Category Archives: Schools

Schoolcraft board preps for superintendent hiring

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education at a December meeting proposed a timetable for hiring a new superintendent and discussed results of surveys of staff and residents about the qualities they want in the new hire.

Supt. Rusty Stitt during the summer told board members he’ll resign at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Vice President Jason Walther described a timeline of events to replace Stitt during a Zoom meeting. The entire plan is currently on the SCS website for school district residents to review.

The board is hoping to involve the community as much as possible in the search. It approved posting the job listing and will soon start contacting possible candidates. The plan calls for the search to be closed by Jan. 15 and a review of candidates to start Jan. 22. The hope is to conduct final board interviews by March 12, make an offer by March 19 with final board approval by April 9, 2021.

The plan includes district team and community interviews around February 19, although board members didn’t describe what those interviews would entail.

The board has already done some homework with the survey of district staff members, parents and students about what they’d like to see from the next superintendent. Out of 385 responses, the majority, 71 percent, were from parents.

The survey asked for the most important leadership qualities: “Strong communicator and listener” was the top choice, closely followed by “trustworthy,” “not afraid to address problems,” “team and culture builder” and “collaborative.”

“Reading through a lot of the comments, I think we’ve been able to get to a point here where I’m really excited that we have a tremendous amount of consistency in what was said in the various formats,” Walther said.

Trustee Jill Hunt approved of the proposal, especially including the involvement of staff and community members’ input in the decision-making process.

“I just want to say thank you for pulling this all together. I think it was very thoughtfully done and you’ve tried to include as many stakeholders as we could get to partake in this,” Hunt said. “I appreciate your hard work.”

Secretary Ryan Ledlow also acknowledged that this plan was unique compared to the usual way districts hire a new superintendent. He also expressed great enthusiasm with the idea.

“This is a little bit different way to go about finding a leader, but I like it, a lot,” Ledlow said.

Walther said the enthusiasm of the community and the belief in the work they are doing has showed through this process. He didn’t hear from anyone who felt the district had to change anything drastic in their search for the next superintendent. The board should find someone to work with the groundwork that’s already in place.

“We’ve got the gears in place. We’ve got to get someone who will oil them a little bit,” Walther said. “Just to make it get that much better.”

New Vicksburg teaching staff introduced

Hugh Thiel, new math teacher.

By Jef Rietsma

Six new members to the Vicksburg Community Schools family were introduced at the board of education’s Dec. 14 meeting.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said it’s traditional to introduce the district’s new hires at the board’s final meeting of the calendar year.

The new employees are Jay Bennett, music instruction at Vicksburg middle and high schools; Shannon Reed, interventionist and English as a second language at the middle school; Hugh Thiel, middle school math; Amber Cousins, third grade at Sunset Lake; Nikki Taplin, Begindergarten at Sunset Lake; and Kim Parsons, virtual first grade at Indian Lake Elementary.

High school principal Adam Brush said Bennett, who fills a retirement position, did his student teaching in Vicksburg. He has also worked with the district’s marching band. “Very positive, an extremely hard worker and very personable,” Brush said.

Bennett said he went to high school in a building that had 2,500 students. Working in Vicksburg provides a close-knit feeling in a district that values the fine arts. He added that he is especially eager to see the district’s middle school students grow from young teens to young adults.

Middle school principal Matt Vandussen introduced Reed and Thiel. He said Reed, who came to Vicksburg from Centreville, brings 21 years of teaching experience and did her teaching internship at Tobey Elementary in the late 1990s. “She’s knocking it out of the park … I love having her here,” he said, musing that Reed came from one Bulldog family to another.

Vandussen said Thiel is a seventh-grade math teacher who is a first-year teacher. A Hope College graduate in 2020, Thiel has “hit the ground running,” Vandussen said. “He brings a great attitude every day … Hugh has not disappointed,” Vandussen added.

