Student numbers up but athletics participation falls

Benny Westcott

Over the last two months Sweet Home School District has gained 58 students, which is not typical for this time of year, Supt. Tom Yahraes told School Board members Monday night, March 8, in their monthly meeting.

“Our enrollment usually decreases all the way to the end of the school year, as students graduate and what not,” Yahraes said. “It’s a good sign that students are coming back into our enrollment. The main reason is, I believe, that students and families are feeling more comfortable with our in-person hybrid learning.”

“It’s good news for us. We hope to continue to see that increase.”

Yahraes expressed appreciation for the district’s adoption of COVID safety procedures.

“Going around to the schools, they’ve been looking fantastic, with students and staff following safety protocols,” he said.

Foster Elementary Principal Luke Augsburger discussed his students’ schedule, saying “We are really proud of the schedule we were able to build, with K through 3 coming on site five days a week and 4 through 6 coming on site four days a week. We really feel like this has valued our students, their social and emotional needs, given the crisis that we’ve all been through, and has really helped to make sure students and families are taken care of.”

In reports from other schools:

– At the junior high, teachers have been “simulcasting.”

The entire math department and three additional teachers have begun to simultaneously teach in-person and on Zoom during their daily lessons. They have an earbud in one ear to listen to students at home while they also teach in the classroom.

– At the high school, the quarter started before the school switched to hybrid learning, and Principal Ralph Brown said that “a couple of teachers shared anecdotally that some of the kids that had not checked on to the computer showed up for school.

“We have teachers that are really happy with how things are going, seeing kids.”

However, about one-third of the high school student population has remained on distance learning, he noted.

– The total number of students participating in the high school “fall” sports season that is occurring now is 151, which is down from the 193 students who participated in fall sports during the 2019-20 school year.

As far as fans at athletic contests go, Sweet Home is the only school in its conference allowing spectators, according to Athletic Director Nate Tyler. Attendance is limited mostly to family and friends of athletes, who are given tickets to hand out.

COVID Progress

Board members learned that the district has received 640 rapid COVID tests from the state.

“At this time we don’t have to use them, but it’s nice to know we have testing available for the students and the staff if needed,” said District Nurse Patty Oday.

Most of the district staff has received their second COVID shot.

Touching on how students and staff have followed COVID procedures, Oday said, “It’s really going well and I’m hoping we get to move forward and open a few more things up.”

New Buses

The board unanimously approved the purchase, from Western Bus Sales, of six 2022 model year 77- passenger Blue Bird buses and one 2022 model year 66-passenger Blue Bird Bus that is wheelchair-accessible.

The new buses will replace seven 2002 international buses that are each approaching or have exceeded 200,000 miles.

The total cost of the new buses is $896,742 using a cooperative contract initiated by the Eugene School District. The district has been awarded a state clean diesel grant that will reimburse the district for $269,022.60 of the total purchase price resulting in a net cost of $627,719.40.

The district plans to use funds available in the bus replacement fund to cover their portion of the cost. 70 percent of this amount will be reimbursed over the next 10 years through the State School Fund.

The new buses are expected to arrive in time for the 2021-22 school year.

In order to receive the grant, the district needs to scrap the old buses. To do so, a wrecking yard will need to drill a 3-inch hole in the engine block and manifold and disassemble the chassis by cutting the frame.

Equipment and vehicle components that are not part of the engine or chassis may be salvaged.

District Finances

Fiscal Year 2021 spending has declined by $372,381 from $13,998,190 at this time last year to $13,625,809 at this time this year. The reasons given for the decline in spending was less spending for coaching stipends due to the delayed start for sports, less spending on substitutes, delays in filling some job openings, and spending less on bus fuel.

Fiscal year 2020 financial reports are as follows:

– The district’s net position (assets-liabilities) improved by $8,307,392 during the fiscal year.

– The district’s General Fund ending balance decreased by $639,699, due primarily to higher spending for instruction and support services.

– The district’s outstanding debt decreased by $1,528,304.

– The Statement of Net Position includes a $10,007,433 net pension liability balance reflecting the district’s share of the PERS pension system’s net pension liability as of the most recent reporting date of 12/31/2019.

– Expenditures were within authorized appropriations in all areas except for Facilities Acquisition and Construction paid out of the Special Revenue Fund. This area was over-expended by $372,433 due to a $403,446 insurance settlement for water damage at Foster Elementary School. The insurance proceeds were used to pay contractors to repair the damage in time for school to begin.

Finally, in other action, board members unanimously approved the retirement of Donna DiPietro from her position as the Special Education Teacher for the Basic Life Skills Program at Sweet Home Junior High.

The effective date of her retirement will be June 18.