School board approves 2019-20 budget, discusses changes to graduation requirements

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County School Board had a lengthy discussion on various policies at a board meeting Tuesday evening, including the district’s school volunteer policy, high school graduation requirements and the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20. The board was also presented with a check from Dixie Power from the annual kite festival.

The budget was unanimously approved by the board and accounts for five areas: maintenance and operation fund, debt services fund, capital projects fund, food services fund and student activity fund.

Business Administrator Brent Bills, who presented the proposed budget, said some significant changes were made to the budget, such as the completion of capital projects.

Among these projects, both Washington Fields Intermediate School and Crimson Cliffs High School are set to open in the fall. According to the budget, the completion of these projects will drop ongoing construction costs and, in turn, decrease expenditures from the capital projects fund. The district will be spending nearly $20 million less than it did in the fiscal year 2018-19.

Bills said the two new schools are expected to also increase the amounts in the Student Activity Fund.

Read more: ‘How much we charge, it’s a fine line’; School board approves 2019-20 fee schedule, policy changes

In addition to approving the 2019-20 proposed budget, the board also unanimously approved an early literacy plan for kindergarten through third grade.

“It sets two goals for the district this year in literacy,” said Kathy Hall, a reading specialist for the district.

Washington County School Board members during a meeting in St. George, June 18, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

The plan aims to increase the percentage of kindergarten students who are at or above benchmark level in literacy. The plan also focuses on second graders, with hopes of getting the 37% of second grade students in the district who scored below benchmark to “at or above benchmark” by May 2020.

While the board went through Tuesday night’s action items quickly, discussion items on the agenda took more time to address.

One policy discussed among board members was the district’s graduation requirements/school credits, otherwise known as Policy 4100. Changes with the policy were proposed to the board, including the offering of a differentiated high school diploma. Under the proposed changes, the district would be able to provide a “Washington County School District Basic Diploma.”

In regards to the basic diploma, the proposed policy change states the following:

This plan must be developed for a student in collaboration with a parent/guardian, counselor, school administrator, district administrator and student after it is determined that the student requires alternative services.

While all high schools in the county — including alternative schools like Millcreek High School — are required to complete the same core requirements, elective requirements can now differ.

Instead of having 28 elective credits for high schools that have a four-by-four block schedule, meaning students take eight classes over the span of two days, those high schools will instead be required to complete 27 credits.

The changes to the policy led board member Laura Hesson to ask if the changes will lessen the number of “super seniors” in the district, a term used to describe a student who takes more than the traditional four years to complete high school or college.

“We’ll have less super seniors,” said Richard Holmes, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

In regard to students who withdraw, the policy changes also states that “students who have withdrawn from public school before graduating may not return to public school once they have turned 18 years old and their class has graduated.” If that is the case, those student will be referred to Washington County Adult Education to complete their education.

Holmes said the changes don’t really affect how rigorous high school classes can be; however, the changes “soften the electives.”

The policy will be up for discussion and possible board action in July.

Another policy discussed Tuesday was the district’s school volunteer policy, known as Policy 1105. Michael Lee, coordinator for the district’s risk management department, presented the changes to the board in an effort to be in compliance with the state’s risk management policy.

The new mandate would require all district volunteers receive training on unlawful discrimination, workplace harassment and civil rights before beginning their volunteer assignments. An additional change to the policy includes volunteers signing a release to allow the district to make reference checks if they’ve had a childcare job in the last three years.

In response to the change, both Hesson and board President David Stirland said adding another mandate to the policy makes it more difficult for people who just want to volunteer without having to jump through multiple hoops.

The current policy already requires that all volunteers receive criminal background checks, as well as filling out multiple forms.

“You got the individuals that just want to volunteer,” Stirland said. “And worse, we make it just a tiny bit more complicated for them.”

Lee agreed with Stirland and said a lot of volunteers, such as some coaches and PTA members, already have an extensive list of things they’re required to do by the state, adding that he and his colleagues hope to streamline the process more.

While multiple board members said the changes would make the process more difficult for volunteers, they ultimately agreed that student safety is the most important.

“There are risks everywhere, and trying to keep your handle on who’s around those students is almost impossible,” Superintendent Larry Bergeson said, adding that the situation is like a two-edged sword.

The volunteer policy will also be up for discussion again in July.

Dixie Power presents proceeds from its annual kite festival to the Washington County School Board during a meeting in St. George, June 18, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Other than discussing policies, the board also had a surprise in the form of a $60,000 check presented to the district’s reading program by Dixie Power, which represents the largest donation the company has made to the district from its annual kite festival.

“There is not a partner like that around in our community,” said Steve Dunham, communication and public relations director for the district.

Within the last 20 years, Dunham said Dixie Power has donated more than $1 million to the district.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

 

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