Amie McCaw, Sunset Lake principal, said she had the good fortune of landing a pair of high-quality teachers who bring extensive experience to the classroom. She said Cousins served at Indian Lake during a long-term maternity leave this past spring before taking a long-term post at Sunset Lake this fall. Cousins, a VCS graduate, fills a retirement position at the third-grade level. “She’s done a phenomenal job,” McCaw said. “She helped us with some supervision and whenever we needed something, Amber was the one who said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’”

McCaw said Taplin started as Begindergarten teacher during remote learning last spring. McCaw said with a few exceptions, Taplin has not met face-to-face with most of her current students.

Supt. O’Neill, whose 50th birthday was acknowledged earlier in the meeting, said he taught Taplin while a chemistry instructor at Portage Northern High School.

Ruth Hook, Indian Lake principal, said Parsons “turned on a dime” without much advance warning. Parsons has taught in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.

“It means a lot to me to be finally working for Vicksburg and to be a Bulldog,” Parsons said. “I love my families, I love this community and the support has been huge.”

Board president Skip Knowles said he is proud the six joined the district and he appreciates the strengths they bring to Vicksburg.

In a separate matter, board members acknowledged Wil Emmert, who joined the board in 1993 but fell short in his bid for re-election. Knowles said Emmert has been a great resource to the board and the school district. Other board members, meanwhile, gave accolades to Emmert and said his contribution to the district will be missed.

“Your commitment to VCS and the students has not gone unnoticed, Wil,” O’Neill said. “Thank you for your 27 years of service.”

Vicksburg teachers frustrated, exhausted, board told

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools Board of Education fielded COVID-19-related concerns from staff members at its Oct. 12 meeting.

The board’s first in-person meeting since spring was simulcast on YouTube.

Vicksburg Education Association representative Kelly MacDonnell told board members the staff is frustrated and mentally exhausted to the point that some long-time district employees are resigning.

“The high level of vigilance your teachers and your already-overworked custodians are operating under to help protect our students and one another every day is so mentally taxing, it is almost indescribable,” she said. “We beg you to recognize the need for more counselors and now more custodians. We need action for the safety of our students and our staff, not just a smile, not just some hollow words of thanks from time to time.”

She said it’s the consensus of the district’s teachers that they do not feel safe in the current work environment. “The simple act of asking if your leadership represents those you lead is such a simple yet effective leadership strategy,” she said.

High school teacher Jennifer Rodas, Vicksburg Education Association president, noted that the few people who addressed the board were speaking for the majority. She said union members do their homework, communicate with each other, make sure their position is clear and that their concerns are real.

“Even though you may only hear a few of us speaking, it’s because we’re protected under our positions … there are others who wish they could speak up but they cannot for fear of punishment,” she said. “Please don’t take that there are only a few of us speaking on behalf of the VEA every time doesn’t mean that we’re not speaking on behalf of the entire association.”

Rodas elaborated on the demands she and her peers face as a result of in-person teaching this fall. For starters, she said she uses her prep hour to change the activities taught in person over to virtual.

She continued, adding that there are “so many moving parts to this VCS virtual that are challenging and frustrating.”

“I’m logging into Google meetings trying to share my screen, make sure I’m unmuted, make sure that I have the right screen going, make sure I’m logged in to the right Google meeting, make sure that I’m cleaning my desks, making sure students are wearing their masks, making sure that they’re social distancing,” she said. “These are things that we’re struggling with every single day. Our job is normally an eight-hour day plus we’re working at home grading … it’s just not sustainable.”

She said not until the board has “real discussion,” and recognizes the challenges and struggles teachers are facing will teachers feel valued and that they’re being heard.

Rodas said she was at a point in the school year where she had started entering grades. Some virtual students who had not logged in for a number of weeks suddenly realized they are failing. Rodas said she now has to prioritize assisting those students.

“Our virtual teachers at the elementary – one of which … has resigned because the working conditions are unsustainable. We’re losing teachers,” she said. “We lost three in the last week and a half … we’re overworked, we’re getting burned out early.”

