School Board explores sale of forest in Arena

Quincy Aston-Lott, Managing Editor

The River Valley School Board discussed the impact of COVID-19 on teachers, students and families, the potential sale of school forest property and the district’s policy for facilities naming rights at its board meeting Dec. 10. 

The Board considered a recommendation to open up for sealed bids the sale of 120 acres of school forest property in the Town of Arena for no less than $4,000/acre. River Valley School Board member Mark Strozinsky, representing Area 5, all of Richland County in the district except the Village of Lone Rock; Town of Bear Creek, stated that at least eight people in the district have discussed this option with him and have all expressed that they would like the district to keep the property. 

After discussion, the board approved a motion to offer the property for sale, 4-3, with Jennings, Bettinger, Young and River Valley School Board member Dan McGuire, representing Area 4, Village of Lone Rock, voting in the affirmative. River Valley School Board members Deb Nelson, representing Area 2, Town of Arena, Strozinsky and Kiley Cates, representing Area 8, Town of Wyoming, voted against the motion. River Valley School Board members Frederic Iausly and Jeff Maier were absent from the meeting.

River Valley School District Endowment Fund Grants are being awarded to teachers during a “COVID-19 Relief Matching Grant” initiative, with requests encompassing new software, books, virtual learning, 3D printers, standing desks, sensory learning equipment, digital subscriptions to various resources, virtual field trip to opera, music stands, speakers, literacy and math manipulatives and more. The grants totaled $19,451. 

“We can’t thank the Endowment enough for their sponsorship and hard work on these things,” said River Valley School District Administrator Loren Glasbrenner.

Glasbrenner informationally presented Sauk County’s recommendation that “close-contact” quarantines remain at the “gold standard” of 14 days, as opposed to some neighboring counties switching to 10 days, with a few evaluating switching to 7 days.

River Valley High School Principal Darby Blakley shared his frustrations regarding how disheartening it has been to make calls to students to tell them they need to quarantine and will have to miss out on sports and activities, and to teachers to tell them they need to quarantine and will be unable to see family over the holidays. 

“It’s been really tough, a lot of tears,” said Blakley.

Blakley reported 47 students and 5 staff members at the high school were asked to quarantine in the two days prior to the board meeting. 

“The percentage is right around 20% [currently in quarantine],” said Glasbrenner. “One thing we just talked about today: it’s difficult to find six sub[stitute teachers] for an extended amount of time.”

Blakley iterated that he doesn’t believe COVID spread is happening at the high school, due to strong policies, but rather off campus. He also shared the results of a survey of students that expressed concerns about the home/schoolwork burdens virtual learning imposed. 

“Our D/F lists are at an all-time high at the high school and middle school levels, it’s never been this high in the history that I’ve been here,” said Blakley. “Stress level [for students] is at an all-time high, morale is at an all-time low.” 

A discussion ensued regarding the best ways to engage students on Wednesdays, which are currently held virtually. Blakley said the issue is continuing to be evaluated, while River Valley Middle School Principal James Radtke touched on several solutions focused on individual student help being considered.

The board also considered and approved a recommendation to the board for a second reading of policies regarding school board elections, board member qualifications, board member resignations and policy dissemination. There were no changes since the first reading and all policy changes were minor updates and clarifications. 

The board additionally took up discussion and recommendation to the board for first reading of various policies, including: Naming District Facilities or Fields, Public School Open Enrollment, Goal Setting, Fines, Loss, or Damage to Materials, Student Fees and Fines, Acceptable Use of Networked Computers, Electronic Mail, and Internet Safety Policy, Safety Program, Buildings and Grounds Inspection and Buildings and Grounds Maintenance.

School Board President Kathy Jennings shared that an individual had approached the district and was interested in naming a facility and the district lacked a clear policy on the matter. Jennings said River Valley School District Business Manager Brian Krey put together a policy that includes: “Any person nominated must be deceased for three (3) years prior to the Board’s selection of the name for the facility.” Additional criteria outlined that a “facility may be named after a person provided: The person demonstrated exemplary moral character. The person demonstrated outstanding leadership. The person made a significant contribution to education or the community. Other criteria the Board determines relevant or appropriate.”

River Valley School Board Vice President John Bettinger, representing Area 9, Village of Plain, expressed concern regarding the scrutiny the naming of a facility after an individual or company would cause and the prospect of being forced to revoke the naming and returning any proceeds received in the process of naming if issues were to arise.

River Valley School Board member Sara Young, representing Area 6, Village of Spring Green, asked if the policy was “specifically not related to a gift, is it related to a gift, [and] could it be either one?” Jennings and Krey clarified that the policy in question is related specifically to naming and any gift that related to naming would have to follow this policy and the district’s advertising policy as well. 

The board ended the public meeting by adjourning to a closed session for discussion of district administrator and administrator annual evaluations and recommendations for contract renewals and for an update on 2019-20 expulsions.