The Sioux City School Board had a busy agenda with two major topics up for discussion.
The first was changing the mask policy in the district, giving the superintendent the ability to require masks in separate buildings on an "as needed" temporary basis when the positivity rate in that building reaches a certain threshold. This mandate would be enacted if the building reaches a 3% positivity rate among students and staff.
That would require all people who are in the building to wear a mask for 5 school days and it would be extended past 5 days if the building remains at or above 3%. The district says the goal is to keep schools open.
"So I think that really is the driving discussion behind all of this and board members saying keeping our buildings open is the most important thing," said board president Dan Greenwell. "Nobody is going to be happy about everything, but I think this is a reasonable balance for all folks."
Now with unanimous board approval, Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman can enact a 5-school day mask mandate per building when that 3% threshold is reached. Last week, three buildings were above the 3% threshold on Friday.
"We have to recognize that this district is 67 square miles and what is happening on one side of town often isn't happening quite the same way on the other side of town. That's even true on a day when it's snowing," said Dr. Gausman. If we don't control it by that 3% mark, it appears to balloon a little out of control and I don't want that to happen for any of our students and certainly not our staff members."
Dr. Gausman receives reports daily from each building and will determine if that mask mandate will be enacted the night before. Similar to other school closings, students, parents and staff will be contacted via social media, phone calls, texts and email. If you are not receiving these messages, you are asked to reach out to the district.
Should a mask mandate be issued for a building, everyone who enters that building will be required to wear a mask, unless they already have an approved medical or religious exemption. This includes at sporting events, concerts and other activities held within the buildings during those 5 school days.
The district is also administering rapid COVID-19 tests at each building. These are completely voluntary and available for staff and students. The district administered 277 tests the week of January 10th through 14th, with 84 positive results.
Also at the school board meeting, the board discussed pay increases for several levels of employees within the district. Para-professionals, instructional assistants and many others will be seeing a bump in their paycheck. Board president Dan Greenwell says this decision was needed and it is just the beginning of this discussion for the board.
"We got out of sync with the market in our hourly pay. The board recognized that. These folks were underpaid, by any market standard they were underpaid," Greenwell said after the meeting. "We are going to continue to look at some other hourly positions. Of course, we believe some hourly positions are at market rate and we don't see changes across the board. We are looking at group by group and individuals by individuals."
Over 400 staff within the district will be seeing that pay hike which takes effect on February 1st.
The 2021-2022 school year for the Sioux City Community School District has largely gone off without a hitch, except for one issue, there are not enough substitute teachers, something districts nationwide are facing.
Along with struggling to find teachers, the district also needs stand-ins for other staff, like food service, administrative and transportation. One issue they are working to resolve is finding a better way to communicate openings to their available substitutes.
"As we're finding out more about this process our internal processes at the district," said school board president Dan Greenwell. "Not all subs available subs are being contacted on a regular basis."
The district is already working to rectify this issue, "we are working right now to hire a new person within the team that will control and operate manage the subsystems for the district in a new way than we've ever done before," said Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman.
Back in November, the school board was presented with an option to hire an outside company to bring in substitutes for the district, hiring within the tri-state to fill the need. Ultimately, the board decided to make a few changes in-house before taking that step.
"What we're finding out in the process now is there's a lot of things that we could do on our own before we say to say hey, let's pay some out of state firm to assist us," Greenwell said about the board's decision to not hire the out-of-state company.
The biggest issue at hand, addressing substitute teacher pay.
Currently, Sioux City pays its substitutes on a three-tier pay scale which was increased on January 2nd.
A substitute who works between one and 20 days, will receive $140 per day, an increase of $25. A tier two substitute, who works between 21 to 50 days, will receive $180 per day, a $45 increase. A tier three substitute, working more than 51 days, will receive $210 a day, a $30 increase.
They've also m retired educators who want to step back into the classroom.
"Our old policy was to start retired teachers at the lowest level of pay. And the question is, did that make sense? And the answer was clearly no, it didn't make sense," Greenwell told Siouxland News. "They have 20 and 30 years of experience, why would we start them with the lowest level of pay? They're the most experienced most familiar with our district, moving to the highest level pays."
Now the district is looking at the other positions that need to be filled. "But we're bringing forward recommendations to the board for all other positions as well," Dr. Gausman said, such as food service and instructional assistants and others and so we know that that the market has changed rapidly through the pandemic."
With the rise in inflation, the district acknowledges that this raise in pay may not be enough.
"Inflation is real right now, and costs have gone up.," Gausman said. "And, you know, certainly the board made a significant change in the amount that we're paying in wages, but we know some of that's being eaten up by that inflation and so we want to stay ahead of this challenge as we move forward."
One other issue the district is running into is not one they can really tackle themselves. A backlog at the state level for those who want to step up and become a substitute has left many waiting several months for the appropriate documents needed to teach.
Greenwell has reached out to Iowa's start representatives to see how bad that backlog is. "The state has a significant delay in their process, which means applicants who want to sub can't because they don't have their sub license. So these are the type of things that we're finding out right now in advance."
Board members who aren't already educators have applied to be substitutes and administrative staff is stepping up and back into the classroom as well, including Dr. Gausman, who has stepped in to direct band and a few other classes. "You know, having been school superintendent now for nearly 20 years. It was a little different to plan my day to go in and be an instructor," he said.
In November, when Siouxland News first discussed this issue with the district, Sioux City had about 270 people on their substitute list. While that number has grown, they need approximately 500 to fill the need district-wide. The district is doing what it can to fill open positions. but they still need more qualified substitutes and not just for the classroom. If you're interested in becoming a sub, contacting the district is the first step.
