LAS Board of Education Recap: School Board Recognition Month, Budget Amendment

The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met Monday for their first meeting since early December. Members Jared Blough and Jessica Curtis were not able to attend; all other board members were present for the meeting.

Thank you to our advertisers.

Election of Officers

The board must decide annually which members will serve as its officers, and there was a unanimous vote to keep the positions as they were in 2023: Brian Krajewski will serve as board president, Laurie Kuna as vice president, Pat Nugent as secretary and Tom Kaywood as treasurer.

Student Council Report

Student Council President Antonio Casarez gave a brief summary of upcoming events at the high school, including a blood drive on January 23, the Snowball Dance scheduled for February 3, and a leadership conference for students at city hall on January 9.

School Board Recognition

Superintendent Nate Fowler read a statement to the board in honor of January being School Board Appreciation Month:

“A strong public education system is a key element for the future of our community, our state, and our country. Our students and their families count on our public schools to prepare them for a successful future. Whether students understand it or not, they count on adults in their community to ensure that they have the resources they need to help them learn, keep their buildings safe and have qualified teachers to guide them. It takes a tremendous commitment to make all of this possible. At the end of the day, the members of our school board are ordinary citizens who demonstrate extraordinary dedication to student success in our school system.

Tonight, we take the time to say thank you to the members of our school board for their commitment to Lowell Area Schools. Their job is to establish a vision for educational programs, design a structure to achieve that vision, ensure schools are accountable to the community and a strong advocate for continuous improvement in student learning.

The job of a school board member is tough. The hours are long, the thank yous can be few and far between. Too often, we see that it is easy to criticize school board members without really understanding the complex nature of the jobs and the decisions that you have to make.

The month of January marks the observance of School Board Recognition Month. This is an opportunity to show our year-round appreciation for these servant leaders and to begin to better understand how local trustees work together to prepare today’s learners to be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Budget Amendment

The 2023-2024 school year’s budget, which was first estimated in June, was amended to reflect some differences in the district’s general fund balance and also the food service balance. Items affecting the general fund balance include property values, which were updated in August, enrollment numbers that were received in October and state aid dollars that the district will receive. State aid funding includes about $100,000 to help offset retirement costs and $500,000 for transportation funding.

The food service budget needed to be amended primarily because of the universal school meals being offered this year in Michigan. Free school meals for all students means an increase in reimbursement for food costs from the state, but it also means an increase in demand for school lunches, increased upfront food costs, and the potential for equipment needing to be repaired or purchased due to the increased demand. For instance, expanded cold storage is needed for increased quantities of food.

District CFO Sonia Hodge said that there will likely be another budget amendment in June or before, once some other figures become known.

Human Resources Update

Director of HR Dustin Cichocki said that his team was currently taking applications from teachers requesting any changes for next school year. These requests include educators wanting a switch to a different grade or those wanting to change buildings. The HR department is also beginning to process any teachers who know they will be retiring at the end of this school year so that new teachers can be hired on to fill their positions.

Budget Update

The board recently approved the purchase of eight new double ovens for the district and received a surprise bonus: a rebate from Consumers Energy to the district for $7,600.

The finance team has learned that by next December, the software program used for the district’s budgeting is being phased out and they’ll have to adopt a new one. Hodge said that a decision would need to be made quickly to ensure a smooth transition of the school’s budget to an entirely new software program.

Public Comment

During public comments, school of choice parent Stefanie Boone began by saying that she wanted to echo Fowler’s recognition of the board, saying, “I very much appreciate and recognize…the complex nature of the jobs and the decisions that you have to make…”.

Referring to public comments she made at past meetings regarding concerns about certain books in district libraries, Boone asked the board, “…are we working toward cleaning things up or are we working towards bringing smut back into our libraries?”

Boone added that she had spoken with Fowler after a recent board meeting and claimed that he told her directly that some books had been removed from district libraries due to their content. Boone mentioned several authors and specific books that she said remained in the libraries and that she felt should be removed due to containing content with “sexual activities, profanity, alcohol use.”

Superintendent’s Report

Answering Boone’s public comments directly, Fowler said he acknowledged a conversation took place with Boone about books being removed. However, their removal was due to the regular weeding out of books that have not been checked out in some time to make way for new books, not because of their content.

Fowler congratulated LHS educator Sarah Ellis on her recent nomination to join a Fulbright Scholar Program slated to travel to Uruguay in June for a program focused on “cross-cultural contributions to communities abroad and at home”. Fowler added that he was dismayed to hear of some disparaging comments made on social media regarding the nomination, saying that the post in question contained “…falsehoods about our employees and ways that we have gone about curating our library collection…”. He added that “…the post could also be construed as threatening in nature.”

Boone interjected from the audience, saying, “You can join. You’re welcome to join,” implying that the comments were made in a Facebook group (Lowell Kids 1st) she manages.

Continuing on, Fowler concluded the discussion by saying that, “When people dedicate years to their profession, when they dedicate years to supporting student learning, and supporting students in that journey to become productive members of our communities and our society, it’s not ok when people are subjected to these types of disrespectful comments…”. Boone interrupted Fowler once again from the audience, saying, “Well, porn’s not ok for kids.”

Fowler wished everyone a happy new year, and thanked staff who took care of district buildings over the winter break, including some workers who finished a few more construction items at the middle school and added some splashes of color by painting the hallways and classrooms.

The board concluded their meeting at 7:45 pm. The next scheduled meeting is a work session for the board that the public is welcome to attend. The meeting will take place on Monday, January 22, at 6 pm in the administration building.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.