Neosho schools approve various action items

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

The Neosho Board of Education met on Jun. 21 for their monthly meeting approving the district’s salary schedule, school supply bid, an updated safe return to school plan and an architect proposal for the STEAM Academy renovations.

Salary schedule: The board approved the salary schedules for the upcoming school year, with the overall average pay increase for salaried employees equaling 2.78%. Those with a bachelor’s degree averaged a 2.2% increase while those with a master’s degree average a 3.35% increase.

The degrees plus 2-6 years of experience average came out to a 2.88% increase, 6-10 years averaged a 2.95% increase and those with more than 10 years of experience with a master’s degree averaged a 3.52% increase.

Cummins said the 10 years of experience with a masters received an average increase of 3.52% stood out to him because of the district’s desire to keep them in the district long term.

“That’s why you see some of the heavier percentages to the right and down,” said Cummins referencing the higher percentage increases for more experienced and tenured employees.

The other pay schedule increases that Cummins referenced that the district was behind on were custodial, food service and nursing.

“You see those raises, the food service, custodial minimum wage is going up to $11.15 in January,” said Cummins. “We set the base of that schedule at $11.15. Now the base is there so the new person that comes in will be in good shape.”

School Supply Bid: The board approved staff’s recommendation to purchase the majority of school supplies for Pre-K through eighth grade students from the Walmart Supercenter in Neosho for the 2021-22 school year.

Dollar General, Office Depot, Walgreens and Walmart were all contacted and asked to submit quotes, with Office Depot and Walmart submitting quotes.

Office Depot quote was for $274,539.00 while Walmart’s was for $175,000.00 with more savings possible once Walmart checks rollback prices prior to the purchase.

“One of the missions of the ESSER funds is to address social/emotional burdens that families or students have,” said Cummins. “We just thought this is one way we could take that burden off of some of our families.”

Russell voiced a concern, asking if they were just spending the money because they had it and it was there or if it was really something they needed to spend money on.

Cummins responded that it was all about perspective, saying they wouldn’t do it in a normal year because they normally don’t have funds to allocate to that purpose but that it did follow the mandate of what the ESSER funds were supposed to be spent on.

“Is it the right thing to do with the money? That’s the question we’ve been posed,” said Cummins.

Updated Safe Return to School Plan: The board approved an updated Safe Return to School plan, a requirement of the ESSER II funding by Jun. 23.

The district has had their plan, Neosho United, posted on the district website since last summer but it’s been updated since then, thus the new board approval needed.

One of the biggest changes is that masks will be voluntary at all district buildings next year.

“If we continue to go in the wrong direction, who knows where we might end up,” said Cummins. “Everything is designed as what we talked about a few weeks ago (at the retreat). If things continue to heat up, we may have to revisit it. But this will be an updated version from a year ago, we can change it every week if we want. But we can certainly change it before school.”

Russell added that whatever was decided, citing masks as an example, to not commit to it for the full year.

Board member Kim Wood asked about students eating in the cafeteria, with Assistant Superintendent Richie Fretwell said they would have an option to as well as eating in the classroom similar to last year.

With two months until school starts, the staff and board all emphasized that it was a “living document” meaning that it could and would change as necessary.

Central Architect Proposal: The board approved a $60,000 fixed sum proposal from Paragon Architecture to be retained to assist with developing the vision for Central Elementary as it transitions to a Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Academy.

The district has engaged with Paragon, one of their architects, and Amazeum to brainstorm what the inside of the space will look like.

Wiest asked about the total cost for the plans for Central renovations and Cummins responded that $250,000 has been set aside for the past two years for work inside Central that needs to be done.

Cummins also brought up how the ESSER funds might be a good opportunity to replace the windows at Central.

Russell asked how many students were to be expected for the STEAM Academy.  

The STEAM Academy will have 180 students, 45 students per grade levels 1-4 with two teachers at every grade level.

Applications will be accepted in the late fall, with a demographer modeling who they accept after the district as a whole.

“It’ll have IEP students, same percentage. Same percentage of non-English speakers, same % of free and reduced lunches,” said Cummins. “We wanted it to mirror the rest of the district so when we compare data on how those students achieve, it’s not deemed to be yeah you handpicked the students.”

“Benton and Carver Elementary schools are really big,” added Cummins on choosing Central as the location for the STEAM Academy. “We couldn’t convert those and South (Elementary is a little bigger. Central kind of became the natural fit. It’s closer downtown which fulfills the community involvement piece. And really these academy type, PBL schools are very much project based. Having the resources of the park, the square, the fish hatchery, all those things, lend itself well to that type of learning environment.”

Wiest asked between the storm shelters and renovations, if they were willing to spend that amount of money to make the school livable when they had already made big money commitments.

A STEAM Academy has been discussed for the past couple of years, part of the discussion for the 2020 ballot measure was to figure out how to use Central Elementary long term to educate the students and get the most out of the building.

“Part of that discussion melded in with what the desire to come up with a location where we could really embrace the Project Based Learning (PBL) model of learning and base it around a STEAM curriculum,” said Cummins. “the starting date for when we originally wanted to start this coming August, Because of COVID and not wanting to deal with redistricting elementary students with COVID, we pushed it back a year. We hired the principal, she’s hired her staff that will be the steam staff in the fall of 22, this year we will teach 1-4 grade central students in that district, then it will become a steam academy next fall.”

Central was chosen because of its size with the building not having traditional elementary classroom design and the classrooms smaller than the typical 900-1000 square feet that many new classrooms are.

“A lot of these (STEAM) Academy spaces are converted retail spaces,” said Cummins. “It’s not so much about learning in a classroom. It’s about making a learning experience, whether it’s in the hallway or lounge area, and how do we convert those spaces to where learning is happening everywhere and not just in the classroom.”

The scope of work includes developing building design informed by program requirements and code requirements, coordinating with the Scott Family Amazeum team , participation in design meetings lead by the Scott Family Amazeum team, the evaluation and feasibility analysis of existing facility to support design concepts, developing deliverables in conjunction with Scott Family Amazeum team to District and evaluating project budget and cost estimates.