When should the last day of the school year be?
Flandreau Elementary’s commons was filled with staff members and community residents on Monday, May 8 for the regular school board meeting.
The reason for the staff’s presence was the decision for the last day of school. During the April board meeting, the board had decided the students should remain in school until June 1 and the staff until June 6 to make up for the 12 snow days and 2 days off for state basketball. The original date for students to be out of school was May 17. Seniors’ last day May 12 and graduation was held May 13.
The 2023-2024 school year calendar was first on the agenda. Superintendent Rick Weber updated the board on a meeting that had taken place with the Teacher Advisory board, comprised of Weber, certified and classified staff, and school board members. He said there were four built-in snow day the advisory board was suggesting. Those dates would be January 15 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 19 - President Day; March 27 - Wednesday before Easter; and April 1 -Easter Monday.
The school district would utilize one of these built-in snow days if 10-day advance notice was given to staff, parents, and students. The hopes of these built-in snow days are to alleviate the need to add days to the end of the calendar year next year, but anything over these four days would then be added. The discussion was then turned over to the school board.
School Board member Brian Johnson opened the discussion by asking ‘Can we have more days built-in?’ to which School Board President Tom Stenger responded, “Yes we can.” Weber said, “The Board can do what they want with the calendar. That was the recommendation that came out of advisory.”
There was then discussion with retroactive snow days happening during Christmas break should there be four snows occurring during the first semester before December 8th. This plan was suggested by President Stenger and included December 21st or January 2nd as the third or fourth snow days. During this discussion of the built-in Marietta Gassman, President of the Flandreau Education Association and Advisory Board Member approached the microphone and asked President Stenger if she could address the Board at this time on behalf of Advisory Committee. President Stenger denied her request. Gassman then addressed the board the from her seat stating, “There are seven days at the end of the calendar.”
Discussion continued about the retroactive days. Board member Kari Burggraff said she was fine with it but “there would need to be more explanation on this because you are going to go retroactive backwards on the third snow day.” Member Johnson then said, “There are four built-in days and there’s seven at the end of the school year?” Burggraff responded, “Well we don’t guarantee seven maximum, there is just seven days before Memorial Day is what it is.”
Stenger asked if there were any other days the board would like to see added to built-in snow days. Johnson said, he wouldn’t mind seeing the 28th of March. That would give them five depending on what they do with December, but he was not for messing with December.
Gassman then approached the microphone again and asked President Stenger if he was willing to open the topic up to open forum, to which President Stenger responded he was not.
Gassman then asked, “When is open forum allowed for the calendar?” President Stenger responded, “Anybody to speak that is not on the agenda had to be written to the board president or Mr. Weber before the meeting started.”
Gassman said, “In the past you have allowed open forum at certain topics.” Stenger replied, “That changed about a year ago” to which Gassman said, “In the past you have allowed open forum at certain topics. You waited for an open forum for certain topics. So, are we going to be allowed to talk about the calendar in old business?”
Board Member Brian Klein said, “Tom asked for open forum,” indicating that Stenger, at the top of the meeting, called for it.
President Stenger said, “No, I am not going to allow it.”
Gassman said, “This is not in regard to the teacher’s topic. This is in regard to the calendar.”
President Stenger said sternly, “It’s any agenda item.” Gassman responded by saying she knew that but wanted to know if Stenger was willing to hold open forum to which he was not. Gassman then said she would like to make a statement, “That in the past you have allowed on the topics as they have come forward.” This statement was met with applause from the staff in the commons.
Burggraff quickly brought the meeting back to the discussion of built-in snow days. Johnson again said he would like to see March 28 (Thursday before Easter) added as the fifth day. Discussion continued and Marietta Gassman approached the microphone and asked that the calendar be turned back over to the advisory committee. Gassman was ignored by the board and President Stenger asked the board if there were any other days, they suggested for built in snow days. Gassman then requested if there was any other question, that the calendar would go back to the advisory committee as they were given the authority to represent the board and the teachers.
President Stenger went on to clarify the built-in snow days and called for a motion. Burggraff made the motion with a second from Johnson for the built-in snow days to be the four days listed above, plus March 28, 2024.
The next item on the agenda was to discuss the last day of school. School board members have received 30 plus letters from staff members expressing their concerns over the last day of school since their decision at the April meeting.
At this meeting, the board moved the last day of classes to June 1 and set June 6 as the last day for teachers. The school board packet also included a list of 27 plus handwritten signatures expressing the questions and concerns and requesting a special board meeting ahead of the May school board meeting.
Flandreau High School Junior Mackenzie Kuyper was first to speak on this topic and how the school board’s decision the previous month to end the school year in June was affecting her. Kuyper was selected to represent Flandreau at South Dakota Girls’ State. The dates for Girls State are May 29 - June 3. This means Kuyper would now miss the last week of school and semester tests. School policy does not allow you to take tests early. Kuyper expressed to the board how she is now worried about being at girls’ state and worrying about semester tests and her GPA. She asked the board to please think about that. Board Member Kelly Kontz congratulated Mackenzie on her accomplishment in making it to girls’ state.
Next to speak was Academic Advisor Josh Cleveland. He explained figures that had been given to the board members in their packets. In figure 1 which shows attendance Mr. Cleveland explains, “When I started tracking attendance on April 17, 37 students needed to make up time to receive credit. May 2, there are 42 students needing to make up time to receive credit with another 39 on verge of losing credit. This is a little over 39% of the student body. The longer the school year goes on the worse the attendance issue we will see. Unfortunately, the attendance is difficult to project out because I do not feel it is linear. I think we will see a dramatic almost exponential like increase in absences as we inch closer to June 1. We already have families calling their students out most comely beginning on May 26. How many of those students are in danger due to the attendance policy? What does this mean to semester tests?”
