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By Tom Hoogterp

The Tahquamenon Area Schools Board met in the cafeteria Monday, July 20, to afford plenty of space for social distancing. Trustees Michelle Zellar and Jeffrey Puckett were not in attendance.

District Superintendent Stacy Price opened the meeting with a report on the survey recently sent to community members concerning the planned reopening of school this fall. There were 360 responses to the survey, 75% of them from parents. The rest were from community members (8.3%), staff (13%) and students (3.1%). (See main article for more.)

The option of having students attend on alternate days or weeks was dismissed by most respondents as impractical. A small minority prefers an online option.

Most respondents endorsed enhanced cleaning of the building, provision of hand sanitizer, special staff training and temperature monitoring for staff members. Another concern was the availability of face coverings.

Price concluded, “Parents want their kids back in school! But we need precautions.”

Much depends on the governor’s executive orders. Price stressed that school opening is still six weeks away and, “Things can change in the blink of an eye.” Still, districts must submit detailed reopening plans to the state by August 15.

To address the reopening plan requirement, the August board meeting, originally scheduled for the 17, will be moved ahead to Monday the 10th. The rescheduling will allow the board to consider and resolve issues related to the school reopening plan. Board President Brian Rahilly kept open the option of another meeting later the week of August 10.

So far the district has committed to spending $128,000 for supplies and services related to the issues created by the COVID-19 virus. Expenditures include $36,000 for sanitizer and disinfectant (in 55 gallon drums) and $62,000 for new computers. Price has budgeted $20,000 for online learning platforms and another $10,000 for “distance learning and work.” Funding for these purchases is provided in the CARES Act passed by the US Congress to address the economic impact of the virus.

Following Price’s long discourse, Rahilly asked her, “How optimistic are you we’ll have kids coming through the doors?”

She responded, “I’m optimistic we’ll have our doors open for kids who want to attend. Kids need to be educated.”

Price was happy to turn the discussion to the graduation ceremony for Newberry High School’s 2020 seniors to be held at the football field Friday, July 24. The band will play! A stage will be set up; graduates will be seated on the field and spectators in the bleachers. The often-confused march toward graduation that was sidetracked five months ago will be concluded, and the district can shift its focus to the 2020-2021 academic year.

The board approved ballot language for the operating millage to be proposed on the November 3 ballot. The millage amount doesn’t change, but the proposal asks for a five-year approval rather than the annual approvals of recent years. Should voters approve, residents will not see a change in their tax bills, and the district will save around $8,000 per year in fees associated with placing the question annually before voters.