IRON RIVER—This is what our winter has been like: West Iron County School Superintendent Chris Thomson said his district has had 11 “act of God” days this winter, when school days were shortened or canceled completely due to weather.
“And 10 of the 11 were for cold,” he said. “The only actual snow day we had was Feb. 21.”
There have been six full days off—the maximum allowed before the days have to be made up—and five two-hour delays.
Now that it’s late March and winter is officially (though not really) over, West Iron school officials have to decide how they are going to make up lost time, so they can meet state requirements for class days and contact hours between teachers and students.
“We’re below on contact hours,” Thomson said late last week, “but we’re still OK on the days.”
As a step in that direction, the School Board voted during its March 17 regular meeting to turn April 21 and May 6 into full school days.
The school calendar had both April 21 and May 6 with 1 p.m. dismissals, so staff members could attend professional development sessions. Now they will be full days for students.
This will make up four missed contact hours. It helps, but the district still has to make up another 8.75 hours. What about those?
Thomson told the March 17 meeting that a recommendation would be presented at the April board meeting. But a day or two later he told them by email that a decision needs to be made right now, before spring break starts.
That way, a plan can be in place when classes resume April 7.
The main question is whether to add minutes to the school day or days to the school calendar. Both options have their drawbacks.
To make up 8.75 hours, 14 minutes could be added to the length of each school day starting April 7—but that pushes back the schedule for other events linked to the dismissal time, such as bus schedules, practice times, meetings, spring sports, etc. “If we add minutes,” said Thomson, “we need to start that sooner rather than later.”
The other choice is to add school days. Right now, the school year is scheduled to end Friday, May 30. Additional days would bump the final day of school to the first week of June.
Two things to remember: For a school day to count with the state, there has to be at least 75 percent attendance. Also, added days have an economic impact to the district.
There is no more “give” in the school calendar. After the spring break, the only weekdays without classes are April 18 (Good Friday) and May 26 (Memorial Day). Thomson said there has been no talk on the state level about waiving the days or hours requirements.
There’s one more factor to keep in mind: What if winter isn’t done with us yet? A late snow day or even a two-hour delay could ruin administrators’ plans. April snowstorms certainly aren’t unprecedented in Iron County.
“I’ve lived in the U.P. my whole life,” said Thomson, “and I’m afraid of a snowstorm” in the last days before spring break.
• Finance Committee Chair Rob Possanza updated the board on the district’s finances. He said West Iron has collected eight months of interest ($16,435) from funds placed into a money market account. “It’s important to note that we’re very aware of our money, to make sure that we’re getting interest on it” when it doesn’t have to be spend right away.
Through eight months, the district has collected 61 percent of its general fund revenue and spent 54 percent of its budgeted expenditures. “So we’re in a decent situation. All the managers and all the staff have been doing a very good job.”
The daycare program is holding its own, he said, and board members discussed getting a fingerprint scanner to help keep track of every child taking breakfast at school in the district. A card scanner is being used now, but a fingerprint reader could do the worker faster and easier. District officials talked about other ways it can be used in the school lunch program.
Even with all the required receord-keeping, Possanza said, the breakfast program is $11,400 to the good
The district’s sinking fund has a current balance of $253,540. So far this year, $67.895 has been spent. This summer’s access project at Stambaugh Elementary will use the rest of it.
This year, the money has been used to remodel the former elementary school locker rooms, help pay for the goal post project, additional lighting on the school campus, the roof overhang by the high school gym, and prep work for the student drop-off area.
“Money well spent on our sinking fund,” Thomson concluded. “It’s 100 percent efficient use of the taxpayers’ money.”
• High school-middle school Principal Mike Berutti told the board that an essay written by eight grader Steven Nelson has had impacts outside the classroom.
Nelson wrote the essay after seeing the movie “Chasing Ice.” It was sent to the Extreme Ice Survey and Chasing Ice team members, headed by James Balog. They wrote back and said Steven’s essay may be put on their website. Balog will also be sending a signed copy of his book to the library.
“Our K-12 focus has been on writing for a few years now,” the principal said. “Not only are we seeing our scores go up in our MEAPs and our MMEs and ACTs, but here’s something that is going to be posted on a website.”
Nelson also won an award and read a presentation to all middle schoolers before going to a state competition.
“It’s exciting, and it’s nice to see the kids are being rewarded for their efforts.”
• Elementary Principal Michelle Thomson said Teresa Baumgartner, chair of the Stambaugh parent-teacher association, will be purchasing two more interactive whiteboards. It’s same amount as the PTO gave the year before.
She also said two elementary teachers, Brenda Grubbs and Sue LaFountain, attended a conference recently “and they came back with some fantastic social media ideas for kids as young as kindergarten.” The idea, she said, is for students to be more careful about the information they post on social media.