School Board Chair Rick Wells, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday and School Board Member Erin Gudge
From left, School Board Chair Rick Wells, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday and School Board Member Erin Gudge. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath School District’s enrollment numbers continue to remain similar to last year’s count. When it comes to full-time students, there are eight more students compared to the December 2020 numbers but three fewer from November to December this year.

If part-time students are factored in, the school district’s enrollment is down by 21 students compared to this time last year. Compared to November, the part-time student count is up by 14.

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Those statistical breakdowns were included in Business Manager Bill Mancuso’s financial report to the Philomath School Board during its regular meeting on Thursday night.

“We have picked up a few more students than what we had at this time last month — mainly in our part-time student category,” said Mancuso, who attended the meeting from Great Falls, Montana, through Zoom. “But compared to this time last year, we’re still 21 students below where we were.”

Mancuso believes the pandemic continues to impact family decisions on student attendance.

“What that’s really telling us is there hasn’t been a lot of major movement, positive or negative,” Mancuso said. “I think people are still figuring out how long COVID is going to be with us and some of the restrictions that we have, they haven’t made a decision on coming back or not.”

The business office follows enrollment numbers closely because of their importance to securing state revenue.

“One of the items that we’re currently working on is the estimate of our enrollment and what it means for the 2022-23 school year,” Mancuso said. “If you remember at this time last year, it was really difficult for us to decide how many students were going to come back because we just didn’t know.”

The district ultimately decided to estimate that half of the students it had lost in 2020-21 would come back.

“We’ve fallen below that projection — as have a lot of districts around the state,” Mancuso said. “We’re still looking at what that might mean to the district next year.”

All around, Mancuso said challenges remain to figure out where the finances might fall.

“We’re in the first year of the biennium, so there’s no additional sources of income that are expected to come in next year because that’s already been agreed to for the two-year biennium,” he said. “So we’d have to look to the fall of ’23 before we would see another potential influx of funding from the state.”

Mancuso fielded a few questions for clarification on enrollment numbers. For example, Philomath Academy has 93 fewer students than a year ago while enrollment is up among full-time students at the traditional campuses.

“A lot of the students that were in the academy did filter back to their regular classrooms at their respective schools,” Mancuso said. “Now some did opt to go somewhere else but the majority of that number just went back to their schools.”

The board meeting was the last for Mancuso, who is leaving the school district.

KVCS charter hearing

The School Board held a public hearing on the Kings Valley Charter School’s charter renewal but nobody signed up to speak. KVCS board member Sally Lammers was on hand to answer any questions but there was no discussion specific to any details within the proposed charter amendments.

School Board Chair Rick Wells said the process appears as though it will be routine. The Philomath team will finalize the document in the coming days, Wells said, and then KVCS will give it a look with a formal vote expected in January.

Wells said the most substantial work-through with the agreement relates to a section on special education funding.

“It’s something that I think very easily can be worked through and presented and maybe talked about a little bit and accepted on both sides,” Wells said. “You guys understand that it costs us to do that … the state only pays us ‘x’ amount of dollars to do it districtwide, which includes the charter school, so we have to watch how we spend our funds and that’s a place that is a drain on the district right now.”

Lammers said she understands the situation and the KVCS team will take a look at the Philomath board’s ideas on the issue.

Local option levy

Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday provided information to the board about timing options related to putting a renewal of the school district’s local option levy on the ballot. The current local option levy was approved in 2018 and “provides approximately $3.5 million in resources to support our schools during its five-year lifespan,” Halliday said.

“When we went to voters in 2018 for renewal, the commitment was to maintain staff and programs for our students,” she added.

The current levy expires June 30, 2023.

“For the consideration of renewal of our levy, we’ll need to determine what our interest is in renewing and about the amount of the request — do we ask for the same, do we ask for less, do we ask for more?” Halliday said. “The other part of it would be timing of placement on the ballot.”

Halliday said the issue could go on the ballot as soon as this coming spring or perhaps the fall of 2022 or spring of 2023. The superintendent and board members briefly discussed the pros and cons of those dates and will revisit the issue at its January meeting.

In other news out of the Dec. 16 meeting:

• Prior to the regular meeting, the School Board met in a closed session for 45 minutes to discuss labor negotiations and evaluate the employment-related status of district employees. The media was in attendance but is prohibited from reporting on discussions that occur in executive sessions.

• The School Board did not have a quorum to open the regular meeting with only Wells and Anton Grube in attendance. Erin Gudge joined 35 minutes into the meeting after watching a winter program next door at the elementary school. No voting could take place while there were only two members present. Board members Joe Dealy and Karen Skinkis were absent.

• Philomath senior Dylan Bell updated the board with activities going on at the high school, including a partnership with Vina Moses Center on a giving tree. “As a school, we filled over 40 tags, which will buy gifts for the holidays for children around the community.” Last year, Vina Moses Center distributed gifts and food to more than 1,600 children in Benton County. Bell also mentioned the Associated Student Body’s plans to participate in February’s Polar Plunge, which raises money for Special Olympics and Philomath’s Unified Basketball program.

• Philomath High School’s Student Equity Team provided a presentation specific to Native American awareness. (Look for a separate story in the coming days).

• Halliday provided details on the upcoming state assessments, which will be given to all students in grades 3-8 and 11 this year, although there are opt-out options. The tests include sections on language arts and mathematics for all of those grade levels and science in grades 5, 8 and 11.

• The local school principals provided their thoughts on what they were most appreciative of when it comes to the first half of this academic year and what they were most excited about with the time that remains. Halliday had asked those questions of them and she read their responses to the board.

• Halliday shared COVID-related information on topics such as vaccination rates, test positivity rates, the district’s response in various areas and the latest guidance released by the Oregon Health Authority. Vaccination clinics for interested families are planned for Jan. 10 and Jan. 31 at the PHS library. Booster shots will be available.

• The board unanimously approved two separate groups of policy updates. One policy that prompted legal questions about firearms possession on campus for those with a concealed carry permit was removed from one of the votes. That particular topic will be discussed in the future with the possibility of the establishment of a new policy.

• In a vote approving the consent agenda, several personnel changes were listed, including the resignations of Mancuso and longtime custodian Jeff Williams. New hires included Mary Callender (PHS instructional assistant), Elizabeth King (PES instructional assistant), Quinn Aschoff (technology specialist) and Diane Crocker (part-time music teacher). There were several other staff reassignments and two leaves of absence.

VOTING RECORD
Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath School Board at its Dec. 16 meeting:
• To approve the second reading of policies AC, AC-AR, BDDH, GBA, IGBHA, IBGHA-AR and JB. Motion: Gudge. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 3-0 (Yes—Grube, Gudge, Wells; Absent—Dealy, Skinkis).
• To approve the second reading of policies ACB-Every Student Belongs, ACB-AR, IB, IGBI, IJ, JBB, JFC and JFCF. Motion: Grube. Seconded: Gudge. Vote: Passes 3-0 (Yes—Grube, Gudge, Wells; Absent—Dealy, Skinkis).
• To approve a consent agenda that included the Nov. 18 School Board minutes, list of bills and personnel changes. Motion: Gudge. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 3-0 (Yes—Grube, Gudge, Wells; Absent—Dealy, Skinkis).
• To declare surplus property from the school district’s maintenance department. Motion: Gudge. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 3-0 (Yes—Grube, Gudge, Wells; Absent—Dealy, Skinkis).