Upgrades for Junior High, other schools on home stretch

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home School District has spent about three-fourths of the $8 million raised by the $4 million bond approved by voters in 2017 and a state matching grant to upgrade Sweet Home Junior High, school board members learned Tuesday, Nov. 12, at their monthly meeting.

They also learned that work on the Junior High, and earthquake retrofitting and upgrades at Foster and Holley elementary schools, has progressed at a pretty similar pace.

Business Manager Kevin Strong told board members that of the $8,212,985 the district raised from bond proceeds, the state grant, sale of a manufactured home on property the district purchased next to the Junior High, and interest income, it has spent $6,404,737, all on the Junior High project.

Outlays for construction have totaled $5,808,558 thus far, with architectural services costing $498,009 and permit fees $98,171.

Of the $2,986,275 in state grants for seismic work at the grade schools, a total of $2,977,099 has been spent, which includes $165,815 to Gerding Builders after rain caused water damage. Strong said the insurance company has assured him that money will be reimbursed.

Maintenance Supervisor Josh Darwood reported that siding will be put on the elementary schools within the next couple of weeks, after which they will be painted.

He said the roof was “on for the most part” at the Junior High as of the board meeting, including the new gym, administration offices, corridor, and locker rooms.

Darwood said siding is scheduled to go on the new construction by the end of the month.

“They’ll start on the parking side and work their way around.”

Also, heating systems are in and functioning.

New Board Member Joe Kennedy asked whether noise was disrupting students.

Darwood responded that loud construction work is scheduled to not conflict with school hours and he noted that most of the buildings now have double walls, “so noise transfer is actually minimal.”

In other action, the board:

– Agreed to authorize Strong to apply for an incentive fund offered by the state that would provide a 25-percent match for money the district pays to reduce its share of the PERS system liability.

Strong explained that the state is looking for ways to reduce the pension system’s $27 billion unfunded liability. To encourage local public employers in the state to take action, the Legislature this year appropriated $100 million to provide matching funds.

“It’s not often you can immediately, with no strings attached, make 25 percent return on your money,” Strong said.

He explained that the school district would have until next August to come up with up to $1.2 million that it could apply to the unfunded liability, for which it would receive a $300,000 match, if it can come up with that money and if funding remains available.

The first round of grants closes Dec. 2, but is limited to districts whose individual unfunded liabilities exceed 200 percent of their payroll. Sweet Home’s is “much smaller than that,” he said. Sweet Home’s share of the unfunded liability is $5.4 million, in the most recent valuation.

“There’s no guarantee we would get this,” he cautioned the board. “If enough employers apply, the money’s gone and there will be none for us. If money is left over, a second window opens.”

Board President Jason Redick asked if the amount had to be $1.2 million.

Strong replied that the grant would be 25 percent of whatever the district came up with, up to $1.2 million. Reynolds said, “There doesn’t seem to be any harm going down that road at this point.”

Board members Joseph Kennedy, Van Eck, Reynolds, Redick, Debra Brown and Jenny Daniels voted unanimously to authorize Strong to proceed. Absent were Jim Gourley, Chanz Keeney and Angela Clegg.

– Learned that district enrollment, two months into the school year, is 2,322 – 11 students behind last year, but 11 ahead of the two previous years, Superintendent Tom Yahraes noted. Foster, with 331 total students, has remained virtually unchanged over the past four years, as are both the Junior High (143) and Sweet Home High School (368).

Hawthorne (359) is 12 over last year and Holley is 14 over 2018-19. Oak Heights, at 276 total students, is 18 below last year’s number. Sweet Home Charter School (143) is also nearly equal to the student body it had last year.

– Learned that district-wide attendance was 93.04 percent in October, with Holley finishing the month with the highest attendance rate – 95.66 percent, followed by Hawthorne (95.18 percent) and Foster (94.74 percent). Oak Heights finished with 93.76 percent, followed by the Junior High (92.82) and the High School (89.99). Sweet Home Charter School finished the month with 95.21 percent.

“Anything over 92 is looking real good,” Yahraes said.

– Discussed a report on physical restraint of students, which is required annually, presented by Student Services Director Thad Holub.

During the past year 17 students were physically restrained and 11 were placed in restraints, according to the report. Holub said restraints are used as a last resort in disciplinary situations, adding that new state legislation has further restricted educators’ abilities to use restraints.

Holub said he has held a couple of trainings this year on how to respond to various levels of crisis, for new staff, and for 12 others who had previous training.

He cited the example of a child on a table in a classroom, and how staffers would have to decide what the best course of action would be, given the circumstances at play in the situation. Sometimes, he suggested, it might be better not to give the errant student attention and simply ignore him or her.

Board Members Jason Van Eck and Mike Reynolds said they were bothered by letting one child disrupt a class and provide a bad example to other students, as staff did not take action.

“We’re following the rules the best we know how,” Holub said.

Yahraes said “select staffers” in each building are trained “how to do it in an appropriate way.”

Holub noted that not long ago schools were allowed to seclude students. Now they can’t, he said.

“It seems kind of unfortunate that one student can disrupt an entire class,” Reynolds said. “They should just be taken out.”

“It’s frustrating,” Van Eck said, recalling how he got a “swat” for cutting up when he was in junior high, though he added that he wasn’t advocating that.

“We are allowing a child to disrupt the rest of the classroom or showing the rest of the classroom that it’s OK to act this way. It’s just not right.

“I think we need to be more on the aggressive side of the policy than the passive side of the policy.”

– Accepted the resignation of Greg Nathan, temporary math teacher at Sweet Home Junior High, who left for “personal reasons.”

– Endorsed Lebanon resident and Linn-Benton-Lincoln Educational Service District Board Member Terry Duncan to fill a vacant seat on the Oregon School Boards Association Board of Directors.

Though only Redick said he knew Duncan, the Sweet Home board members voted unanimously in favor of him getting the seat.

” I’d rather it be someone from Lebanon than Corvallis,” Reynolds said.

– Unanimously approved updates to a wide range of district policy updates, ranging from expression of milk in the workplace to graduation requirements, student behavior, discipline, criminal records checks, volunteers and much more.

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