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WB consolidation going forward

BELOIT– The reconfiguration of the West Branch School District is still on track for the fall, according to schools Superintendent Timothy Saxton.

Saxton told the school board Thursday night the schedule to consolidate buildings within the district remains the same despite the uncertainties presented by the COVID pandemic.

The most recent plan, which includes the closing of Knox Elementary, placed grades kindergarten through second at the West Branch Early Learning Center (currently Damascus Elementary), grades three through eight plus the preschool at the West Branch Intermediate and Middle School (currently the middle school) and grades nine through 12 at the high school. However, Saxton said the eighth grade will be moved to the high school due to social distancing issues regarding the pandemic.

With the consolidation, the district is projected to save $933,879.92 per year, $485.933.40 in maintenance and operations and the remaining in personnel reductions. The personnel reductions include two teachers, five classified staff and three

administrators through retirements or resignations and reductions in force (RIFs).

The remaining timeline for the consolidation process includes a community meeting at 2 p.m. June 15 via Facebook Live or in person if possible, complete the consolidation process by July 31 and launch the final plan by Aug. 1. Saxton said teachers are getting ready to move today and Monday.

Since January, Saxton has presented multiple plans to restructure the district to save money at the request of the school board. Other proposals included a variety of grade levels at various buildings and the closure of both Knox and Damascus Elementary schools. Savings ranged from approximately $500,000 to $1 million in operational costs and $300,000 to $500,000 in personnel.

Saxton said the administrative team of principals, directors and supervisors developed the current plan based on internal committee meetings, the public forum held earlier this month and numerous conversations with each other. He said the administrative team worked to balance the current curriculum with possible expansion of curriculum while remaining efficient in operations.

The board asked Saxton to develop a plan in response to a student enrollment that has dropped nearly 500 students since 2009-2010 and a projected deficit spending of $700,000 to $800,000 the next five years.

In other business, Saxton said outdoor skills training can begin for student athletes June 3. He said the athletic director and coaches will meet to discuss and finalize the plan to restart sports at the school, which includes how and when students can participate and the maintenance of equipment.

Saxton noted that use of facilities will be limited to school programs only, and will not be available to non-school programs such as youth leagues.

Also at the meeting, boardmembers shared emails for public participation.

One community members asked the board, if instructional days will be staggered in the fall, to make sure siblings no matter their grade level, attend on the same days to ease the burden on parents.

Another community member expressed concern about fourth quarter grading, noting students who struggled with the online learning, especially those with multiple siblings their parents also had to help, should not be penalized with failing grades.

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