Rodas asked the board to consider hiring more virtual teachers at the elementary level, recognize the compromised working conditions, and treat teachers with kindness, patience and respect.

Two additional people spoke and expressed similar concerns about working conditions.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill disputed the claim that not everyone has protection to speak candidly before the board.

“Everyone has the same protection regardless of your position,” he said. “To hear the word retribution, again, when no one has ever experienced retribution for stating their opinions or concerns … I’m still concerned why that comes out. We truly understand the struggles, we’ve been recognizing those.”

Schoolcraft board addresses parent concerns on instruction in pandemic

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education fielded comments from several residents concerned about the district’s educational plans during the pandemic.

Kory Bienz said he was asked to speak for approximately 40-50 families in the community who want to go back to a fully face-to-face education model. “They want to know what the plan is,” he said at the meeting, once again held virtually via Zoom.

He said that other districts like Mendon, Colon and Constantine went back to a fully face-to-face instruction model on day one of the school year. While Bienz said he recognizes the teachers and administration have been putting in countless work hours, he also believes the hybrid model currently in place is not going to work for students in the long run. Bienz also expressed concerns about long term consequences of Schoolcraft remaining in this model.

“If all these other schools are face-to-face and Schoolcraft isn’t, there’s going to be families that leave the school district and that’s concerning, obviously, because that’s where we get most of our funding,” Bienz said.

Jen Rykse’s words echoed Bienz’s. She also expressed concerns about sending children back to school wearing masks.

“We are kind of all in agreement that our children learn best face-to-face. We want to get them back in the schools,” Rykse said. “Obviously we want to do it as safe as possible, but I know we’re one of the last districts to do it.”

Superintendent Rusty Stitt directly addressed the parent concerns during his report to the board, noting that they will be looking into it and will have a recommendation to the board by Nov. 9 about how to proceed.

“These are trying times for us all,” Stitt said. “It seems like every minute the rules change. Again, this is from Rusty Stitt’s perspective; we don’t know what executive order, if there’s an executive order, what’s local, what’s state and ongoing. So, it’s very challenging. Please note, and I know that you do, that the safety and well-being of our kids is of the utmost importance.”

Stitt said he does support getting back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. He also said that they are now required to report on their website the number of cases in the district. The district has had one case of the virus in a student at the middle school.

Trustee Jill Hunt also addressed some of the parental concerns at the meeting. She called for the community to be patient as the situation develops.

“Some of us are ready to have our kids back in school full-time and some of us aren’t comfortable with that, so we have to be mindful of everyone’s opinion on this virus and the fear that they have,” Hunt said. “This includes the staff and especially the teachers. Some are onboard with being in school and some are still really fearful of that, so as our community pushes our teachers, just please don’t push too hard. Because they have families too, they have situations and they feel a particular way as far as the coronavirus goes. So there’s no one size fits all on this, we’re going to try our best to do what we can to make everybody happy. But we will never make everybody happy. So, please bear with us as we go through these unprecedented times.”

Middle school Principal Dave Powers echoed Hunt’s comments about patience. He said the situation is hitting close to home at the middle school and because he has a friend whose son has contracted COVID-19 for a second time this year. Powers said previous experiences visiting with students or parents of students in hospitals and funeral homes was humbling.

“They don’t teach you about or prepare you for those kinds of scenarios as you head into leadership and into education,” Powers said. “To have to face that and what could be the potential outcome of those situations is beyond words.”

While he is hopeful for a return to normal, he said he also wants to err on the side of caution for safety of both students and staff.

“I don’t want to visit one more student in a hospital or one more funeral home in my career – which I don’t have a ton of it left, but I don’t want any more of that for anybody and their families,” Powers said.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk also called for parents to be patient as they work through the process. She said she does not want to rush things as they follow the data and work with the health department.

