Back on the table

GWINN – A shortage of bus drivers, starting an alternative education program and the possibility of reopening Gilbert Elementary School were discussed during the Gwinn school board meeting Monday night.

Long bus routes were a point of contention for some parents last school year, but with a shortage of bus drivers and such a large area to cover – Gwinn Area Community Schools is one of the largest geographic districts in the state – the problem is a difficult one to fix.

With $11 per hour paid to sub drivers, the district’s supervisor of transportation operations Brenda Kurian said it’s also difficult finding people willing to drive.

The board also briefly discussed starting an alternative education program for high school students, with Trustee Bill Nordeen saying the option could help keep students in the district, or even bring some back.

“I think it deserves more analysis,” Nordeen said. “If we decide to do an alternative school, it would be for next school year.”

At the end of the meeting, the board also discussed reopening Gilbert Elementary School. The closure of the school last year caused an uproar among the community, many of whom felt blind-sided by the decision, which was done as a cost-savings measure.

Nordeen, who has been an outspoken opponent to the decision, said the district likely lost money as students left the district because Gilbert was closed.

The board had discussed previously asking voters for a bond to build an addition to the middle/high school complex for elementary students, creating one complex for the entire district.

Several board members said they hadn’t heard a positive response from the community and thought a sinking fund millage and reopening Gilbert may go over better with voters.

Changes to the student handbook that include giving the board more discretion when it comes to disciplines such as long-term suspensions were approved Monday.

The board also approved a new web-based math curriculum that should save the district thousands of dollars in the cost of materials, as well as a 10 cent increase in the price of hot lunch at Gwinn High School. Ten cents is the lowest amount the district could raise its price and still be compliant with federal regulations concerning free and reduced lunch offerings. The price will now be $2.35.

Bids from Sara Lee Bakery and Jilbert Dairy for the district’s bakery and dairy needs were accepted, as well.

The board also approved its list of class offerings for credit and state aid, after a brief discussion about bringing back a seven-hour day.

Many board members were in favor of the idea, but said it could not be done this year, with the beginning of the school year so close.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of seven periods and I’ll always say that,” Board President Gloria Bigelow said. “Because it gives the kids an opportunity to get into something, perhaps, maybe that they really like and something that encourages them to come to school.”

In addition, the board approved a request for an easement on property located off of M-35 that is owned by the school.

During public comment, a few people spoke out against moving the middle school secretary to the high school, saying her presence was needed in the middle school. People also spoke out against cutting the district’s transportation director position. Both moves had been discussed earlier in the meeting.

Another woman mentioned the number of resignations the board accepted Monday, with three teachers and two bus drivers, along with a dropping student enrollment.

“I’d like to know why all these people are leaving Gwinn,” she said.