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By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Board discusses COVID-19 policies for fall, approves Community Center lease

Potomac School Board

 


POTOMAC – Potomac Principal John Rouse set up a classroom with six feet between desks, hung signs as reminders about handwashing and hand sanitizer use and had a package of masks available to use for the June 8 school board meeting. This was an effort to visually show the board what returning to school in the fall could look like as they launched into the Montana School Boards Association (MSBA) 1900 Series Knowledge-Based Decision-Making Template. In other business, the board approved signing the annual lease with the Potomac Greenough Community Center (PGCC) for $14,400 plus an addition $10,000 for maintenance.

“I was really complaining that the governor was leaving as much of these responsibilities and decisions on us. The more I thought about it, the decision that’s right for Helena may not be the decision that’s right for Potomac,” said Chair Cliff Vann regarding the numerous policies they were asked to address by the MSBA. “There’s a reason that there is authority at this level that is probably greater than you’ve really thought about.”

Rouse acknowledged that a lot can and will change by fall. The policies voted on can be revisited anytime and changed.

However Rouse explained he needs time to order necessary supplies and implement provisions that the board will require should they return to in-classroom instruction in the fall.

“If we do nothing, there will be families that will not send their children,” said Rouse.

The 1900 Series COVID-19 Emergency Policies are numbered 1900-1912. Rouse said that 1903 School District Meetings and Gatherings and 1905 Student, Staff, and Community Health and Safety were the most critical to operations.

After significant discussion, they unanimously approved an amended Option 3 for 1903. The board agreed to promote the health and safety of students based on the recommendations of statewide health and safety guidelines as approved by the principal and/or the board. Parent’s access to the school would not need prior approval to enter the interior of the building during normal school activities, however there was significant discussion that parents entering the school should be limited to promote social distancing.

The board discussed the various options presented in Policy 1905 regarding physical distancing, cleaning/sanitation, student arrival, temperature screening, hand hygiene behavior, masks and more.

The board discussed how to limit exposure circles for the staff and the 88 students so if there was a positive case in the school, exposure could be isolated and hopefully the entire school would not be required to shut down. One option presented was treating each classroom as more of a family unit and separate from other classes. One issue raised with this was intermingling outside of school and students in different grade levels from the same family.

Another option was keeping the kindergarten through third grade classes separate from the fourth through eighth grade students. Teachers present at the meeting said this would work with the current flow of the day and could be implemented if needed.

Working through the various options in the template, the board made the following decisions regarding the different points in Policy 1905:

• Teachers could facilitate meeting parents in the parking lot to increase physical distancing and limit unneeded exposure in the school.

• Masks are optional and will not be provided.

• Hand hygiene will be exercised at the arrival of school and as needed.

• Teachers and staff are authorized to take temperatures and would be something families would need to comply with to attend school in-person. Students exhibiting a temperature or other symptoms of sickness will be isolated until they can be picked up.

• The board removed the Vulnerable Individuals section. This eliminated the option for teachers and staff to telework should they return to in-person instruction. The staff in attendance agreed with that decision and added that the board and Rouse have made it clear to talk with them if there are issues.

The board voted 4-1 to implement Policy 1905 with amendments.

Potomac Greenough Community Center

Vann provided some history to the board on the relationship between the Potomac Greenough Community Center and the school based on meetings he attended with the Community Center board.

The Community Center is a 501(c)3 that leases the facility to the school for classroom space and activities. Vann said the rent the school pays is the Community Center’s main source of revenue outside of donations.

If the school were evicted they would have to run a levy towards building their own facility. The Community Center would have the option to rent the space out to someone else, potentially getting more money if they could find a renter.

According to Vann four years ago the Community Center looked at the long-term maintenance needs for the building. They put together a 10-year plan and estimated that they needed roughly $15,400 per year to accomplish those upgrades.

“That was a huge sticker shock for [the Potomac School Board] three years ago, sitting at a lease of about $7,800,” said Vann. “It was essentially doubling.”

Vann said the school board refused to allow them to double the lease. They settled on a lease of $13,700 per year.

Vann said he and board member Kelsey Ployhar have met several times with the Community Center board and their board chair in an effort to work collaboratively with the budgets to get some of the big ticket upgrades completed including the roof, furnace and no maintenance metal siding on the building. Vann wants to change the conversation to more of a partnership than a business venture.

“We can’t function without that building and they can’t function without our funds,” said Vann.

When Vann asked the Community Center board what their top priority was they said replacing the siding would cost around $20,000. The lease agreement presented to the School Board was asking for $15,500. Vann and Ployhar recommended $14,400 as the middle ground with $10,000 as an addition to help pay half of the siding project.

“We can afford to take on a pretty good portion of that siding project. And this will help establish that olive branch on our end that says, let’s change the way we have this conversation…That requires a fair amount of trust. And I think somebody’s got to move first. I don’t want this to be here’s the lease price take it or leave it.”

The discussion continued that the school board’s intent with providing more funds to support the Community Center would be to preserve the building since they use it 90% of the time, not fund activities for the Community Center.

Vann brought up bullet N in the lease that would require the school to maintain the UV water treatment system. Vann said the system is dysfunctional and would need to be replaced, something he does not want to do because it is unnecessary. He asked the board to remove it from the lease.

The board approved the $14,400 lease with a $10,000 maintenance added for the 2020-2021 school year with bullet N removed.

In other business:

• The board approved installing a concrete, ADA accessible ramp in the front of the main building using general funds.

 

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