School Board backs pursuit of Race to the Top funding

by Jeff Pederson Sheboygan Falls News Editor

The Sheboygan Falls School Board is set to lend its support Wisconsin’s Race to the Top application for federal-education funding.

The board approved its pursuit of the $4 billion federal innovation and reform education grant at its regular monthly meeting Monday, Dec. 21, in the Sheboygan Falls High School library.

The grant, which was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, includes two steps, Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2, which have different formulas for dispersing the funds.

District Administrator Dave Wessel said the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) is hoping to receive $250 million, which will be distributed to all participating schools in Exhibit 1.

“If Wisconsin is selected, we will find out in April,” Wessel said. “Funds will be distributed based on the Title 1 formula.

“All districts that choose to participate will receive less no than $60,000 or no more than $145,000,” he said. “The belief is that if more schools sign on, the state will have a better chance of being selected to receive the grant.”

If Wisconsin is selected, the district will have 90 days to finalize and forward its work plan for use of the grant funds to the state.

“Even if Wisconsin is chosen to receive the grant, there is an opt-out for us,” Wessel said. “If the requirements are too strict or the money is so minimal, we can drop out.

“There are a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers right now,” he said. “It is a bit difficult to understand all of this, because we haven’t had much time to review them. We will keep the board updated, as more information comes in.”

Board member Sandy Seifert said the district should pursue the grant money.

“There are unknown factors for sure,” Seifert said. “But I think we could lose out, if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity.”

In other business, the board reviewed the upcoming selection process for the high school principal position.

Wessel said the community, staff and student selection committees will begin meeting in mid-January.

“The position was posted at the beginning of December,” he said. “Right now, we have 13 applications in.”

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jean Born said the process will begin in January and move swiftly into the spring hiring timeframe.

“The committee meetings have been set for January 11th, 12th and 13th,” Born said. “We are just about ready to go.”

The application deadline is Friday, Jan. 15.

The board discussed an opinion submitted by the district’s legal firm, regarding the participation of board members in hiring meetings.

The opinion advised against the attendance of board members at hiring meetings, which directly or indirectly refer to the standing of a family member.

Board member Greg Pribek, whose wife is a teacher at Sheboygan Falls High School, was referenced in regard to his participation in hiring meetings for the high school principal position.

Board President John Mauer said he sought the legal opinion as a way to address any possible issues, regarding conflict of interest.

“This is just an advisory opinion,” Mauer said. “It is not an issue.

“It is simply something we can refer to in case a question comes up,” he said.

“We wouldn’t want a cloud hanging over the decision-making process. That’s why we have this opinion to work off of,” Wessel added. “Any complaint would fall onto the individual, not the board. It is the individual board member’s decision to participate or not to participate in such meetings.”

In response, Pribek said he has refrained from voting on teacher contracts, during his time on the board.

The board voted to approve the annual Sheboygan Falls High School Close Up Club trip to Washington, D.C., from March 7-12, and a German trip to Bemidji, Minn., May 14-16.

A $1,000 gift to the Sheboygan Falls High School robotics program from the Kohler Foundation earned board approval.

The board also approved the final reading of the NEOLA policy book, including all updates and revisions.

District Business Manager Mary Blaha reviewed the 2010-11 budget calendar.

In the administrative reports portion of the meeting, Wessel said the DPI recently gave superintendents the ability to cancel school do to a pandemic flu outbreak, with a waiver of school hours available.

However, Wessel said he has yet to receive clear instructions on how to pursue the waiver, and will likely not until spring.

German instructor Bernie McKichan spoke to the board about the high school’s successful studentexchange partnership with German High School.

High School Principal Dr. Chester “Bud” Pulaski said recent site-council meetings have focused on increasing the knowledge and awareness of school to career programs and opportunities.

Assistant High School Prinicipal and Athletic Director Luke Goral said the formation of a studentleadership council has been proposed. The council would meet quarterly to organize fundraisers and special activities.

Born said more than 500 people recently attended a 4-year-old kindergarten sing-a-long at SFES.

Middle School Principal Meloney Markofski reported that a Read 180 Committee has formed in anticipation of the program’s start at the middle-school level.

The committee has visited with SFHS Read 180 teachers and will soon be visiting similar middle-school programs in Port Washington and New Holstein.

Markofski also noted the possible formation of a district-wide breakfast program and a Homework Club on Wednesday afternoons.

Elementary School Principal Kellie Manning informed the board of recent holiday sing-a-long events, which drew over 1,000 people to SFES over two nights.

Manning discussed plans for starting a monthly building newsletter, in an effort to increase lines of communication with parents.

Director of Special Education and Pupil Services Ann Roy said the recent H1N1 flu vaccine clinic at SFES drew 530 community members.

“Our numbers were good, but we did not get as many students as we had hoped for,” Roy said. “There is a possibility that we will have another one in January.”

Mauer thanked the principals for their continued efforts.

“I want to acknowledge the work of the building principals,” he said. “Their work often goes unnoticed, but they do a great job leading their team in each building.”

During the board committee reports portion of the meeting, board member Tom Bigler said the district is looking into hiring a firm to examine the condition and assess the renovation, improvement repair needs of each school building.

He also noted that the Sheboygan Falls High School Booster Club has pledged $30,000 to the construction of new bleachers in the high-school gym.

Wessel reported that the Professional Golf Association has approached the district to rent SFES for use as a day-care center for golfers’ children, during the PGA Championship Aug. 9-15 at Whistling Straits.

SFES served in the same capacity when the PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits in 2004.

The board also met in closed session to discuss administrative contracts, rollover of administrative contracts, a compensation request from an exempt staff member and to consider the performance evaluation of the district administrator.

Prior to the meeting, Pribek expressed his displeasure with a late notice of an addition to the closedsession agenda.

“I have a problem with things being added to the agenda right before our meeting,” he said. “I think if an item took this long to be added to the agenda, it should wait until next month’s meeting.”

Board member Peter Geise inquired whether the full meeting agenda was posted on the district’s Web site. Board Secretary Audrey Sager said closed session agendas were not included on the Web site.

The next Sheboygan Falls School Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the high-school library.

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