School board continues facilities discussion

MARSHALL — At the regular meeting on Monday, the Marshall School Board approved four action items, including approval to take the next steps regarding facilities planning.

The School Board Facilities Committee, which consists of Bill Mulso, Jeff Chapman and Karen VanKeulen, met in early October to discuss district facilities and determine what the next steps relative to addressing critical space issues.

“I think a lot of us have had several people who have asked us, ‘What’s next with facilities? What are you going to do?'” Marshall Superintendent Scott Monson said. “I feel like as a board and district, we’ve done a nice job of gathering input and opinions about where we do go and what our highest priorities are. I think we’ve heard certain messages in the past — maybe the amount was too high or the tax impact was too high — and I think we’ve heard, ‘Try to prioritize and come back with a smaller amount with less tax impact.'”

Voters in the Marshall School District have shot down the past two building bond referendums — by 224 votes in May 2016 and by 924 votes this past April — but the needs in the district have not disappeared, administrators said. Along with safety and security, one of the top priorities is trying to find a solution for space issues due to steadily increasing student enrollment.

“The needs aren’t going away,” Monson said. “We’re looking at a 3 percent increase in student enrollment from the end of last year to Oct. 1 — we’re up 74 students from the end of the 2016-17 school year.”

Marshall saw a 3.1 percent increase (70 students) during the 2014-15 school year, followed by a 5.9 percent increase (137 students) in 2015-16. Last year, there were 2,440 students at Marshall. Currently, there are a record-number of K-12 students (2,514) in the district.

Monson noted that the 3 percent increase has created additional challenges, including the need for more support staff and space.

“Last week, we were having a very short conversation about ‘if’ we wanted to add some support services, we don’t have room to bring anybody in the buildings to house that particular situation or service we were talking about,” he said. “The Facilities Committee met recently and the discussion was, ‘OK, let’s move forward, begin planning for some sort of project — maybe a Phase 1 project with a smaller dollar amount and probably focusing on the space and safety needs at the elementary and early childhood levels.”

After weighing all the options, the committee recommendation is to authorize administration to begin preparation for a facilities referendum, potentially as early as spring 2018.

“I think that’s a good summary,” Bill Mulso said about Monson’s highlighted comments. “We have to move on something.”

Board member Bill Swope asked if the committee members had a target date for the bond issue and learned that there were new election laws and some restrictions that were put in place during the last legislative session.

“We have to look at what the legal ramifications are,” Mulso said. “I think when we talked, the earliest would probably be April or May — I’d have to look at what the exact date options are because we’re limited now.”

Monson added that he’s pretty sure that there are only eight dates that eligible now to hold special elections.

“So we really have to zero in on what that means, work our way backwards — certainly bring information to the facilities — and take this step by step,” he said. “We really need to work closely with our financial adviser and probably other consultants to make sure we’re doing what we need to do to communicate to our residents and obviously, make sure we’re following the letter of the law.”

Swope said whatever the target date ends up being, “there will be a lot of work to be done between now and then.”

The board also approved strategic planning goals for 2017-18.

“We’ve been working on strategic planning a long time,” Monson said. “It’s been a good process, I think. We have 10 goals that we’re going to use over the course of the next five years and really work to address those — yet recognizing that we can’t do all 10 in one year.”

The first goal is to increase the academic achievement of all students through effective instruction, a challenging and engaging curriculum and aligned assessments. The objectives for this goal are to annually implement effective, research-based intervention practices to close the achievement gap, provide on-going professional development to increase teacher capacity to meet the needs of all learners and to ensure annual academic growth and high achievement for each student.

“The second would be to develop and implement a multi-year facilities and financial plan that supports the district’s strategic plan,” Monson said. “I’m looking forward to working with our staff, administration and others to make those goals happen.”

Site continuous improvement plans (SCIP) were also approved by the board, with the exception of the early childhood one, which is expected to be presented to the board for approval in November.

“Site continuous improvement plans are a part of Q COMP, our alternative teacher pay system,” Monson said. “I think they’re very focused — on reading, student achievement, student achievement and math, achievement gaps and them maybe some more site-specific things like graduation rates, student connectedness and just student engagement in general.”

Monson added that the SCIP were created with input form site leadership teams.

“Those folks are doing good work,” he said.

The final action item was the approval of additional paraprofessional support. Due to the increased number of special education students and need at Park Side Elementary, the board was asked to consider approving two additional full-time para positions.

“It’s for student needs and just adjusting to understanding what their needs are and updating individualized education plans,” Monson said.