Board hears, talks about kids’ return to school

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
The school district board meeting on Sept. 9 was mostly made up of discussions that revolve around the return of students following the shutdown last year.
Before the board began their agenda discussions, community member Aspen Rogers addressed the board with a prepared statement opposing the mask and vaccine mandates for children.
Addressing a concern that the school board is making decisions based on a state order that funds will not be distributed to school districts that are not complying with state mandates regarding COVID, she said, “You have sold every child in your district for $2,600 this school year.”
She added that the board does not seem to want to listen to the parents who are trying to exercise their right to personal freedom or right to choose.
“This is a notice that we intend to exercise our first amendment right to peaceful protest (against) the selling of our children’s mental health to provide a district with frills and padded salaries. There’s a movement in Lebanon, and you all saw it last month. It is gaining ground, and you’re all on notice that if you don’t start hearing our voices, your seats will be given to persons that will.”
The board began with a report by Kraig Hoene, athletics director, who gave a positive picture on how the school year in sports has started out so far.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who’ve been waiting to get back out, and we’re seeing it in the numbers,” Hoene said. “We weren’t quite sure what it was gonna look like coming off the COVID year, but I think we’re seeing from our community (that) they want their kid back in school and they want them active.”
Hoene said he’s heard opinions from parents on both sides regarding mask mandates, and, for him, it comes down to the simple fact that he’s going to choose supporting the kids every time.
“We’re just working the problems as they come,” he said later. “At this point I think it’s clear we’re not talking about if we have positive tests; it’s when we have them. We’re going to take each situation separately. All we can do is work it one at a time and do what’s best for the kids, and make sure we’re transparent with the county and the parents, and why and how we’re doing things. I’m just moving forward and keeping the kids out there, because they’re excited to be here.”
Supt. Bo Yates said he was happy to finally have the kids back again. He admitted the district will have some challenges moving forward, but they will just address each one as they come.
Yates also reported that he and board chair Mike Martin contacted Colt Gill, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, to express their desire to have more local control about the situation. Yates suggested a compromise that allows the district to have more control, but guarantees a minimum number of in-person instruction days, but he did not say what Gill’s response was.
Jennifer Meckley, assistant to Yates, reported that enrollment is at 3,855 total students, up 600 from last year, and up 300 from 2018/19.
“So we’re at one of the highest enrollments we’ve seen in years, overall,” Meckley said.
She also reported there’s a need for more teachers.
Board Chair Mike Martin noted that the higher enrollment and need for more staff does not reflect new apartments and housing starts going up around town, which he expects will increase the population by hundreds.
“It could impact the district by as many as another 300 or 400 students,” Martin said.
Yates noted that part of the plans for future growth is the goal to expand Seven Oak by moving the sixth grade class there.
A more current hurdle the district is trying to overcome is a lack of employees, including teachers, custodians and bus drivers.
Yates initiated a discussion about employee incentives by way of using some ESSER funds (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) to provide stipends for employees.
“We want to support people that want to stay with us, we want to entice people to come be a part of our team, and that’s just an easy way for us to be able to do that, given the current situation we’re in,” Yates said.
There was a consensus among the board to go forward with that idea, but recommended a final discussion with Will Lewis, finance director, on the matter before settling on an amount.
Currently, $800,000 has been approved for stipends, but the board wants to increase that original amount. Anything beyond the $800,000 will have to be taken from the general fund, Lewis said.
In other business, the board discussed superintendent evaluation dates and goals.