07-30-2020 Hartford Schools leverages CARES Act for tech; labors to develop Return to School Plan

THESE KUTE KIDS ARE… Cam and Chase Millsap sending Christmas in July greetings! In September, Cam will be 5 and Chase will be 3 years old. They are the daughters of Hunter Millsap and Yvonne Wells, of Coloma. The girls are the granddaughters of Chad & Brandie Wells of Berrien Springs, Todd & Tana Kinzler of Watervliet, Dave & Jennifer Millsap of Schoolcraft and Doug & Debbie Wells of Riverside. Proud great-grandparents are James & Donna Yore of Coloma, who are affectionately known as “Old Papa and Nana”.

Hartford Schools leverages CARES Act for tech; labors to develop Return to School Plan

By Jon Bisnett The Hartford School Board continued under the safety of a virtual protocol for its July 20 business meeting as it maximized Coronavirus Relief with expanded technology purchases to best prepare for the fall return to school. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, (CARES Act,) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, (ESSER) funding aims to assist K-12 schools “rethink the way students access education”. Funding through the Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund intends to make learning more accessible to students with disabilities, at-risk populations, language needs, and other challenges. The board has approved the acquisition of significant technology additions to bolster the ability for remote learning applications as follows: 930 Laptops – $155,263.50; 2,000 Flash Drives – $10,000; 31 Laptop Carts – $41,349.35; 930 Licenses – $21,845.70. Due to unprecedented supply issues stemming from the pandemic, laptops may be delayed anywhere from 2 to 6 months from purchase date. Finance Normal monthly bills were paid. Business Manager Rebecca Drake noted major expenditures for several annual renewals including multiple district-wide annual software licenses and insurance renewals. Personnel EDUStaff has hired Clara Moreno as the new Redwood Elementary Office Secretary. Officials at EDUStaff reported receiving a total of 21 applications for the full-time position. Business The board approved the renewal of annual association memberships as follows: Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Boards Rural District, School Equity Caucus and Van Buren County Association of School Boards. Additionally, the board approved the annual resolution to be part of the Michigan School Loan Revolving Fund. Operational and Debt Millage Rates for 2020 tax year were set as follows: Operational Non-Homestead at 18 mills; Debt at 7.75 mills; 2014 Refunding Bond – 2.0 mills; and 2015 Bonds at 5.75 mills.

Board Reports Trustee Rick Vawter provided an update on the Scholarship Committee meeting that was held on Monday, July 13. Thirteen graduating seniors were awarded locally funded scholarships totaling $49,400. Superintendent’s Report Superintendent Andy Hubbard began with a special thank you to the scholarship committee, Rick Vawter, Scott Smith, and Mark Kellogg for taking the time to read all the essays and come together to help distribute all the well-deserved scholarship funds Hartford students have available to them. Hubbard recognized the Hartford Foundation for Quality Education for their continued support of the Hartford School District. Without their ongoing efforts, 2020 graduates would not have had access to almost $50,000 annually in local scholarship funds again this year, despite the postponement of the Foundation’s major annual fundraising event over COVID-19 concerns, along with all summer events. The Foundation will conduct an online version of their spring auction fundraiser in mid-August, which Hubbard urged the community to support. Return to School Plan Hubbard reported that respondents to a parent survey sent earlier in the month concerning a return to school plan, revealed roughly 35% of school families listed that at this time they do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school for face to face instruction in the fall. Given this information, it is planned to provide options in the fall for schooling by either virtual or face to face. Stakeholder Input Group built by Hubbard, consisting of administrators, board members, teachers, directors, support staff, and parents, will continue to meet until the plan is complete. The District will be utilizing the Return to School Roadmap that was distributed by the State of Michigan. There are three parts to the plan that will have to build that are dependent on what current phase Michigan is in. Under Phase 1, 2, or 3 there will be no face to face instruction. Under Phase 4, face to face instruction may occur with strict procedures. And in Phase 5 face to face instruction may occur with relaxed procedures.

Plan approval The District’s Return to School Plan must ultimately be board approved and then submitted to Michigan Department of Education by the deadline of August 15. In a post meeting interview with Superintendent Hubbard, he was quite clear in stating that all this planning hinges on the actions of the Governor’s office as the fall restart approaches. “If she (the Governor) moves us back to Phase 3, we have a problem,” says Hubbard. He went on to explain that the rural nature of the Hartford District and the Tri-City neighbor schools makes it almost impossible to reach all students virtually due to significant lack of high-speed Internet availability. “Some large metro Michigan School Districts such as Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor have already announced an online only start for fall. That just doesn’t work for us. There will be some pen and paper.” Hubbard went on to explain the impact of social distancing. Currently recommended, but not mandated for schools, would reduce a 60 passenger bus to roughly 10 occupants. Let alone the effect on classrooms built to a totally different standard. “It’s a moving target that we cannot afford to miss,” says Hubbard, who went on to say, “All of our decisions and plans are based on the accepted best practices for the safety and welfare of all concerned, while providing the best possible education for the students we serve.”

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