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By Tom Hoogterp

The Tahquamenon Area Schools Board met, masked and distanced, in the school cafeteria Monday, October 19. Trustees Zellar and Puckett participated virtually. The in-person attendees each had a laptop to communicate with their distant colleagues. The 10 audience chairs spaced about the cafeteria sat empty, although one citizen participated via Zoom.

Director of Business Services Donna Bergman opened the meeting with a presentation explaining the receipt and dispersal of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress, then signed by President Trump on March 27. The act provided “stimulus checks” and business loans in addition to funds for schools to deal with the crisis.

The district received $196,000, much of which was used for salaries. Other purchases included nearly $25,000 worth of computers and $39,000 in sanitizers and disinfectants. Two other sections of the CARES Act provided about another $220,000, a significant portion going for salaries of two online teachers and another $47,000 budgeted for 200 Chromebooks. The Chromebooks are slated for delivery in February.

In addition, the district has applied for funding provided by the CARES act from state agencies. Whether TAS qualifies remains to be determined.

At this point, the board revisited the timing of placing the construction bond issue before the voters. This discussion was a continuation of an earlier discussion at the previous meeting. Superintendent Stacy Price said board action is necessary about six months prior to the placing of a bond on the ballot. Trustee Stuart McTiver offered, “Realistically, we’ll be looking at August, rather than May.” Board President Brian Rahilly agreed. No formal action was taken. The discussion will continue in the coming months.

Routine actions followed: Mike Aho was awarded the snowplowing contract and GFL Environmental will handle hauling the trash. Bergman noted that the GFL bid represented an annual savings of $1,200.

Acting on the advice of the Library Advisory Board, Donald Stephenson and Sue Tokar were reappointed to that board. Megan Jankowski was appointed to fill an open position. Randall Fretz will fill a seat on the county library board.

The board approved hiring Rudy Mendoza as assistant football coach. “He has been filling the position,” Price explained. “This just makes it official.”

Trustee Jonathon Brown asked Price what percentage of students are participating virtually at this point. She responded that 117 students (about 25%) are currently attending virtually. This is consistent with other Eastern Upper Peninsula districts.

“We are surveying our virtual parents to determine who is coming back (to in-person learning) at marking period, November 6,” Price said. “A handful are coming back, and a few, especially after our October first incident, have decided to go virtual. It fluctuates.”

Price began her Administrative Report to the board, “We have lots going on! I really want to praise the staff. We did have to announce that we had a positive COVID case. The work that was done ahead of time in regards to prepping staff for seat assignments, for bathroom tracing, and for hallway tracing [was critical]. All I had to do is ask staff ‘I need your seat assignments, I need your logs,’ and they were on my desk, in order. That really helped me in getting out the names to assist the health department with contact tracing.”

She announced that NWEA test results will be sent soon. Virtual students are receiving five breakfasts and five lunches per week, and parent-teacher conferences “will look different this year.” The district is looking at virtual, phone, or email conferencing. On the advice of the health department, and with the uptick in positive COVID cases, “We’re limiting large group events if at all possible.”

She closed with a plea to the community: “We are desperately in need of a bus driver,” and thanked parents and students for their patience.