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Board of Education reviews and stands by faculty pay raises

By Ellen Glover, originally published on March 9

During the February 20 Board of Edu- cation meeting, board members reaffirmed the motions behind the recent pay raises for teachers and staff. The language of the motions was convoluted, but the intent is the same: teachers will receive a $3,000 increase retroactive to September 2022, and staff will receive a $1.25 per hour increase. From Feb- ruary on, the raises will be included in all staff paychecks. 

The board accepted the resignation of Hope Berntsen, a 4th-grade teacher, and approved new hires Haiden Lebeouf as a paraprofessional; Joshua Currey as a sub- stitute teacher; Vicki Mann, front office school secretary; and advisory committee members Anthony Even and Katlyn Rusher. They also renewed the memo of understand- ing with the Riggs Ranch for about 50 FFA students to raise animals and get hands-on experiences. An asbestos abatement contract for one of the school buildings was tabled until the board receives a revised contract; work is likely this summer. Another neces- sary maintenance mentioned was to repair or replace playground equipment; how the cold weather was affecting the plumbing; and purchasing windows for the administrative/ AG/Wood Shop building, which was tabled until March 2 when they expect more bids. 

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The board, like the town of Westcliffe (see page 7 for related article), discussed the crosswalk at Main St. and 7th Street across from the west school parking lot. The Colo- rado Department of Transportation (CDOT) funded a sidewalk replacement project that aims to make streets safer for students to walk to school. The crosswalk poses a prob- lem for both students and the dance studio business housed at that location because it was incorrectly installed, fills with water, 

and freezes during the winter. The school board voted to keep the crosswalk in its pres- ent location; however, the town of Westcliffe decided on February 21 to research options with CDOT and find a more long-term solu- tion for all parties involved. 

Tracy Broll, board member, brought up the school district’s arrangement for special needs education with the Boards of Coop- erative Educational Services (BOCES), a statewide network of special education for students. Custer County Schools belongs to one of the 13 associations and pays for its services. Broll said she is concerned that stu- dents are not receiving the level of services they need and that the board needs to exam- ine its contract with BOCES. It may mean changing to a different association within the network so students receive more in-person services rather than just by Zoom; Custer County has the largest number of students in the program. No decision was reached except that Jackie Crabtree, superintendent of schools, will join Broll at the next BOCES meeting. Jake Shy, board president, said the topic requires a special meeting on funds going to BOCES and asked board members to attend a meeting on Thursday, March 2, at the administration building at 4:00 p.m. 

Jordan Benson, board member, said the board is considering a fuel agreement with Custer County to buy fuel from the county instead of at gas stations. He estimates it would save the school district about $8,000 a year and that any change would be made during the summer, not during the current school year. 

On March 1, all students attending Custer County Schools were invited to attend 45-minute presentations in a portable plan- etarium courtesy of Mobile Ed Productions. 

The portable planetarium is an inflatable dome that is 36′ in diameter with a ceiling 15′ high at its lowest point. Upon entering the dome with its star-studded sky, students were guided through identifying current nighttime constellations with the help of a navigator, using the digital projection and laser pointer. Students also learned about Greek mythological heroes found in the sky and “traveled” to every planet in the Solar System. Joy Parrish, the secondary science teacher, initiated bringing the planetarium to Custer County with the financial backing of the local Dark Skies group. The presenta- tions were grade-level specific. 

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In a subsequent meeting on March 2, the board met in the administration build- ing to approve building and maintenance contracts and continued their discussions on BOCES as it relates to delivering ser- vices to students. Two members were absent: Tracy Broll and Jordan Benson. During the pandemic, many of the sup- portive services for students — physical or speech therapy, psychological services, and occupational therapy — were offered by Zoom. Now that the pandemic has passed, for the most part, BOCES contin- 

ues to offer speech and physical therapy by Zoom. Staff and faculty feel that the students who receive services in in-person care are doing fine; however, students who receive speech and physical therapy are not receiving the same level of care (direct and indirect). Sixteen students are pres- ently receiving indirect care, with three more scheduled for care. This equates to a total of 67 students under care, or 19.4% of the student population. The numbers are in flux; the school has seen an increase since COVID because of monitoring and identifying students. Nationally the rate is about 15%. 

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The school or the board does not object to the staff from BOCES who come to the school; their dissatisfaction is with BOCES itself and how it is organized. No decision was made during the meeting on how to approach BOCES, and board president Jake Shy tabled the discussion until the next meeting, which will be on March 14 with a workshop at 2:30 p.m. in the administration conference room and the regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. in the school library. 

– Ellen Glover 

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