Cleveland shared his fear that students will not earn credit on time which puts them at a higher risk of dropping out. He then explained figure 2, which is the District Report card for 2021-2022 for On-Time Graduations. This figure shows the Flandreau School district behind the state by already 9% for On-Time Graduations.
The next person to speak was Megan Severtson, 5th/6th Grade Teacher. Severtson reference the April meeting when President Stenger stated that having the students go until May 25 would be doing the bare minimum. She stated how this was incorrect that the High School would meet their minimum required hours on May 17 and all schools besides the Colony would meet the minimum hours on May 19. The Colony would meet their hours on May 25 due to a longer lunch hour and starting the day at 9 am. She then directed the board to the school board packet to the figures that show a proposed make up day plans by the advisory board compared to those of other area schools.
Severtson also went on to say any of the three proposed plans would also have the teachers completing almost all their 175 contractual days. She said, “It is not that we are whiny or unwilling to put time in, we are asking that you allow us to be on the same playing field as the school around us. The same schools that are competing with us for the same students and teachers.”
As Severtson went on speaking, saying she became emotional while she talked about what makes her feel defeated, “a loyal committed staff member, is that we work so hard to make school a safe and welcoming place for our students. We work hard to do what we can to keep teachers in our district, and we work hard to lift each other up…only to be publicly criticized.”
Severtson asked the board to please reconsider and for staff and the board to work together.
The final person to speak on behalf of the teachers was Middle School Principal Brian Relf.
Relf was also a colleague of Stenger’s when both were sixth grade teachers within the district. Relf asked after what the board has heard from staff tonight, that they would please consider changing the end of year plan to one of the proposed plans. He went on to see as he became emotional, “We have some very, very, very valued members of our staff and I think we need to recognize that.” His statement was met with applause.
President Stenger then opened the discussion to the board. The first to speak was Adam Wiese. Wiese acknowledged the hard work and under appreciation teachers experience. He then went on to talk about what had occurred with the missed days. He discussed the unanimous vote that had occurred during the Advisory board meeting about adding the days to the end of the school year and Weber letting school off for the basketball games because so many staff members wanted to attend. He ended his statement by saying, “I hope we can move past this soon, and I look forward to working with all of you in the future. Thank you.”
Member Johnson was the next to speak. Johnson said there were many things he was not aware of at the past two meetings that took place in March and April. He went on to say that had he known some of the things he had known in the April meeting he would not have voted the way he did. Johnson said, “After seeing what all the other schools are doing around us, I don’t know why we can’t shorten this by a week. That is my opinion.”
Board Member Kelly Kontz interjected and said her thoughts were along the lines of Johnson. She went on to describe the 30 letters received from the staff members and how the letters were not selfish letters about how the last day of school was going to affect them. The letters were more about how it was going to affect the students, their colleagues, or their colleagues’ family.
Kontz then said, “I agree with Brian. I wish information we had gotten after our meeting would have come to us beforehand. I would not have voted the way I did last time.”
The next board member to share their concern was member Burggraff. Her biggest concern was that during those 14 days off from school, families had to find a way to feed their child/children breakfast and lunch. She also went on to say that during those days bus drivers, paraprofessionals and lunchtime employees do not get paid, due to weather conditions which we have no control over. Burggraff stated how she was stuck on the trickle-down effect that calling school off causes and that is what she is thinking of.
Kontz then made a motion to revoke the decision made at the April board meeting for the last day of school. The motion was seconded by Johnson. President Stenger called for a vote which ended in a tie with Johnson, Kontz, and Dustin Headrick all responding aye and Wiese, Klein and Burggraff voting to not revoke the April decision. President Stenger was the tying vote and which he casted as a no.
The last day of school was not changed. A sigh of disgust was released from the staff present in the Elementary Commons followed swiftly by most of them choosing to then leave the meeting.
The Flandreau School Board has now scheduled a special school board meeting on Monday, May 15 (takes place after the newspaper went to print). The last day of school and the Policy 2813 Public Participation at Board Meetings are the only items besides executive session that were listed on the agenda. Look in next week’s Enterprise for an update of that meeting.
Other items heard by the board at the regular May meeting were to accept the resignation of 13 staff members: Kylie Grenges, HS Math; Elizabeth White, HS Science; Matt Knippling, MS/HS Technology; Morgan Terwey, Elementary Special Education; Danielle Geigle, Speech Language Pathologist; Jacob Huber, MS/HS Chorus; Gordon Pulscher, PT Custodian; Brenda Pulscher, PT Custodian; JH Volleyball Coach; Georgia Adolph, Barb Nord, and Leslie Arnold, Paraprofessionals.
New hires are Susan Maier, HS Social Studies; William Molengraaf, HS Math; Madison Kontz, JH VB Coach; Ariann VanBockern, Assistant XC Coach; Transfer Tracie Nissan to 4th grade from PVC for 23-24 school year; Transfer Malerie Yeaton to MS/HS Chorus from 5/6 ELA/Reading 23-24 school year; Transfer Tony Ullom to Elementary day custodian for 23-24 school year.
The Flandreau School Board scheduled a special school board meeting on Monday, May 15 (after the newspaper goes to print).
The last day of school and the Policy 2813 Public Participation at Board Meetings are the only items besides executive session that were listed on the agenda.