Board votes to raise rent for teachers

On a recommendation from the school Housing Committee, the Grand Canyon School Board approved a 10 percent rent increase for teacher housing effective July 1. The increase will raise monthly rents by between $7.50 and $25.

"Since the late 90s, the rent has not been increased and now we have maintenance needs," said School Board President Charles Wahler, who also serves on the Housing Committee. "We have a repair schedule and would like to generate enough revenue to make sure we can keep it up."

He said that the increase will enable the use of more durable materials.

"It will be possible to put tile rather than linoleum and not have as much turnover of materials," he said.

The committee didn't recommend when to make the change but Wahler said July 1 would make sense as it would be the start of the new fiscal year.

"Personally I've been pushing for this for a number of years but we've put it off time and again," he said. "We've made a serious commitment to get on this program to do stuff that will cost a lot of money and we need to get more money in. We need the (maintenance) program to be self-sufficient."

Board member Bess Foster agreed.

"We should start July 1," she said. "It's not an enormous increase and for anyone new, we can let them know that's going to be the rent. The sooner we do it, the sooner we get more revenue."

Contracts

As of last week, there were 51 teacher and staff contracts offered, with 20 left to be signed. The deadline was Monday.

Foster said that she was concerned about the elimination of one of two Individual Education Plan directors.

"I feel like that is so important of the positions," she said. "I just feel like we've got enough kids who need that. Am I mistaken to be a little concerned about that?"

Superintendent Sheila Breen said that with the school's policy of inclusion and with the departure of some special needs students, "the overall load is not that high. Most students are finding support in their classes...I don't think it's unmanageable."

She said that she invited a colleague who is "a master of inclusion" to come to the school in August to train Bill Jacobs, who will assume all of the school's IEP duties.

"She is going to show him how to do it, and provide materials to give him the kind of support he really needs," Breen said. "If we find that kids aren't getting services they need, then we'll change things."

Foster asked how many special ed kids there are, but Breen said it wasn't a matter of how many.

"It's not the number of kids identified but their needs," she said. "One or two kids could change the entire structure of special ed. With the number of kids we have now, this is doable."

Parent Suzette Streit challenged the decision.

"What is the justification for eliminating this important position?" she asked. "I don't believe it (service) is adequate now."

"We don't need two people," Breen said. "We need one who does it well."

She also defended the school's lack of a special education classroom.

"That's a decade old at least," she said. "Until about 1990 the first model of service delivery was to keep them in special ed classrooms as much as possible. But the kids felt left out and missed things the others were learning."

Foster asked how long it would take for the administration to make changes if things aren't working as they plan.

"If we start this, when are we going to decide when it's not working?" she asked. "Will it be three months, a year?"

Breen said they expect to know, and to act if necessary, by Christmas.

Board member Clarinda Vail said that elimination of the position was "quite the scuttlebutt" among parents, who she said could not understand how one person could handle the school's special ed needs.

"They don't understand how one person's going to do it, either in the classroom or out," she said. "You guys should be prepared to understand that. There's quite a bit of explanation (needed)."

"I feel there are some valid concerns of people who are worried about this all going to one person," added Foster. "From what I hear the paperwork alone that's involved is too much."

"We will be watching very closely," said Breen.

Teacher absenteeism

Breen reported that teacher absenteeism was up over last year, resulting in more than $30,000 spent on substitute teachers.

"A lot is due to illness. It's been a snowy year and a lot more people have been sick, but that hasn't been the total story," she said.

Administration is developing a spread sheet to track who has been out and when to identify trends, then will speak with teachers.

"We will have absenteeism down," Breen said.

Board member Emmons Berry asked about sick day usage, and if teachers might feel pressured to use their sick days or lose them.

Breen said teachers get 10 sick days and two personal days a year and may accumulate up to 200, as well as 35 vacation days.

"After that, it's use it or lose it, and we do have some people in that situation," Breen said. "One of the issues is that when we pay out for those days, it's $15 a day so it's worth more to them to use the days, but there is a professionalism aspect."

Board member Tammie Harris said that the absenteeism was setting a bad example for students.

"It's hard for them to understand why they have to be in school if their teachers are not," she said.

Student absenteeism

Kelso said that high school teachers would like to see a change in the policy under which students with excessive absences lose class credit. The current policy allows eight excused absences and eight unexcused absences.

"The high school teachers thought that was lax," he said.

They believe six excused and two unexcused absences were more reasonable, split up between semesters so that students would face consequences for the full course, not just half of it.

"This year there are students with eight unexcused absences who already have a half a credit. The eight are for the year, but they are only at risk for half the year," Kelso said.

He also asked if a board member could be present during meetings with students.

"It might carry weight if there was board involvement when it comes time to deny credit," he said.

Foster said that it could be effective, but that administration first had to ensure that attendance was being taken properly.

"We need to make sure we're doing this correctly," she said.

