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S-GI approves 11th-hour audit report

SPRINGVILLE — The Springville-Griffith Institute Board of Education approved an external audit committee report during its Nov. 12 meeting, days before a crucial deadline.

The report arrived later than expected, according to S-GI School Business Administrator Ted Welch, because of issues involving “communication between the three members of the group that it takes to get this done.”

Welch explained that failure to approve the document by a Nov. 15 deadline could affect state aid for the district.

Without a go-ahead from the board, “our state aid for next year might be based on estimated numbers, rather than actual numbers,” said Welch. In that event, he said, “One of two things will happen: Either they’re going to grossly underestimate our state aid, or grossly overestimate it, and both of them are very, very bad.”

Because the 80-page report came later than expected, some board members said they did not have time to properly review it.

“I feel pretty strange about moving such a substantial document without having had adequate time to read it,” said board member Allison Duwe. “I feel like it’s one of our biggest responsibilities, related to the financial management of the district. I’ve been pretty good at doing my homework for board meetings, but I think it was completely impossible to give any attention to it.”

Welch apologized for the situation, and assured the board that the report presented no major issues.

“I apologize for putting the board in this position,” he said. “We should have never come close to this being a big redo.”

“I’m asking, to a certain degree, to take it on faith – I have read every page. I haven’t had the opportunity for discussion with our auditor on it. Under normal circumstances, I would. But you’ll notice the comments that are made on there, that there’s nothing significant; we’re not talking any fraud, we’re not talking any gross incompetence. We’re basically talking tiny issues,” he said.

Board member Jon Einarsson said he had given the report some attention. “Having gone through these [kinds of reports] for a number of years, a lot of it is cookie-cutter.” Einarsson pointed out that “almost all” of the issues the audit committee cited for improvement “were time-related things. A lot of it is because we, as a district and as a board, moved a lot of our stuff to the central business office, and that is a new thing for them.”

Board President Delia Bonenberger said she had read the report as well, noting that she takes some of the issues raised by the committee “very seriously,” though, “to me, it isn’t so great a concern that we can’t pass it.”

Welch explained that the board could re-submit the external audit committee report if they found concerns later on.

With that understanding, the board voted to approve the document.

Needs assessment

The board heard several presentations throughout the evening, including a report from architects Jeff Nunn and Scott Jones of Gordon W. Jones Associates, who assessed needs and potential capital projects for the district.

Jones explained that, as part of the assessment, which began in April, the firm compared the district’s 2010 building condition survey to current codes and building statuses, heard input from administrators, and compiled and prioritized the resulting list of needs.

“We’re now currently in a spot where we have all the existing facilities evaluated. We have the 2010 items repriced and re-put into today’s dollars. You have a lot of needs, as you can see,” Jones said, holding up a copy of the report.

He noted that the largest of the district’s needs involved S-GI high school, where the gymnasium and basketball court “do not meet current state sizes.”

“In a nutshell, the existing gym is 20th century; it’s a little small, and we wanted to look at a 21st-century gym that works size-wise for us,” said Jones.

As a next step, Jones sought district input on paring down and prioritizing the assessment. “We’re asking for a committee to be formed that would evaluate ... the needs for the district [as outlined in our report] and to start to prioritize.”

Welch committed to drafting a proposal to form a committee, which he emphasized should include “community involvement.”

“Bright spots”

The board saw presentations by Deb Pritchard, a third-grade teacher at Colden Elementary, and Janice Keif, a second-grade teacher at Springville Elementary.

Pritchard and Kief showed videos and slides of classroom lessons and assignments that incorporated Common Core modules, including reading practice and discussions about Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights.

Pritchard said that incorporating modules has been a “huge undertaking. But, at the same time, I’ve seen so many different bright spots ... coming out of it that it has made all the time and effort and all the work that’s going into it very beneficial.”

Pritchard said that third-fifth grade teachers “have found that [lessons involving writing are] much more focused; they feel that this is being addressed better, that there’s more structure.” Pritchard said she found that, within the modules, writing exercises in particular were “very much integrated with the curriculum.”

Board member Kara Kane asked the teachers if they felt they had “enough resources and enough time to adapt” the modules to their teaching.

Pritchard explained that she has spent a lot of time preparing lessons and familiarizing herself with modules, although she sees preparation time improving, as the year goes on.

She said she is looking forward to next year, because she will be more familiar with the modules.

Kief said she also spent a lot of time preparing material this year, but that it was “So far, so good – stay tuned.”

Other board news

– District parent Holly Jean Heidelberger brought concerns to the board regarding signage on her stretch of Route 240 in Ashford. Heidelberger said she had contacted town and county officials about installing traffic signs, warning drivers about area school bus stops.

She said six students in the area “are being picked up and dropped off in [neighborhood] driveways. Our stretch of 240 is heavily traveled by trucks and commuter traffic.” She noted that she sees traffic “speeds in excess of 55 miles an hour,” and that there were “several infractions” last year, with drivers failing to stop for buses or breaking sharply.

Heidelberger said she was dissatisfied with the county response on the matter, and Welch offered to write a letter to the county to “take into consideration the demographics of the area” and to urge them to reconsider their position on installing signage.

– The board discussed its “Board of Education Priorities and Goals.” Board Vice President Joan Kelly said the district should “reach for the stars with our graduation rate,” and recommended that the district set a graduation rate goal of 95-100 percent, as opposed to 90-95 percent. Language was also recommended that would show support for learners wishing to complete their education after dropping out, among other changes.

– Former S-GI high school assistant principal John Baronich, now retired, will serve as substitute principal for Colden Elementary School, from Nov. 15-26.

– The board approved several policies for first and second readings, including a Family and Medical Leave Act policy, health insurance policy, code of conduct for school property and others.

– The board heard from members of S-GI’s fall sports teams, including a presentation by the girls varsity soccer team that highlighted team bonding events and career milestones for sisters and teammates Alena and Tia Woodarek. Both sisters scored their 100th career goals this season.

– Two district residents spoke to the board, one in support of, one against, S-GI varsity football coach John Sopko, who was placed on administrative leave in October. The board reminded both speakers that it is board policy not to hear matters concerning individuals.

The S-GI school board will meet for its next meeting on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at the high school library and media center.

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