School District taking a look at location of Blanding elementary site

by David Boyle
News Director
The new elementary school in Blanding may not be built at the proposed location on 800 North and 100 West.
Members of the San Juan School Board passed a motion to direct school district administration to evaluate the possibility of moving the location of the new school at the March 6 meeting.
The board discussed the new school, approved spend plans, and discussed a semimonthly payroll distribution at the meeting.
The board and district staff heard from several concerned citizens about the currently-approved location.
The undeveloped lot is on the southwest corner of the corner opposite from the Blanding Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The board voted to approve the location on district-owned property in June, 2023 as part of a plan to make the school close to shovel-ready in order to receive a state grant to build the new school.
While the district was awarded $20 million from the state for the new school, some Blanding residents voiced concern about the proposed location of the new building.
During public comment at the latest school board meeting, Paul MacDonald shared he represented a group of Blanding residents who are thankful to the district for the new school and the updates to the design to include more classrooms. However, MacDonald said Blanding residents have not been properly involved in district discussions related to the new building.
MacDonald said the main concern is the location of the new school, noting concerns with the slope of the current location which the district has estimated will take $2 million to fix.
MacDonald asked why the undeveloped property north of ARL Middle School is not being used for the project, noting that it is two acres larger than the 13.5 acre site, and would place all three Blanding schools in a close proximity to one another.
In other public comment, residents asked for two age-appropriate playgrounds at the new school, consideration for traffic impacts, and concerns with the dirt on the site.
The San Juan School Board directed school district administration to evaluate the possibility of moving the location of the new school.
District Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton provided the board with updated floor plans, including additional classrooms that the board approved at a previous meeting.
Pemberton shared that other public input has been helpful in a variety of aspects and the project is closer to being ready to bid.
In other capital improvement news, the board voted to approve two projects at district schools. One is an upgrade to the 40-year-old playground equipment at Montezuma Creek Elementary and the other to replace the 25-year-old HVAC system at Navajo Mountain High School.
The HVAC system and playground equipment are original to their respective schools with concerns of safety and reliability driving the replacement need.
District staff estimates the cost to replace the Montezuma Creek Elementary playground equipment between $170,000 and $270,000, and the estimate for the HVAC system being $515,000.
The board approval allows district staff to move forward in preparing the projects. They will be paid from funds in the fiscal year starting in July.
Members of the San Juan School Board also approved Fee Waiver and Spend Plans for the upcoming school year.
Over three board meetings where the item was presented to the public, the board heard from and discussed the amount for meal reimbursement.
The amounts in the spend plan outlines the maximum out-of-pocket expense students will pay for activities, as well as the amount that qualified students will receive for program participation, in particular money for meals.
The cost to cover meals comes from the district budget. Looking at historic data about student participation, district staff estimates it will cost about $5,000 annually to raise meal reimbursement amounts by $1.
During the 2023-2024 school year, meal reimbursement has been set at $13 for each meal as part of an activity participation away from school. With inflation rising, some community members had asked the amount be raised.
Members of the board weighed options to keep the amount the same or raise it to $14 or $15. After discussion, board members voted to approve the Fee Waiver and Spend Plans with $14 for meal reimbursements for the 2024-2025 school year.
The school board also discussed whether to change staff payroll distribution from its current monthly allocation to a more frequent semimonthly payroll. 
While not an action item, the board did plan to bring the discussion and a possible change to district payroll at a future meeting.
As part of a presentation, Pemberton said that while the district uses software to process payroll for the 700+ district employees, there are monthly manual processes for one district staffer to complete.
Pemberton estimates changing to a semimonthly payment would double the work load and likely require the hiring of additional staff to aid in the process at an estimated cost of $70to $95,000 annually, as well as time for staff to implement change and needed new office space.
For those reasons Pemberton did not recommend making the change but did add that they recognize the trend for employers to pay more frequently and the benefit it could provide, particularly to classified staff.
Currently, pay periods run from the 19th to the 18th of the next month. A classified employee who started work in the new school year on August 16 would be paid for just three days of work in the August payroll and work over a month before seeing a more sizable paycheck in September.
Pemberton concluded, “If the School Board feels strongly that the benefit this provides to our employees exceeds the costs we may incur, our staff can make this happen.”
While no vote was held, board members discussed the benefits and costs of moving to semimonthly payroll, and plans to bring the item before the board at the next meeting.
At the meeting, the district presented San Juan Sweet Job awards to Haley Burton at Monticello Elementary and Liz Bailey at Monticello High.

San Juan Record

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Monticello, UT 84535

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