“We’re going to follow the rules all the way along and we’re not going to skip steps in the process,” Gottschalk said. “Stick with us and we will get there. We’re not going to speed through this. Let’s take our time and get it right.”

Schoolcraft accepts Stitt’s resignation

Superintendent Stitt praised for his nine years of service.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education approved a final one-year contract extension for Superintendent Rusty Stitt, who has submitted a letter of resignation to the district effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

The board also approved an athletic participation fee of $75 per student, $150 for a family.
At the meeting, Stitt thanked the original board members who originally hired him in the letter as well as many administrators, teachers and community members whom he worked with during his time in the district.

“I am extremely honored to have been given the opportunity to lead Schoolcraft Community schools for what will be 10 years by the end of the 2020-21 school year,” Stitt said in the letter.

“As a collective team, we have done some amazing work to improve the district, impacting student achievement and elevating professional practice.”

Stitt highlighted numerous changes he’s proud of from his time in the district: implementation of standards-based grading, the 1:1 technology program and most recently, voter approval of a $39.9 million bond issue to construct new educational facilities. Stitt said the contract will allow his youngest daughter to graduate an Eagle. He also added he will probably look for another superintendent post in a different state following the conclusion of his contract on June 30, 2021.

“I will always sincerely treasure the years I served here as your superintendent,” Stitt said in the letter. “It has been an honor! I thank each and every one of you for your support and outstanding dedication to the Schoolcraft community and its magnificent students!”

Board Vice President Jason Walther thanked Stitt for his years of service. “Rusty came to the district nine years ago, and at that time there was a lot to focus on and go to work on,” Walther said. “I think there is just a tremendous amount of positive things that occurred in Schoolcraft.”

Those thoughts were echoed by a few other trustees, including Wade Rutkoskie. “I also want to thank Dr. Stitt for his time. Obviously, a year-long retirement celebration is in order from the district, so [I’m] looking forward to celebrating that time with him and working on the transition, which I know he has been thinking about as well,” Rutkoskie said.

The board approved an athletic participation fee starting in the 2020-2021 school year that applies to both middle school and high school athletes. The cost will be $75 per child or $150 for a family.

The motion was approved without much discussion, but board meeting materials say the addition of a fee was to help the district avoid having to cut its athletic trainer position. Athletic Director Jeff Clark said in the meeting materials that the district will be required to pay $25,000 a year to keep the services of the trainer and the new fees will help cover those costs.

“Financial support from the State of Michigan for the operation of local schools has not kept pace with the rapidly increasing costs for school districts,” the letter to the board reads. “All districts have been forced to make adjustments in operating procedures. Schoolcraft Community Schools is no exception.”

The school is asking any parents with questions or concerns about the new fee structure to contact Clark. Families who may not be able to afford the fees are requested to contact the superintendent.

Schoolcraft alumni hand out scholarships

By Sue Hendriksma

The Schoolcraft Alumni Association had to cancel its annual banquet and meeting this year due to the COVID crisis. However, the Executive Committee announced that scholarships totaling $6,000 were awarded to two 2020 graduates.

Two local companies, Chem Link and Schoolcraft Veterinary Clinic, sponsored specialized scholarships this year. Kalamazoo County State Bank also provided a donation used in supporting these talented 2020 graduates. Alumni Association scholarships are supported through donations by many members who are encouraged to pay it forward, remembering that today’s students will be the leaders of tomorrow.

The recipients: Karson Leighton is planning to attend Middle Tennessee State University to study music business. Karson received a specialized scholarship sponsored by Chem Link, and also an Alumni Association Scholarship. Karson is a songwriter who started to become familiar with the music business when he released his first song to the public. His goal is to be involved in the business aspects of music.

Erin Lockwood will attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she is already a college sophomore on the Dean’s List, and then enter Western Michigan University to study child and family development. Erin received a specialized scholarship sponsored by the Schoolcraft Veterinary Clinic. She has a strong desire to serve people in need.

