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School board adds support for music, gym in 2013-2014 budget

MORRIS – The Morris Area School Board voted last Thursday to increase funding for physical education at the elementary school and music at the high school and elementary school for the 2013 – 2014 school year.

The district finance committee – school board members Kurt Gartland, Dick Metzger and Jamie Solvie – recommended making several additions to the preliminary budget:

• $1,700 for an assistant advisor for the Business Professionals of America program,

• $7,600 for an additional hour of staff time for physical education at the elementary school,

• $14,200 for one more period of music staff time at both elementary school and the high school, and

• $900 for an employee assistance program for health insurance policy holders.

“It's difficult when you have lists of things you'd like to do for programs and kids and people,” said Superintendent Scott Monson. “I don't think there's anything on here that we wouldn't like to have or that our students, staff or school district wouldn't benefit from.”

The finance committee had “very healthy discussions” about what to prioritize for the 2013-2014 school year, said Gartland. But with the district looking at a budget deficit of about $182,000, additions were a challenge.

“While we may approve a budget that shows a deficit in one year, when that happens we need to have a plan to bring the budget back to a positive outlook,” said Gartland. “The public and the board need to be assured that the school board will not and cannot continue to make deficit budgets.”

During discussion of the budget, school board member Lory Lemke proposed making cuts in three programs to fund an estimated $27,000 for a half-time counseling position.

By taking $9,000 each from the technology, building, and staff salary line items, Lemke said the projected deficit would stay the same while addressing concerns about counseling support for students.

“I think we heard last month that there's a perceived need for [counseling time], and I think all of us can acknowledge that it would be good for out students to have some increased contact with a counselor,” Lemke said.

Lemke's motion did not get a second from any of the three other board members present – Gartland, Metzger and Stan Wulf – so it was not officially discussed or voted on.

The issue could be revisited at a future meeting, Gartland said. The board will formally approve the budget for 2013 – 2014 at their regular meeting on June.

Students enthusiastic about classroom iPads

Morris Area Elementary School second and third grade students have responded enthusiastically to a pilot program to bring iPads into their classrooms, but limited resources mean the district will need to be strategic about how to expand the program further.

Last Thursday, Morris Area Superintendent Scott Monson presented the Morris Area School Board with comments from students about the pilot program, which put five iPads in a second grade classroom and five iPads in a third grade classroom.

Many students said working on the iPad makes learning easier because they find out right away if they have the right answer to a question.

“When I write it on a piece of paper I don't know if I read the word right,” one student said.

“It makes learning easier for me because I learn better every day,” another said. “It's simple and fast. I like math because I learn everything!”

Morris Area Elementary School Principal Ken Gagner specifically praised third grade teacher Deb Felstul for her use of the iPads in her classroom.

“Her use is very targeted – they're playing, but it's skill based,” said Gagner. “They can certainly be used for time-killing.”

School Board Chair Kurt Gartland asked whether the district was planning to expand the program next year or develop a strategy for implementing more options in the district.

“I would love to do that, I would love to do a one-to-one initiative, I think we're a couple years away from that,” said Superintendent Scott Monson. “There's a cost associated with it and that's difficult to come up with.”

Monson also said that staff buy-in and training, as well as wireless access in the school building, were both important considerations for expanding the program. The district technology committee has discussed expanding a pilot program for one grade level rather than just two classrooms.

“We want to make sure we do it the right away instead of just dumping them out there,” said Monson.

“It's a commitment of resources to get them,” concurred Gagner.