Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Mercer readies for school opening

MERCER, Wis. — Staff and faculty of the Mercer School District are working through in-service days to prepare for the start of fall semester on Tuesday, according to District Administrator Sheri Kopka in her report to the Board of Education on Monday.

The school’s reopening plan was reviewed by the Iron County Department of Health and the day-to-day school operation details will be provided to families so they know what to expect, she said. Supply donations included a $469 cash donation to help kids with school supplies, along with a separate private donation to cover the insurance for the school sports program.

School administrators statewide are urging the Department of Health and Human Services to provide more clarity for when to start and stop in-school instruction during the pandemic, Kopka said. The current DHS guidance is clear about when individuals should or should not be at school in terms of exposure, symptoms and quarantining, he said.

The school received $22,910 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund that will be used to purchase COVID-19 related equipment. The school plans to purchase tents that will work in conjunction with the six picnic tables on the campus property to assist in creating an outdoor learning environment.

The school website will post links to a virtual meeting on Friday for parents to ask questions about virtual learning. Teachers are currently taking professional training on teaching virtually.

Kopka said the summer recreation program was a success in terms of running without any COVID-19 outbreak. The program served as a model on how to operate lunch during the school year in terms of social distancing and sanitation.

“The effort is tremendous,” said Sue Loth, board member. “I’m so impressed with the work that you and everyone else is doing, and we say thank you.”

In discussion on modifying the facility use policy, Kopka said the original policy in place since 1989 has outdated facilities fee schedules and the new one has increased amounts. There are also updates to reflect cleaning requirements.

Bob Davis, school board president, said that many districts are revisiting these policies and there are concerns with a potential liability associated with the update. Changes in the Fund 80 statute leave room for interpretation that goes beyond financial adjustments and creates a significant amount of paperwork.

Nothing from the general fund can be supported other than school district sponsored activities, Davis said. The use of the school district facilities and equipment, how it is arranged and who approves it, is clearly stated in the Wisconsin statutes in that school-sponsored events are covered under the general fund, but anything extraordinary is a different responsibility and liability.

“I think it’s good that we change this for the Fund 80 stuff for the school but before we adopt a complete policy I would like a deeper review on the legalities and the liabilities associated with this,” Davis said. “We have to demonstrably prove that we’ve taken and documented all actions to create a safe environment.”

In discussing the formation of the school board finance committee, Davis said the membership would include the board president or vice president as chair, the board treasurer, the district administrator, the senior district financial analyst or business administrator, and two community members selected by chair and presented to the board for consideration of membership, depending on knowledge of operational and strategy financial planning and management.

The body of work is informational, dialogue and discussion, and actions or recommendations as a result of the work, Davis said.

Henry Joustra, school board member, said the finance committee is essentially taking the role of the board and isn’t necessary.

Davis said the intent of the committee does not duplicate the full board role of approving monthly finances. It is a mechanism for long term planning and to conduct cost benefit analysis research for programming.

“The intent is purely strategic,” Davis said. “There is no process for variance explanation or to correct errors of the past.”

In other business, the board approved several first and second readings of policy updates. The board also approved Kopka’s suggestion that the school comply with the fall sports recommendation of the Indianhead Conference that is expected to be voted on today.

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