LAS Board of Education Recap: Bond Investing, Title IX, Superintendent Evaluations

The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met June 24 for their monthly work session. Work sessions give the board the opportunity to discuss matters more in depth than a regular board meeting would allow. The public is welcome to attend and make public comments at either type of meeting.

Preceding the workshop meeting was a special meeting to ratify the $104 million bond sale that was approved by voters in May.

While more information will be made available to the public in July, Sonia Hodge, LAS chief financial officer, said it was a very successful bond sale with a 4.2% interest rate, which is a lower rate than what was budgeted.

“We were able to save $11 million in taxpayer dollars at that interest rate compared to what we were planning on in our budget allocations,” Hodge said.

The board voted unanimously to ratify the bond.

LAS Superintendent Nate Fowler said the good economy in the area is part of the reason for the successful bond sale.

“The school district deserves a lot of credit. Economic development in the Lowell area as well as all of Kent County and West Michigan, it’s a dynamic economy. I think it’s a reflection of the overall local and regional economy,” Fowler said.

Board President Brian Krajewski said the A-plus investment rating the district has is a big enticement for investors to consider investing in LAS.

In the regular meeting immediately following the special meeting, Hodge then recommended how the district can invest the bond proceeds using Baker Tilly Investment Services. Hodge said using this company will “Maximize our potential earnings while fulfilling all our obligations,” and they will emphasize “safety over yield.” She said there are limits as to what the district can invest in due to state laws, so risks to any investments will be low and will be mostly treasury bills and securities.

This topic will go before the board for a vote at the July 8 meeting.

The board then discussed changes being made to two policies regarding Title IX that will take effect Aug. 1. The board noted that other policies may need to be updated in the future to accommodate these changes. Title IX is a federal rule intended to prevent discrimination based on sex in education programs.

One policy deals with the procedures involved when there is an accusation or complaint. The new policy gives more flexibility as to who can investigate the complaint and who can be a decision maker. A director of human resources can now be considered a decision maker. LAS’s human resource director is Dustin Cichocki.

The other policy broadens the criteria of what now can be considered a complaint. It now covers all forms of “sex discrimination” and not just “sex-based harassment.” This includes claims of unequal athletic opportunities, admissions discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, which would apply to staff and students, and unequal treatment based on family or marital status.

Fowler said some of these changes, such as admissions discrimination, would not apply to a K-12 school. He said when complaints occur, the district will continue to work with the student and families to come to a resolution.

“We’re dealing with students who are minors. That would be something where if somebody came and shared something in confidence that it would stay in that office. However, we are still covered by mandated reporter laws. We’re still covered by what we’ve said all along about maintaining communication with parents and families and trying to do that,” Fowler said.

Cichocki said teachers and administrators will be trained on the updated laws throughout the rest of this summer.

Fowler said there may be some confusion nationwide as to what the Title IX laws mean for K-12 schools.

“There are states that don’t want to adopt these,” he said. “As a country, it may get messy because some states are moving forward with these changes. Other states are going to be operating under the old system. It remains to be seen whether current lawsuits will affect the implementation of the new law.”

“I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be talking about this,” Fowler said.

The board then watched a presentation on superintendent evaluations from a representative of the Michigan Association of School Boards. The MASB is an organization of which LAS is a member and whose mission is to provide high-quality educational leadership services to Michigan boards of education and to advocate for public education.

All boards who are members of the MASB are required to attend a training presentation on superintendent evaluations.

LAS superintendent evaluation presentation

MASB representative Frank Pytlowany said LAS was already doing a good job on thoroughly evaluating Fowler as the current superintendent. Fowler submits a self evaluation every fall and goes through a formal grading and assessment from the board every December. Fowler is starting his fifth year as LAS superintendent.

Pytlowany said a mid-year evaluation is now required by members of the MASB, and the goal of frequent evaluations is to keep an open and clear relationship between the board and the superintendent.

Grading tools to use as a measurement of success or failure is up to the board and superintendent to decide, Pytlowany said. This tool will make up 65% of the final grade. The other categories that superintendents will need to be accountable are student growth (20%) and progress on goals as defined by the district and superintendent (15%).

The next regular meeting of the LAS Board of Education will take place on Monday, July 8, at 7pm in the administration building.

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