District focuses on more facility work

Legislative, COVID updates also on school board agenda

BROOKINGS – The Brookings School Board plans to focus on facility priorities, including a proposed joint transportation facility and schools most in need of renovations – Medary and Hillcrest Elementary schools.

Monday’s school board meeting also included a brief update on the South Dakota legislative session and a rundown of COVID-19-related issues.

Superintendent Klint Willert Willert said one big legislative issue for the district is the proposed 2.4% increase in state funding for education.

“There has been some feedback initially that some think that is not necessary, so there will be some work on our behalf to advocate for that 2.4%. Because some are saying in certain circles that that should just simply be what the state statute is because school districts have received some of the federal COVID dollars,” Willert said.

“The other part that will receive some pretty intense conversation, I anticipate, is the one-time $11 million back-funding that was to address the loss of student enrollment in certain districts. Some districts that have grown have raised questions on whether or not that is appropriate because those districts may have grown from a transfer of a student from one district that has lost students to a district that has gained students. So again, there’s going to be a lot of devil in the details,” Willert explained.

Turning to building needs, the administration provided a ranked list of school buildings that need renovations. 

Mickelson Middle School’s south addition took top priority, with a budget of $18 million. Then tying for second, Hillcrest and Medary’s renovations are estimated to be around $5.6 milllion and $7.7 million respectively. 

The proposed bus barn relocation project took third place for priority, with a preliminary project budget of $3.1 million. But action related to that project may come sooner rather than later, due to a potential federal grant.

“That site concept is something that has been shared by TSP, who’s working with Brookings Area Transit Authority on the site for the land that we currently hold for our transportation facility. This is not a final rendition. In fact, it’s a work in progress. I think that’s where we as a district have to weigh in on our degree of acceptance and comfort relative to the vision we have for that site and the facility need,” Willert explained. 

“At the same time you’ll also see attached a proposed draft MOU between the Brookings School District and BATA. That MOU is something that is being sought by BATA as they go forward with the grant application. They are hopeful that we could address this as late as … our regular February school board meeting,” Willert said.

Board member Wes Tschetter said the board needs to bring on an architect to address the projects, and that the district should make the renovations its top priority.

“I think we’re at the point now where we need to proceed with some aggressive action by the leadership, by the superintendent and the board relative to where we are – not only with the bus garage – but to the Medary and Hillcrest improvement program. And I think some months ago … I spoke up, and Van and I looked up the resources available – about $12 million. It could grow. I don’t think it would be less than that, but the combination of the resources that we can apply from the capital outlay fund that can support maybe as much as $10 million,” Tschetter said.

The board is planning a work session later this month to further discuss what needs to be accomplished for the renovations.

Willert later updated the board with local COVID-19 data and was optimistic about the vaccine rollout and seeing more students back in the classroom.

“The middle school highlighted something that we’re seeing in some other buildings as well, which is a return of students from remote learning to face-to-face learning. I’m absolutely thrilled about that, and it has created – and is creating – a challenge in some areas because class sizes are being impacted now accordingly, but that’s something that we’ll have to continue to work through as we move forward. I think it’s good news, though, when you look at what’s going on,” Willert said.

Tschetter said the board should be prepared for the potential of a remote learning hybrid type of year when creating the next school calendar.

Willert also zeroed in on Brookings County COVID trends.

“Brookings County continues to remain in substantial spread. The seven-day average for cases in Brookings County right now is 22. There were 239 active cases (as of Monday), and the positivity testing rate is still quite high, and that’s something that tells a couple of stories. One, it may tell that we’re not testing enough people and that there may be a testing of only individual that are symptomatic, and some individuals that may be asymptomatic or have minor symptoms that aren’t receiving the test and could be contributing to the spread. So, I think that’s really something that is insightful, again some information from Dr. Bonny Specker at the university providing some of those details,” Willert said, also pointing out current hospitalizations of county residents and at Brookings Health System. 

“And the other point that I think is important to start sharing, right now 2.8% of Brookings County residents have received at least one vaccine,” Willert said.

Some staff members, like school nurses, fall under the “1C” category of vaccination distribution, which is currently underway. The bulk of the staff, including teachers, fall under “1D.” Those vaccines will become available in February or March. 

Willert also pointed out that Brookings County vaccination rate falls short of the state percentage, which is 4.3%, but that may be partially due to locations and sizes of South Dakota’s health systems.

“We do have staff members that live in other states that come here to work for Brookings School District. We have staff members that live in other counties that come here to work in the Brookings School District, and those individuals will be given the option to determine which point of dispense they will access. For example, an employee that may live in Minnesota, they could choose, do I get vaccinated in Minnesota or do I recieve vaccination in Brookings County because I am an employee here,” Willert said.

It was also announced that petitions to run for school board may begin circulating on Jan. 29, and complete lists of signatures are due by Feb. 26.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]


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