Kelso agreed.

"That has hamstrung us as far as getting on attendance," he said, adding that next year, the school health aide Peggy Russell will be following up on absences as part of her duties.

"We can do a lot better next year and we mean to," he said.

IB updates

Foster asked about progress in bringing IB trainers here. Breen said she and Becky Crumbo were in contact with the IB consultant to identify trainers who can come next fall. Crumbo said they decided to set aside a Friday and Saturday in the fall and then find a trainer who can come those days.

"If we can't, then we'll have that day as a work day anyway and use it in another direction," Breen said.

Grand Canyon School librarian Nancy Green provided a report from the IB training she attended recently, saying it was a pleasure to be around "people who speak librarian."

The training, she said, emphasized that ­ with field trips to the community library, as well as to the Flagstaff public library and Northern Arizona University's Cline Library ­ the school library is on-track to meet IB goals.

"They said it was important to have relationships with other libraries," she said. "I've felt strongly about that for years."

She said IB also expects a well-staffed library that can meet the important research needs of students and that it was important that all teachers be trained to use the library's research databases.

"Research is the cornerstone of IB and it's critical for grades four and five, nine and 10 and 11 and 12," she said. "It's important that teachers see and understand what we have available to us."

Green also noted that this year's library budget of $20,000 enabled her to fulfill every teacher request for books and many student requests, except those out of print. She was also able to fill in gaps and order new materials.

"I don't know if you can keep the funding as high as last year, but for heaven's sake, let's not go back to $3,000 a year," she said.

On another topic, Green said the library was going through a lot of copy paper.

"Copy paper is somewhat of an issue," she said, adding that some schools use a coin operated copier to put a check on the volume.

"That's a place I wouldn't want to go to deal with budget issues, collecting dimes from kids," said Wahler.

Breen said that in response to discovering that sometimes between Thursday evening and Monday morning, as much as 2,500 sheets of paper have run through the copier, she researched how much the school is spending on paper.

"It's not terribly expensive, about $10,000 a year for paper," she said. "We need to make sure people aren't taking reams home, but unless there's a big waste and the budget increases significantly, I don't think it's out of control."

Land grant

Breen also offered an update on the school's request for Forest Service land under the Education Land Grant Act, saying they are collecting all the necessary letters of support. School Maintenance Supervisor Andrew Aldaz met with District One County Supervisor Carl Taylor and the county parks and recreation director.

"We told them what we wanted to do and they have invited me to come to the Board of Supervisors meeting in June," Breen said. "They want to make the development of the athletic fields and areas like that part of the master plan of Coconino County."

Vail suggested that school officials meet with those in Tusayan who helped spearhead the move to make sure the message is consistent.

Four-day week

Under new business, Breen introduced discussion about the four-day school week.

"I wanted to get discussion started, talk about pros and cons and see if it's something the board wants to continue," she said. "I have concerns about the length of the day and concerns about absenteeism by students and teachers."

"In my mind, after 2 p.m., how much good is truly being done," said Foster.

Vail said that she recalls when the four-day week started some 20 years ago. "All they talked about was that it was because of the absenteeism," she said. "If anyone had to do anything like go to the doctor, they had to miss school so it was established to reduce the absentee rate."

She said that many doctors take Fridays off now, making it more difficult for families to conduct all of their business on that day.

"About 80 percent of the time I can get everything done on a Friday," said Vail. "What effect would there be if we implemented back to a five day week. Would absenteeism be up? I'm not closed to discussion but boy, will it be a discussion for this community."

Wahler said that since they were going to "open a Pandora's box" with the discussion, they should include an exploration of year-round school as well.

"We might as well talk about everything," he said. "Any proposal we want to make to change things will mean some very lively discussion. We're certainly looking at it for the 2006-2007 year at the earliest. If we want to do it that soon, we need to start having those discussions and those meetings because the public will weigh in very strongly."

He said that some Arizona schools ­ Payson, for example, and Tuba City's elementary school ­ have already adopted a full year program. It was also implemented in Flagstaff for a time.

"It's gotten very big and is becoming more common," he said.

Breen said there were numerous options to explore, including keeping the four day week but having a longer school year to shorten the days.

"My concern is the length of the day," she said. "I think (in the late afternoon) kids start checking out. I think teachers start checking out."

She said there were several models to consider, most with a longer break in the summer than during the rest of the year.

In other business

The first summer school session is scheduled for June 6-30, with five teachers signed on and 60 students recommended to attend, said Kelso. This session will focus on reading remediation using Open Court intervention materials.

Summer school is also scheduled for Aug. 1-11 "for folks who can use a little AIMS brush up," he said.

Kelso said he was not sure if the sixth grade Camp Colton trip would go as scheduled because as of last week, the facility was still closed due to snow.

The board accepted, with regret, the resignation of fifth-grade teacher Shelly Talker who has accepted a position with the Page Unified School District.

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