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District to add COVID-19 coordinator, more nurses

by Hilary Matheson
Daily Inter Lake | June 14, 2020 1:00 AM

Additional staff, technology and sanitizing and medical supplies top the list of where Kalispell Public Schools proposes spending $1,061,412 in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Nurses, thermometers, masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, electrostatic sprayers, Chromebooks and software are some of the line items included in a recent draft of the district’s budget proposal for spending the relief money.

The funding is part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

As the 2020-21 school year nears, the district plans to be more prepared than when Gov. Steve Bullock announced school closure orders the night before they went into effect on March 16. The closures were part of a set of directives aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Schools had the option to reopen on May 7, but most in the valley did not, and opted to continue remote learning.

The closures laid bare the level of preparedness for remote learning during prolonged closures in school districts around the state.

“We rose to the occasion during the fourth quarter this year, no doubt about it,” said Kalispell Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Callie Langohr, who presented the budget proposal to the school board Tuesday. “I am beyond thrilled and proud of the staff and I am incredibly proud of the administrators in the buildings — and the work that they did.

“But what it did, it tested us in a big way. We believe we do not have the capacity to do that this coming school year again,” she said, looking at sustainability. “We need to change and be ahead of this. Be organized. We just need to take a little different approach and we do not have the capability at the district office to take that on. To coordinate it, we came up with a job description on what that would look like.”

To manage all the working parts of responding to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on a district-wide level, a new director of accountability/COVID-19 coordinator position was created to the board’s approval.

The primary role of the one-year position will be providing leadership “in the planning, development, implementation, coordination, facilitation and direction of the 2020-2021 district response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the district. The director’s salary will be $110,000, not including benefits.

How the district plans to resume school in the fall is still developing. A survey went out to parents on June 3 to gather input on how remote learning went and what option families support in either returning to on-site learning, continuing remote learning, or doing a combination of the two.

Part of the budget proposal includes hiring more school nurses. Three full-time and a part-time contract nurse will serve grades K-8, for a total of six nurses working in the six elementary schools and middle school under the proposal. One full-time and a part-time contract nurse will serve grades ninth through 12th for a total of two nurses working between Flathead and Glacier high schools, Linderman Education Center and the vo-ag building.

Salary and benefits make up 68.31% of the budget proposal, which includes other items such as personnel leave.

Approximately 20.65% of the proposed budget is slated for technology.

“We’re trying to anticipate what the technology needs might be. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a district. We learned a lot where shortcomings on the technology side are,” she said, noting the high school district’s lack of technology funding compared to the elementary district, which benefits from a technology levy.

A couple of Glacier High School staff members also noted they are still trying to get students to return Chromebooks, calculators and textbooks loaned out during the school closures.

Purchases for supplies to sanitize and clean facilities makes up 10.1% of the proposed budget so that schools don’t have to use their budgets to purchase hand sanitizer or thermometers, which some had done. A grant outside the federal COVID-19 relief funding will cover hand-sanitizer costs to the tune of 330 gallons per month. Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau said a local businessperson is donating 7,000 reusable cloth masks.

The remainder of the budget is slated for printing costs.

Glacier science teacher Ben Young voiced concerns about shared equipment such as student safety glasses used during labs.

“Do you expect each student to clean them between classes?” Young said, asking if those could be purchased with relief funding.

Flathead High School Principal Michele Paine voiced her concerns on closing an equity gap if remote learning continues. Some challenges of remote learning were households without internet access or a student’s home life in general.

“Some kids went to work. Some kids have chaos at home and they couldn’t function very well. Some kids just dropped off the planet. We couldn’t reach them. That equity gap just got bigger,” Paine said. “For me, I really want to make sure some of this money goes to address that equity gap and how can we help our struggling families and kids? We’ve got to do better.”

Paine said “a lot of grace” and flexibility was extended to students as far as grades and submitted work — “But when you really start to peel away the layers at what kids produced, how engaged they were in learning, we have things to fix here. We really do.”

The budget proposal now goes before building administrators on June 17.

“I’m counting on the building administrators to be the voice of the teachers,” Langohr said.

Based on the feedback received, the proposal may be revised and go before the board a final time before being submitted to the Office of Public Instruction on June 24 for final approval on June 30.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.