San Juan School Board approves year-end retention stipend for teachers and staff
Members of the San Juan School Board approved a retention stipend for all staff, discussed administration of a state survey for students and received a report of a potential issue with the transportation budget at their April meeting.
During their April 13 meeting members of the San Juan School Board voted unanimously to approve a stipend for district staff coming from federal funds.
As part of the Federal CARES and ARPA acts the state of Utah received $615 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
Those funds were used to help education during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For example, some of the funds were used to extend the Local Area Network (LAN) in the San Juan School District to allow limited internet access to Navajo Nation homes in the district for students to complete school work during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The school district recently learned that another acceptable use of their ESSER funds could be for retention of district staff, as well as for extra work done by staff.
During the April 13 meeting the school board voted to approve a one-time $500 stipend or 1.5-percent of a staff’s salary, whichever is higher from the ESSER funds.
The stipend will be distributed through the end of May payroll to all district staff, both certified and classified.
During the April 13 meeting the district also discussed a potential issue on the horizon with the 22-23 transportation budget.
Superintendent Ron Nielson reported the district could potentially lose $827,000 from the annual transportation budget as the state is adjusting reimbursement models.
Nielson shared that there are two reasons the district may see the dramatic dip in transportation budgets.
One is an adjustment coming from the state legislature regarding how many miles are reimbursable. The district previously has been reimbursed over 100-percent on their mileage based on efficiency, the new code states that each district or local education area in the state can now only qualify for 85-percent of the total miles.
While the district anticipated the drop in funds due to the rule change, an additional factor is impacting the San Juan School District far more than the rest of the districts in the state.
“What made it much worse is that our reimbursable miles from last year was drastically less due to covid. We did not have our students in the River Region, they were virtual all year long.”
Because state allocation of education transportation funds are based on reported usage from recent years, if the district were to submit last years mileage while students at Bluff, Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain schools were not attending schools, the miles would not reflect the actual usage for the district during a normal year.
Miles used to deliver meals and learning materials while the Navajo Nation was shut down were reimbursed by ESSER funds and did not count towards reimbursement from the state.
While the past two years the district was able to submit miles from fiscal year 2019 for reimbursement, that exception has run out, meaning the district will need to report last year's mileage numbers for the upcoming school year.
Nielson reports in conversations with state officials he was told that the state has to comply with the code, but they thought there could be a chance to backfill the funding gap for the district but that would be unknown until possibly June or July.
Nielson shared that if the district were to build their budget in accordance to losing $827,000 that would eat up a huge chunk of new money that the district could not spend on raises or other issues.
Nielson reported reaching out to local state legislators, as well as the Governor's education specialist in hopes of resolving the issue.
“There are some things moving. The point I tried to make was we should not be penalized for working closely with the Navajo Nation and honoring their directive.”
As of April 29 the district reported that while administration is still working on the issue, a solution has not been finalized.
At the meeting the school board also began planning for the 2023 Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey administration.
Every two years the Utah Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health conducts a survey of 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grade students across the state. The department states the survey is designed to measure adolescent substance use, anti-social behavior, and the risk and protective factors that predict these adolescent problem behaviors.
Participating in the survey is optional and requires parental sign-off. For 2023 Student Services Director Trevor Olsen reports the district’s permission slip will include the list of questions students who participate will be asked including questions about possible substance use as well as mental health questions.
Olsen says the anonymous survey results are used to apply for funding from federal programs.
“Almost all of our prevention efforts in the school district are really driven by the SHARP survey. What type of curriculum are we needing to have in our schools. When do we need to start prevention efforts, how our social workers, counselors, and teachers can address bullying issues.”
SHARP survey data has revealed the increased need of mental health services for children.
“Our students(...) are reporting they are in need of a higher level of care. They are also reporting over the past couple of years that they have higher thoughts of suicide, sad feelings, depression that they are not talking to other people about it. Even though they have a teacher or social worker or counselor they are keeping to themselves.”
The 2019 SHARP survey included information from students in the River Region schools, as the survey was approved by the Navajo Nation Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Without approval from the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board agencies are not allowed to conduct research on the Navajo Nation.
The district plans to begin gathering parental permission for the 2023 survey in the fall of the next school year with the survey administered next spring.
At the meeting the board also received a report from the district nurses who asked that the board allow school nurses to begin using a standing order to allow them to administer over-the-counter medications to students with parent consent.
School Nurse Sheila Alvarez shared that the district nursing staff would like to receive permission to administer over the counter medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, tums, Benadryl and cough syrup with parental consent.
Alvarez shared that the district nurses assess needs related to physical, emotional and mental health with their number one priority being to keep kids in schools when possible.
Since August district nurses have had 4,539 visits from students with 1,309, or 29-percent, resulting in students being sent home.
Alvarez says they believe they can decrease the number of students sent home by using a standing order from the district physician that would allow school nurses to administer doses of medication to students.
District nurses said that the order would allow students with less-severe cases to remain in school. An example was shared of a student recently experiencing allergies. The mother asked district nurses to give her child Benadryl but nurses were unable to, as a result the mother made a trip to the school to administer the Benadryl and decided to take all her children home since she had already made the trip.
A more serious example was given of a student who came into the district office with a 103.5 degree temperature, a 104 degree temperature could lead to seizure. With parents and emergency contacts being nearly two hours away district nurses were unable to administer Tylenol and the student had to wait with ice packs to prevent their temperature from rising further.
If the standing order is approved by the district parents would need to opt-in at the beginning of a school year. Parents would also need to give permission for school nurses to administer over the counter medications the day-off an incident.
The school board motioned to defer their decision to their next meeting.
During the meeting the school board also approved school land trust plans for next year, and received another update on capital building needs.
The district also recognized San Juan High Math teacher Ally Anderson and ARL Middle School teacher Tel Walker with the San Juan Sweet Jobs award.