meet next at 6 p.m. July 19 in the California High School media center.

  photo  Democrat photo/Garrett Fuller — The island separating South Owen Street from the front parking lot for California's elementary and middle school campus is coming out, improving safety and increasing parking capacity. A new storm drain will be installed to handle the additional runoff caused by the island's removal.

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