Eastern Allamakee Community School District Board of Directors discusses non-curricular clubs; Superintendent Murray shares thoughts on AEA legislation

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

The Eastern Allamakee Community School District (EACSD) Board of Directors met in its regular monthly session at Kee High School in Lansing Monday, January 15. The meeting was called to order by Bobbie Goetzinger, Board President.

Board members present included Tony Becker, Bobbie Goetzinger, Joe Manning, Melanie Mauss and Arla Wagner. Also in attendance were EACSD Superintendent and Grades 7-12 Principal Dr. Sarah Murray, New Albin Elementary School Principal Donna Thomas and Board Secretary Michele Martin. Visitors included Allison Fitzwater, Nick Hammell, Melissa Hammell, Erin Mettille, Isabelle Mettille, Andrew Kolsrud, Alex Galema, Ian Zahren, Jessica Kurth, Lisa Hermeier, Marian Verdon and reporter Susan Cantine-Maxson.

After the adoption of the agenda, the board opened the meeting to public comment. Vocal music teacher Ian Zahren reviewed his curriculum and assured the board that all curriculum aligned to state and national standards. He also explained his role as RAGBRAI coordinator and the distribution of funds as they related to the school’s grant requests. Board President Goetzinger responded that she had talked to each member of the board and all were pleased with the high quality of the vocal music program and his dedication to excellence.

Visitor Alex Galema inquired about non-curricular organizations being held at school facilities. Superintendent Murray explained that all policies were on the school website. In addition, this topic was to be addressed later in policy recommendations.

After public comments, the board discussed a few of the bills presented including the electric bill and legal bill. The legal bill included fees incurred during a special work session with the district’s law firm.

Superintendent Murray informed the board that she was meeting with Jim Martin-Schram soon to discuss potential cost-saving measures through improved energy efficiency. Board member Wagner suggested the administration contact Alliant Energy to see if they had a program similar to the Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative which allows groups to join a consortium using solar energy.

After clarification of these bills, the board approved the January consent items, minutes of the December meeting, bills for January, Secretary’s Financial Report, Student Activity and Food Service Reports. In a lone personnel item, Heather Darling received a contract as a teacher aide.

Several drafts of the school calendar for the 2024-2025 school year were presented. Superintendent Murray told the board that the State Legislature had recently discussed allowing schools to start the week after the Iowa State Fair. This may affect the choice of a calendar if the State allows earlier starts. Originally, the board was considering an August 26 start date but if they can start by August 20, they may choose to do so, which would end the year earlier.

It was suggested that virtual snow days have been working well. The board expressed support for their continuation. A public hearing for the 2024-2025 school calendar will be held at the next board meeting scheduled for Monday, February 19 at 7 p.m. in Room N110 at Kee High School.

Several policies which need to be included in Board Policy were given a review and first reading. These included: 105 Assistance Animals; 401.12-R(1) Employee Use Of Cell Phones Regulation; 401.12 Employee Use Of Cell Phones; and 200.4 Board Member Social Media Engagement. The first policy related to service animals, such as service dogs, being allowed in the school district buildings. The second and third policies related to prohibiting the sharing of private information about students through social media and texting to be in line with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) guidelines.

Superintendent Murray provided the board members with several pages of financial and student documentation for their review. Next, she presented ten performance standards to the board to review which may help facilitate the upcoming Superintendent Performance Review. The Superintendent Review will be conducted Monday, February 19 in closed session.

Superintendent Murray encouraged board members to contact legislators to show support for Area Education Agencies (AEAs), such as Keystone AEA that serves the EACSD and other districts throughout northeast Iowa. Dr. Murray noted that if AEAs are cut back or reduced, schools could lose instructional support and media distribution. If proposals move forward, parents of special needs children may opt to hire their own specialists to work with children or the AEA specialists. She suggested that this may work in large metropolitan areas but seems unworkable in rural areas where families may have to travel great distances to find a specialist to work with special needs children.

Principal Thomas reported that the New Albin Elementary School building had some heating issues with control units and a bottle filler needed repairs. She noted that all repairs are complete, and everything is back in working order.

FAST (Formative Assessment Strategies Testing) is in progress. The New Albin Elementary students are participating in a Penny War to raise money for Devyn Kaas, who is battling leukemia. Principal Thomas explained the process of a Penny War as a highly competitive event among the classes which was very engaging for the students. She said that approximately $1,100 has been raised so far by the event.

Superintendent Murray provided the board with Policy 502.3 Freedom of Expression, Policy 504.2 Student Organizations and Policy 603.9 Academic Freedom. The board reviewed the policies, discussed changes, and will put them on the agenda for next month’s board meeting for the first reading.

The student organization policy created the most discussion. The board will need to decide if non-curricular clubs will be included as part of the school organizations. Non-curricular clubs would include any club that does not directly relate to a subject taught in the curriculum. One board member suggested the clearest policy would be an ”all or nothing” approach which means that any non-curriculum club would have to meet outside of school time and off school property, but students would be excused for field trips. Those clubs would be a partnership but not school sponsored, and the district would allow non-school personnel to act as active advisors for such clubs.

Visitor Nick Hammell asked the board what would happen to the funds that those groups have raised. Superintendent Murray will clarify with the district lawyer about the use of such funds. The board hopes to have a decision on the matter in approximately two months.

Additional decisions need to be made about how snow days affect hourly paid staff. The board will discuss this matter further at its February meeting. Board members will attend an Onboarding Workshop scheduled for January 24 in Decorah.