The Schoolcraft Alumni Association awards one or more scholarships each year. Including the 2020 recipients, 96 Schoolcraft High School seniors have received scholarships in various amounts that total just over $50,520. Each year, a list of all scholarship recipients is displayed at the association’s banquet and other events.

Seniors must apply through the school using the association’s application criteria, which takes into consideration not only their GPA, but extracurricular activities as well as service projects. Students are required to provide a short essay and also provide a recommendation from another individual (generally an instructor) who knows them well. The Executive Committee determines how much can be awarded in a given year based on donations received over the last year. The Scholarship Committee screens all applicants and determines who receives the awards.

Schoolcraft creatively honors graduates

The SHS graduation ceremony followed recommended guidelines.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Community members and school leaders paid tribute to Schoolcraft High School’s 82 graduates in many ways throughout this unusual academic year, culminating in a socially distanced-ceremony and a coordinated “Shine the Light” parade.

In June, an anonymous donor contributed a huge boulder, a symbol of the class of 2020 graduates’ strength and solid reputation, now permanently placed at the stadium flagpole. Principal Matthew Dailey directed an event, painting hands and celebrating the 82 seniors who left their handprints on the rock.

The community continued to celebrate these students: In addition to yard signs to decorate seniors’ yards, poster-sized pictures of the SHS graduates line the athletic field fence. The highly visible gesture is another community member’s gift to recognize these students and the unusual circumstances of their senior year.

On July 24 and 25, Dailey visited many graduates’ homes to deliver diplomas and to greet students and families. Dailey appreciated the ability to personalize the moments for his students, saying each stop “was an especially valuable and meaningful experience for me, and one I will most certainly remember as a highlight during the difficulty of a pandemic.”

Following the appropriate guidelines, on Friday, July 24, the district held a graduation ceremony on the athletic field for the 147th graduating class of SHS. Recognizing students, family, and staff, Dailey addressed the students: “The unrelenting support of the Schoolcraft community has been on honoring your achievements, thanking you for your contributions to our school community, and sharing our excitement for all of the future possibilities ahead for you.”

Finally, at 9 p.m., students loaded school buses for an event called “Shine the Light.” Following a planned route throughout the village and outlying neighborhoods, area residents greeted the graduates by flashing lights and sounding horns, helping to close a meaningful and memorable day.

Vicksburg schools: More questions than answers

By Jef Rietsma

Editor’s Note: The Vicksburg school district by press time had published several options for reopening which depend on the trend of COVID-19 infections. They include all-virtual education and, if the trend of infections levels off and declines, giving parents and students a choice of virtual or in-person education. A draft chart of the options can be viewed at vicksburgcommunityschools.org. 

With more questions than answers, Vicksburg Community Schools Superintendent Keevin O’Neill in a mid-July board meeting said a clearer picture regarding back-to-school details should be available by the end of July.

During the July 13 meeting, O’Neill spent more than 10 minutes recapping the state of VCS. Additional information was provided during more than 20 minutes of audience questions and board responses following O’Neill’s update.

He restated the highest priority: the health and safety of the district’s students and staff.

“We’re not interested in opening up schools unless we know people will be safe,” he said. “No way would we ever want to put anyone in a situation where they didn’t feel safe or healthy.”

O’Neill made a number of references to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 63-page MI Safe Schools Roadmap and the mandate that districts develop return-to-school plans. The district-created plans must take into account whether the state is in Phases 1 through 3, Phase 4 or Phase 5. A plan for each of those three levels is required.

He said the course of action the district took from April through the end of the academic year, where curriculum was administered online only, was an example of Phase 3.

“One of the big things that’s happening on the county level is what’s known as the Kalamazoo Virtual and Innovative Collaborative, and that is an online option for families that will choose their children to do their work 100 percent online and not come to school,” O’Neill said. “When we look at Phase 4, which we’re currently in, it allows for face-to-face instruction. That’s what we want to do and we want to make our plan robust as far as health and safety are concerned.”

