The Houston School Board decided to remain in the distance + learning model through January 8, 2021, after careful consideration at the regular board meeting December 3. Superintendent Krin Abraham, in her COVID report, shared that the Houston County numbers for the most recent week were at 133.42 with numbers for December 10 at 112.52 (which will increase) and December 17 at 75.55 already with four more days of data to add yet.
As the board discussed what learning model to use, member Arlin Peterson brought up the WHO and Dr. Fauci recommendations that all students should be in school and asked if the school would be going against those recommendations by remaining in distance learning. Abraham responded that if the school could guarantee a safe environment that would be the case. With county numbers double what would allow a return to hybrid learning for several weeks (50 is suggested), Abraham felt the school could not return to hybrid at this time. In particular, the elementary has had five positive cases of COVID. In addition, Abraham pointed out that 18 staff members were quarantining the week the school went to distance learning, noting that it would be impossible to have in-person school with those numbers.
Abraham concluded saying, “We want to provide sound education, but it needs to be consistent and safe.”
The principals shared that distance learning+ was working fairly well. Students with IEPs (special education) and CTE students (shop,etc.) are able to come into school for classes under distance learning+. The high school teachers are using more peer-to-peer collaborations. Extra help is being provided in small groups, and Academic Assistance continues during distance learning; teachers volunteer to help with this. At the elementary, staff that had been out have been able to return for distance learning+ with everything going better as a result.
COVID committee member Mimi Carlson shared that the consensus of the committee and the teachers was that the school should stay at distance learning: Carlson made the motion to stay at distance learning. The board unanimously agreed in a roll call vote.
December 21 has been set for beginning practices for winter sports by MSHL, but they are considering pushing that date further into the future. MDE council has stressed that schools should not change their learning models in order to participate in sports.
Board member Arlin Peterson commended the athletic director and coaches for keeping Houston athletes safe and said the school should follow the SEC decisions when they are made.
At the required Truth-In-Taxation hearing (with no citizens in attendance), Superintendent Abraham went over the budget and proposed taxes. The school has no voter-approved levies. Abraham pointed out that the local enrollment remains steady with a large increase in MNVA. No major maintenance is needed for the near future, since several projects have been recently completed.
Since property market values have increased, the current tax rate will generate more revenue for the school (basically increasing revenue by 7%).
The board will take action on this at their next meeting based on a flat tax rate as suggested by the finance committee.
With the suggested action, the general revenue will have a decrease of 1.8% for the school. Abraham said the budget would need to be tweaked by around $21,000. Board Chair Tom Stilin reminded the board they had gotten both a new bus and van from COVID funds, enabling them to keep that flat tax rate.
In other business the board:
•Agreed to allow MNVA teacher Beth Sletta to retire mid-year for a day and agreed to rehire her following that (this is to allow her to receive her TRA retirement benefits);
•Learned that the school was administering FastBridge and Star360 formative assessments;
•Heard that MDE is planning and preparing to administer MCA tests to students at home possibly;
•Accepted and administered the oath of office to new board member Mark Swenson;
•Set the organizational meeting for January 7 at 6 p.m.
The next Houston School Board meeting will be December 17, 2020, at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend and/or submit comments on the school’s web page.