IRON RIVER—Regardless of the weather, it’s time to plan ahead for summer and the next school year. During its Feb. 17 regular meeting, West Iron County’s School Board moved ahead with plans to improve traffic patterns for parents and school bus drivers alike.
The board voted to seek bids for a project that will create a larger dropoff-pickup area for parents near the Stambaugh Elementary School entrance and a more efficient bus dropoff-pickup area nearby, east of the high school building.
The two pickup areas will be separated by an 8-foot wide sidewalk.
Superintendent Chris Thomson and Board Members Tony Tomasoski and Gary Pisoni recently met with officials of the IDI architectural-engineering firm to finalize project plans.
“We went through everything,” Pisoni said. “Exactly what they’re going to do, and who’s responsible for what. I think it’s going to be a good job.”
Bids will be opened in early March, in time for approval at the board’s March 17 meeting. Pisoni said there will be separate bids for demolishing the old bus garage/storage building and for excavation at the site.
Thomson said another engineering firm, GEI, wants to know who wins the bid so it can work with that firm on a handicap accessibility project planned at Nelson Field this summer. “If they’ve got equipment here, maybe they will get a better price.”
On a related matter, the board authorized Thomson to sign a contract with IDI for services related to the project.
Thomson said it is a standard contract that pays the Marquette firm 5.4 percent of the estimated project cost—below the industry standard. He said the cost will be about $6,800.
“That’s an awesome bid,” Board Member Eric Malmquist said.
• In a report on preliminary work for a new school calendar, Thomson said West Iron’s 2015 graduation date may have to be moved back from its traditional date, Memorial Day weekend.
With Memorial Day on May 25 in 2015, Thomson said there could be two weeks between Memorial Day weekend and the last day of school.
No decision has been made, but administrators are discussing their options. “It could be contentious,” he cautioned.
Most of the school calendar is set by the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District five years in advance. “The only days we have to play with are Hunting Day, Winter Break Day and how many days at Thanksgiving.”
By state law, school can’t start before Labor Day, “so we are going to get pushed out to June” with 175 days. Thomson said he is looking at a calendar with 178 days. The main target: 1,098 hours of contact between teachers and students. That will not change.
Thomson said juniors and seniors are in many classes together. With exams, “It’s probably not as educationally sound as we’d like.”
Board members also talked about professional development days and how other districts handle them. Thomson said he prefers two-hour development sessions every two weeks, which, he said, are more effective than daylong sessions.
“That is one of the elements that has allowed us to move along curriculum-wise.”
Several board members said many people don’t understand why school days are shortened for professional development, which can create problems for child care and scheduling. “Appearance-wise, it doesn’t look good,” said Malmquist. “But I understand that other side of it. There are no easy answers.”
Professional development for teachers is required by the state.
• Board members voted to go with a new natural gas provider once the district’s contract ends on March 31.
In the end, it agreed on a two-year contract with Integrys, which already sells electricity to the district. Integrys is a private company, and Mesic is a school cooperative. Both offered a variable rate.
Thomson said Integrys had told the district it would save 15 percent of its present bill. He said he was impressed by the Integrys analyst’s knowledge of trends and projected future rates. “She had all the numbers.”
• Business Manager Amber Laturi noted several property tax revenue changes. A large property near Smoky Lake was granted an agricultural exemption, she said, and the district has to pay back $41,000 in taxes that had been collected. Also, the state’s new veterans’ exemption means a potential loss of $69,000 in revenue from over the last three years that would have to be paid back to the county. “We’re way, way over our normal,” Laturi said.
She said daycare is holding its own, and athletics is doing fine. An amended budget for food services will be coming.
Board Member Pisoni said the owner of the natural gas pipeline has also been granted tax relief through the state. He said Bates Township Supervisor Grant Helgemo told him all the townships will lose “quite a bit.”
Thomson said the schools will be reimbursed by the state for lost revenue.
• In other business, the board:
--Approved a “best practices” resolution for the state, which is an incentive that pays the district $52 per pupil. West Iron, said Thomson, qualifies for the money by meeting seven of the eight criteria.
--Formed a committee to consider the reinstatement of a student who was expelled last September. Under district policy, the student is now eligible to be reinstated. One board member said the case involves a third grade student.