He said Whitmer’s Roadmap includes options from required and strongly recommend, to recommended and considerations. He said the district will have to digest all options and figure out which will be applied under what circumstances.

Still, O’Neill sided with research that shows face-to-face instruction is most effective and anything less is just not as optimal. He remained optimistic that face-to-face instruction will be allowed.

O’Neill, beginning his third year as Vicksburg superintendent, said personal and collective responsibilities will be major components to the district’s back-to-school plan. Engaging all stakeholders, he noted, is paramount. Being flexible will be critical, too.

“We have to be nimble; we have to be able to pivot back and forth from plans,” he said, adding that a critical issue to come out of Whitmer’s Roadmap centers on masks. “I’m not going to lie, I’ve talked to parents who said ‘There’s no way I’m going to send my kid back to school if he has to wear a mask.’ We know that. We understand that. Everybody feels differently about this.”

O’Neill said at Phase 4, the state will require students and teachers in sixth through 12th grades to wear face covering, while elementary students will have to wear a mask in common areas. At Phase 5, masks are optional.

By the end of July, O’Neill expects the district will have on its website a draft of information related to each of the three phases, 1 through 3, Phase 4 and Phase 5. The district is soliciting feedback from all stakeholders in order to compile a final draft due to the state on or before Aug. 15.

“There’s lots and lots of little things that we’re going to look at every possible scenario, what ifs, possibly adding more lunches to every schedule to ensure that our cafeterias are safe, one-way lanes in hallways and walking in single file,” O’Neill said. “And we haven’t even got into athletics and extra-curriculars yet. Learning is number one right now and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

In response to audience questions, O’Neill provided answers and clarification, noting that the district would provide only online learning if the region is in Phase 3. The Kalamazoo Virtual and Innovative Collaborative will be available only in Phases 4 or 5.

He also said cleaning protocols will be “robust” and could happen hourly, in some cases with student assistance.

“The protocols we’re going to have to look at in elementary rooms, we’re going to have to get rid of the reading carpet, we’ve got to get rid of all the fluff, we can’t have things shared,” he said. “We need to open up every classroom at every level so that we can space the best we can and then once we get all those protocols in place, then we may have to move some kids … there’s so many dominoes that are going to fall in place to make sure safety is number one and those are some of the things we’re going to have to do.”

In other action:

• O’Neill said the district is in a holding pattern as far as hiring or layoffs are concerned. The district is awaiting more information from the state regarding 2020-21 school-year funding.

• He noted that through online registration, the district has 263 students enrolled in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten for 2020-21.

• The board approved the services of Thrun Law Firm and auditor Plante Moran for 2020-21.

• Board members authorized bids for the following construction-related projects: flooring removal and abatement, $8,682; acoustical ceilings, $29,862; resilient floor coverings, $84,450; interior painting, $5,310; interior lighting, $18,022; tennis court resurfacing and repairs, $112,995; and stadium fencing and concrete repairs, $39,295.

• Bids for dairy and bakery were awarded to Country Fresh, $46,590, and Aunt Millie’s, $6,470.

• A request by Ravenna Kahler, Sunset Lake Elementary and Vicksburg High School band teacher, for 12 weeks leave starting Aug. 31 was granted.

VHS graduation ceremony held — at last

Jennifer Brown was the first of Vicksburg High’s class of 2020 to receive her diploma at the district’s graduation ceremony July 23. School board President Skip Knowles presented diplomas to graduates.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg High School’s class of 2020 is now officially part of the district’s history. Finally.

The district-organized graduation ceremony July 23 was anything but traditional. Still, all that really mattered in the end was that a graduation ceremony for the school’s 170 seniors happened.

“I’m very happy for these kids today, but, gosh, I hope it’s the last time we have to hold a graduation this way,” school board President Skip Knowles said. “I do need to say, though, everybody worked hard and we were firmly committed to being able to pull a graduation off. And we did.”