District Administration and the school board continue to look at ways to make positive improvements for teachers, faculty, substitutes and of course, the students.
"I think with the increased pay with improving our internal processes and over time, I think you're going to see an improvement in our sub situation," Greenwell said.
Gausman agreed, "I prepared for my work, you know, in future days going into classrooms, it's just something I need to do like others need to do we all have to roll up our sleeves and helped, you know, work our way through this challenge together.
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COVID-19, tax changes, and healthcare were just some of many topics touched on during Governor Kristi Noem's State of the State Address Tuesday.
Much like last year's address, the Republican governor began by touting South Dakota's hands-off approach to the coronavirus pandemic, praising the state for staying open despise rising cases.
"Two years ago, we made a decision in the face of a global threat. We chose not to compromise our values," Norm told the joint session in Pierre. "We kept businesses, schools, and churches open. We did not decide who is essential and who is not. We chose freedom and personal responsibility over mandates and lockdowns. We took steps to be safe, to guard public health. But we also trusted people to make decisions that were best for them and their families."
Noem discussed expanding the state's at-home COVID-19 tests, ordering 1 million more for South Dakota residents to have free access to in-home testing.
South Dakota has joined several other Republican-led states in a lawsuit against COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Noem, in 2021, signed an executive order that overrode a national mandate for all state employees to be vaccinated against the virus. Now, Noem plans to introduce legislation to "protect people's rights to a medical or religious exemption. She is also recognizing natural immunity to the virus.
"The COVID vaccination should be a choice," Noem told lawmakers. "And we should reject the efforts that we’re seeing in other parts of the country to divide us into two classes: vaccinated and unvaccinated. Unvaccinated Americans are still Americans. We live in a free country – free to make our own decisions. The government does not get to make them for us."
ABORTION AND HEALTHCAREIn 2021, Gov. Noem signed an executive order banning telemedicine abortions in South Dakota. Today, she asked lawmakers to make that a state law.
The Governor also spoke about expanding telehealth to emergency responders and rural areas to help South Dakota's the medical assistance they need quicker.
Addiction and mental health was also touched on, with Noem promising regional behavioral crisis centers across South Dakota to help people to get the help they need quicker and closer to home.
REVENUE AND ECONOMY
The South Dakota Dept. of Labor is partnering with Dakota State University to create a Future Workforce Finder tool to help South Dakota residents find work across the state, promote job training and match students with careers. The state is also expanding the cybersecurity training program at Dakota State.
Gov. Noem praised South Dakota for its economic growth in 2021. General fund revenue is $20.8 million higher than initially thought in December and the state is $16 million above ongoing legislative estimates for this fiscal year.
The state also hopes to expand its Second Century Habitat Fund. Hunting and fishing bring in $1.3 billion to the state economy and protecting the natural habitats is a top priority for Noem, who is an avid hunter herself.
Noem is introducing legislation this session to bring prayer back to South Dakota schools, in a way. This legislation would allow for a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, that students, teachers and staff can use as they wish.
New legislation aims to remove all fees for South Dakota residents to get concealed carry permits, including the cost of federal background checks.
Noem is eliminating a specific tax, bingo tax.
"It's February of 2021. I read a book by Ethan Bryan and he did it and I'm like, Hey, I'm gonna turn 60 in January and this would be a good project for a year.”
Kevin Negaard is a familiar face at Miracle League Park and beginning January 18th and for the next 365 days, Kevin will be playing catch. "Wanna Have A Catch will consist of at least 30 throws each day no matter what.
"I'll play catch that day and I'll play with my father who's 87 years old and in a wheelchair but loves baseball, has always loved baseball and really created that love within our family and so probably a no better way to kick it off," Negaard said.
He isn’t just playing catch to pass the time, but a way to raise money for a group dear to his heart, the Miracle League of Sioux City.
"I think for so many families with a child with special needs is they've never really been the priority," he said while we visited the park. "And so, this entire complex is built with people with disabilities as the number one priority. And so that's been rare."
Haley Meachum is the executive director of the Miracle League of Sioux City. . "It's just so meaningful that he wants to spend you know, 365 days out of the year promoting the miracle league of cities. So it just means the world to our organization."
When Kevin approached her about this challenge, "I am just always in awe every single year. I'm not surprised that Kevin wanted to do something like this. He is a go-getter. He loves the Miracle League."
Kevin hopes to play catch with Miracle League players, their families, volunteers, local athletic teams, and anyone who wants to come out and throw a few over the next year.
"They're going to play catch with Kevin. And we get to hear more about their story and what they love so much about the miracle League, so it's just huge for all of us," Meacham said.
This isn’t just to benefit the athletes. The volunteers at Miracle League get something, too.
"When we volunteer, we're the ones who are really blessed through it, but it has changed lives," said Negaard. "I truly believe this is the most joyous place in Sioux City. You come out on a Sunday afternoon and watch our players playing and then you hear all the kids playing on the playground and splash pads and so on so forth.
"It is just pure joy and really just such a blessing for our community and really demonstrates how Siouxlanders really care about each other. And so just, I think, probably from the lives that it's changed in a short period of time," Negaard said.
Kevin will be traveling to Africa later this year for volunteer work and plans to introduce baseball to people along the way.
One ball, one glove, and one man’s year-long journey to give Siouxlanders with disabilities and their families a safe place to play ball.
To learn more about Wanna Have A Catch, to donate or to join in on the fun, visit their Facebook page here.
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Web articles from my time at Siouxland News.