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BP board turns down doing away with semester tests

By JUDY SCHLESSELMAN

A proposal to do away with semester tests this spring for qualifying students at Belle Plaine High School failed to gain school board approval April 12.

On a 2-to-2 vote with Director Jim Pierce absent, the plan to excuse students from semester tests if they missed no more than one day of school and have a C or better grade average did not receive the necessary votes to pass.

Board president Joyce Livermore and vice president Don McKinney voted in favor of the proposal, while directors Marie Stratford and Mike Bachelder voted “no.”

Current practice requires semester testing at the high school.

Endorsed by school officials and the high school staff as a way to encourage regular school attendance, the proposed plan would also encourage students to maintain a satisfactory grade point average, principal Dennis Phelps said.

Phelps presented the proposed plan to students at the end of the third quarter, telling them it would go into effect only with board approval. Since then, school attendance has increased from 89.8 percent to 93.9 percent, Phelps reported.

In discussion before the vote, McKinney said he feels Phelps acted prematurely when he informed students about the possible change before it came to the board.

“We tell student and parents, and now they think it’s gospel. That puts us (the board) in a bad position,” McKinney stated.

Phelps apologized and said, “ I wanted the students to have an idea this might be coming along, but I also wanted to make sure they understood it was only by board approval.”

McKinney said he could see the pros and cons of both sides of the semester test issue but feels the waiver’s most important aspect would be to encourage school attendance.

Bachelder questioned how eliminating semester tests would raise the bar and increase the rigor of academic programs. Phelps said semester tests are just one method of assessing student achievement.

“As you look at best practices, a body of work for an entire semester should also represent what a student has learned,” Phelps stated.  He pointed out many classes are now project-based and semester tests are not always the end-all measure of student progress.

Stratford read the opinion of one unnamed district teacher who believes semester tests are beneficial not only for students but for instructors as they evaluate their teaching strategies.

Stratford questioned if dropping the semester test requirement would be beneficial for college-bound students as they prepare for ACT tests, or others going on to community college, trade schools or into the work world. She also asked if mandatory semester testing has affected academic achievement. Phelps said that information would have to be compiled.

“This needs to be a data-driven decision that we know what we’re looking to achieve, and we determine if we have achieved it or not,” Stratford said before casting her vote.

With the proposal dead for this year, the board indicated it could possibly revisit the issue before the start of the 2010-11 school year.

Construction project

Superintendent Bill Lynch reported progress continues on the school addition and renovation project. Longfellow students occupied their new classrooms April 6. Demolition work and asbestos abatement is underway at the school.

Demolition in the high school locker rooms is slated to begin May 3. Work at the track will begin after the April 26 track meet.

Construction of a new storage area on the north end of the high school gym has come to a halt as the board looks at options to enlarge the area beyond the 12-foot addition included in the construction project. Board members last fall expressed concern that the 12-foot addition would not be large enough to store equipment that will be transferred from the junior high when that building closes this spring.

The board is considering the following storage room options: raise the original design by 2 feet, 8 inches and construct a two-level storage area, with district maintenance supervisor Rod Blount building the second floor. Cost estimates for this are an additional $10,241 plus the expense of an as-yet undetermined number of storage units.

A second option would place a metal panel on the north side of the storage area so the school could build its own addition.

 A third option would eliminate the storage room from the plan. The district would keep materials that can’t be restocked and receive credit for materials returned. This would result in a $23,338 credit to the district.

The board will take up the issue after it receives cost estimates for storage units.

The board approved several change orders to be written out of construction allowance. Also approved were change orders for an additional $658 for door hardware needed as a result of a fire inspector visit and $1,769 for reinforcement to a topping slab on the roof at the high school addition.

The district is now looking at several options for metal siding around the upper level of the Longfellow gym after contractors ordered the wrong siding. The board took no action as it awaits cost estimates.

Budget

Following a hearing that drew no comments, the board approved the district’s 2010-11 budget with total revenue of $13.7 million, spending at $11.9 million and a carryover of $1.7 million from this fiscal year. The property tax rate will remain $19.12 per $1,000 taxable valuation. Also unchanged is the income surtax rate of 10 percent. The general fund levy is $14.47.

A hearing to amend the 2009-10 budget was set for Tuesday, May 18 at 7 p.m. at Longfellow School. The hearing will precede the board meeting that was rescheduled from May 19 due to the seniors’ Red Carpet Awards Night. The budget amendment allows the district to increase expenditures for instruction from $3,770,000 to $4,000,000 and noninstructional programs from $289,000 to $320,000. The changes will not increase taxes for the current fiscal year.

The board also approved a budget guarantee resolution for next fiscal year. A budget guarantee is funded through property tax and gives schools with declining enrollment the previous year’s regular program dollar amount.

Other business

The board corrected wording in the academic eligibility policy it approved last month. The correction states that ineligibility begins when grades are due and continues in effect for 30 days from the first day of the second semester.

The board gave the district approval to participate in the Iowa Schools Cash Anticipation Program (ISCAP) for the 2010-11 year. Lynch said ISCAP is a long-standing program designed to provide funds to qualifying schools at little or no interest. Board approval does not guarantee the district will join the program. Determining factors include district eligibility and if ISCAP would benefit the district, Lynch explained.

UPDATED April 16, 2010 1:39 PM

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