Knowles said it took an extensive amount of coordination and planning in order to stay in compliance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders regarding crowd sizes.

He noted the ceremony – staggered in small groups over the course of more than three hours – actually over-complied, as graduates and their family members gathered 10 yards apart then proceeded forward to the southwest end of the football field for a photo and for the graduate to receive a diploma.

Knowles conceded the 30-foot distance was easy to measure because graduates and their family members stood at every 10-yard interval, clearly marked on the turf.

He said one upside to the unprecedented ceremony was graduates being able to be pictured with family members prior to receiving their diploma. Knowles said family typically is in the stands while the procession takes place on the field.

“We did a virtual graduation too, so they actually have something they can look at for the rest of their life, as long as there’s the internet,” he said. “They can look at all the speeches and all the graduates and everything else. So, if you want to look at that as a positive. Classes before them didn’t have that.”

He said the class of 2020 will go down in history as a unique group that experienced unprecedented circumstances. He is optimistic the obstacles and setbacks will make the young women and men of 2020 stronger and show greater perseverance as they blossom into adults.

Knowles said he is proud how district administrators and staff worked together to make the event special for the graduates. He thanked all the volunteers and said he looks forward to a more traditional ceremony next year.

“Hopefully,” he said. “I’m crossing my fingers.”

Coronavirus Impacts Schoolcraft Schools

By Travis Smola

The effects of coronavirus are hitting districts across the state. At the Schoolcraft Board of Education’s June meeting, Finance Director Kyle Nixon told trustees how decreased revenue from the state will affect the district’s 2019-2020 general fund.

The meeting was once again held virtually due to the pandemic. Nixon said that with the state short on revenue, a cut in funding of $650-$700 per student is expected and will carry over until next year.

“We were expecting to be in the black by $300,000 and now we are expecting to be in the red in a deficit this year of $344,000,” Nixon said.

This would bring the district down to a $1.6 million fund balance, which is 14.2 percent of its final expected expenditures this year of $11.3 million.

Nixon did note that nothing has been finalized yet since the state has not balanced its budget. But he is not expecting any further cuts.

Nixon said administrators are looking at ways to operate “leaner than normal.” They are expecting to operate next year at a $70,000 deficit. That would put them at $1.53 million fund balance next year or 13.9 percent of expected expenditures.

The board also approved a roofing project for the maintenance building. Superintendent Rusty Stitt said the project just affected the flat roof portion which described as being in “dire need’ of being fixed. Stitt and the finance committee recommended South Bend-based Sherriff-Goslin roofing to do the job for $31,850. Trustee Jill Hunt asked about the possibility of adding a five-year warranty for an extra $535. Stitt and Vice President Jason Walther agreed it was worth the extra money and the measure was approved.

Hunt also gave a quick update on the status of the early stages of the bond project. She said early progress on the seventh and eighth grade classroom addition to the high school is already being done.

“We have completed a conceptual design,” Hunt said. “We had five or six options and we narrowed it to one.”

The facility planning committee has been gathering feedback from the community. Hunt said the top three concerns right now are a separation of seventh and eighth grade from the high schoolers, security and getting students into larger classrooms. She said the next step from June until the end of November will be the engineers and architects completing blueprints. These will be turned over to Triangle Construction in December with hopes of starting construction in March of 2021, dependent on the weather.

Hunt said they are still exploring options for the best location of the new gym for the seventh and eighth grades.

“We’re still being really conservative when we think about it,” Hunt said. “That’s why we’ve pushed that gym addition off until later and we’re focusing on educational spaces first. We already know physical education is covered by the high school gym at a minimum, so we’re going to focus on what is critically important to the school system and then we’ll proceed with caution on the pricing aspects.”

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk closed out the meeting with a reminder that four seats will be open on the board this year. Gottschalk said two six-year seats and one four-year seat will be open. Gottschalk said the deadline to register is July 21.