Tuscola board, teachers welcome Gary Alexander

By Kayleigh Rahn
Superintendent Gary Alexander took the lead of his first Tuscola Board of Education meeting Monday, July 29, and he began his work with a note of gratitude.

“If I wanted to thank everyone, we’d be here all night, but so many have been through the office to welcome me to Tuscola, welcome me back,” he said. “There have been a lot of people who have given me good guidance in the first three weeks, and I really appreciate their help.”

Within personnel business, the school board members accepted a bittersweet motion for Alison Bowen’s retirement as band director for Tuscola schools. Bowen taught music to Tuscola students for 31 years as she began teaching at Tuscola in 1987 and has led the fifth grade through high school bands since.

In other business, the board–at the suggestion of member Brad Ingram–will begin a discussion about the possibility of hiring a Student Resource Officer. The discussion item will be placed on the agenda for the August meeting.

“I know when Mr. (Michael) Smith was here he was working to gain access to safety devices for the classrooms, but with that bill being shut down, I think we should look into hiring a School Resource Officer amongst our district,” Ingram said. 

Alexander said within his previous district, in Pawnee, the city worked with the school to provide an officer at the building. He said the process required many meetings and public discussions, though he is in support of having the discussion.

“With it on the agenda, if people want to comment they have the opportunity to do it,” board president Cathy Mannen said. “Also, as a board we need to compile our questions and concerns and research. And, I believe, if we are going to have that discussion, we need to have a more comprehensive discussion about student supports because there are two pieces of the bigger school safety issue.”

Mannen suggested considering not just resource officers but also an increased social work capacity to meet the needs of the students. 

“We’ve talked before about trauma informed practices and things of that nature,” she said. “I think all of that needs to be part of the conversation so it’s fully comprehensive.”

In his report, Alexander requested permission to hire on late notice. The green light will allow Fiscus to offer qualified candidates a job to fill classrooms prior to the start of the school year without having to call a special board meeting. 

The key roles to fill will be a high school math teacher and band director.

“That allows us to try to start school fully staffed,” he said. “I have not seen a math application come across.”

TCHS Principal Steve Fiscus said he’s reached out to several other schools with late openings, and the statewide teacher shortage has affected others as well. Several schools are making due with a hire going into the 2019-2020 school year while others are hopeful with receiving less than five candidates.

“It used to be that I would receive 75-100 applications, now we are thankful to get 10,” Alexander said. “Hopefully we can find someone, if not we will be shifting with a new plan pretty quickly.”

He said he would keep the board members in the loop of who is on the docket and their qualifications.

Alexander also reported that finances are as expected. He cautioned the board from becoming too comfortable as the financial instability of the state has the potential to affect the school’s revenue.

He also noted the construction progress within the buildings including the classroom and locker room renovations, North Ward roof replacement (which was slated to begin Tuesday, July 30), and the tuck pointing on the high school gymnasium (that will continue through the first week of school though the grinding should be complete prior to the first day for students).

In his report to the board, Fiscus congratulated 2019 TCHS graduate Natalie Bates on being named the News-Gazette’s All-Area Female Athlete of the Year. 

“Her work ethic is unmatched; great kid, great student, great athlete, great family,” he said. “We’re proud of her.”

He said the gym floor was refinished Wednesday, July 24, and he hopes to keep people off the floor until practices begin Aug. 12. The high school rooms are ready for students and several teachers have been by to begin prep work. 

He thanked the city for their contribution during the installation of the new LED flashing crosswalk signs along Prairie near the high school and East Prairie and North Ward. A fourth sign will be installed in the coming weeks.

North Ward Principal Jason Wallace and East Prairie Principal Carol Munson were on vacation.

During public comment, Mannen, on behalf of the board, and TCHS teacher Athena LaReau, on behalf of the Tuscola Educators Association, welcomed Alexander to the district.

Also, board member Martin Marx said he was impressed with the new pre-K playground constructed at North Ward Elementary by the Tuscola Kiwanis Club and was happy to see the progress within the East Prairie classroom renovations.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the high school coaches list for 2019-2020.

• Approved the non-certified salaries for 2019-2020 showing a 3 percent increase for everyone but Tracy Hornaday and Carrie Bean-Miller, of the technology department, who will receive a 10 percent increase to accommodate for additional job tasks. 

• Increased Hornaday’s hours from 20 to 35 hours per week.

• Accepted resignations from Scott DeWitt as high school math teacher, Paula Linker as Science Olympiad sponsor, and Shannon Smith as technology director.

• Approved the food service bid for the 2019-2020 school year with 2.8 percent increase.

• Approved the minutes from June 24 regular meeting.

• Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $880,388.86.

• Approved the monthly reports of treasurer and bookkeeper.

• Approved moving the September board meeting to Sept. 30.

• Entered into closed session to discuss employment and review of closed meeting session minutes.

• Approved first reading of the policy updates. Board member Darold Spillman suggested changing one policy related to public participation, specifically the note that requires speakers to sign in five minutes prior to the start of the meeting. He suggested the timeframe is in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Alexander said her would verify that.

• Approved the Consolidated District Grant Plan for state and federal grant applications.

• Opted to continue the discussion of the board member election process after the board has the opportunity to research related data.

• Adjourned until 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.

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