2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) R-2 Schools Tax Rate Adopted, Final COVID-19 Resumption Plan Reviewed by Board

Paul Sturm
psturm@chillicothenews.com
Original rendering of the new Chillicothe R-2 School District administrative offices building to be built near the high school between now and next April. After a couple of month's delay, the final contract with Weldon Construction for the project was approved by the district's board of education at Tuesday's regular monthly meeting. (from Chillicothe R-2 School District).

By PAUL STURM, C-T Staff Writer

CHILLICOTHE, Mo.As often – even routinely – happens, no public comments were aired during the annual August property tax rate hearing conducted by the Chillicothe R-2 School District prior to Tuesday evening’s regular monthly meeting for August.

Following the hearing, which began at 5:45 p.m. at Grand River Technical School and ended in about three minutes when no district residents or property owners spoke on the proposal. Adoption of the $4.7176 per $100 of assessed property value rate then took place during the board’s regular business meeting.

Understandably consuming the most time during the regular meeting, which lasted only about an hour before the board convened a closed executive session to consider real estate, personnel, and student-related matters, was a final review of the district’s plan for nearly-arrived beginning the 2020-21 school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board of education also unanimously approved the finalized contract for construction of the new district headquarters/Transition-to-Life Center instructional building with local firm Weldon Contracting. The cost will be approximately $1.6 million with a completion date of April 2021.

With the R-2 district’s new school year set to commence next Tuesday (Aug. 25) – the high, middle and vo-tech schools will start classroom instruction that day, while the three elementary schools – Chillicothe Elementary, Dewey, and Field – will have a succession of 15-minutes-long open house sessions with students and one parent each that day before classroom learning begins the following day, Superintendent Dan Wiebers reviewed the district’s COVID-19 “re-entry plan.”

"The faculty, staff and administration of the Chillicothe R-II School District look forward to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year,” he summarized for the C-T the outlook for the start of school.

The plan, developed during the summer and largely finalized late in July, allows students/families a trio of initial, individual options – in-person, distance, and blended “physically-distanced” learning. Based on feedback, expectations are that, initially, about 90% of district students will be doing participating in-person.

Additionally, four district-wide, instruction-schedule alternatives to adapt to changing, general public-health and safety situations and recommendations, have been developed.

They include:

• the aforementioned approach which is planned for use beginning next week;

• a 4-days blended approach in which students would be at school buildings four days and have distance/virtual learning the fifth (probably on Wednesdays);

• a 2-days-rotation blended approach, in which students – based on the first letter of their primary parent’s last name – will attend in-person at school buildings or other learning spaces two days a week (A-M on Mondays and Tuesdays, N-Z on Thursdays and Fridays) and all students will get distance/virtual instruction on Wednesdays; and

• all distance/virtual learning.

Contrary to the end of the 2019-20 school year policy, when the sudden shutdown of on-site classes led to an ad-hoc “virtual instruction” model in which students’ academic performance to that instruction being “held harmless” (not impacting their course grade), with the more-thoughtfully-planned approach now in place, students receiving only distance/virtual learning instruction will be subject to the same academic requirements, standards, and expectations as those attending in-person, the superintendent reiterated.

Just as for those attending in-person, middle and high school students using the distance/virtual learning option will begin their coursework on Aug. 25 and kindergarteners and elementary (K-6) students going that route will start Aug. 26. Parents of K-6 full-time “distance/virtual learning” students are expected to attend a “Distance Learning Night” event Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Each instructional site will implement its own “virtual learning” process, the board heard from the various building administrators.

In a sampling of those, high school “distance” instruction, Principal Dan Nagel, noted, will be “synchronous,” essentially an online-accessible, real-time feed of the instruction actually occurring in each classroom. At Field School, two teachers will do the “virtual” instruction of the approximately 11.5% of second- or third-grade students whose parents have opted out of in-person attendance for their child. At Dewey School, a single teacher will guide all of the distance learning.

“Virtual learning” students will not be eligible to participate in school sports, clubs or organization activities on school property nor Missouri State High School Activities Association-sanctioned activities (sports teams, clubs, organizations, events) and competitions. However, they will be able to participate in any “virtual” meetings or contests.

“Due to COVID-19, some aspects of ‘school’ may not be the same as in years past, but the ultimate goal of the district is to keep our students and staff healthy,” Wiebers stated to the C-T..

“…Protocols have been developed, including masks requirements when social distancing cannot be guaranteed, cleaning schedules, and limits on guests who enter the building to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our district facilities open.

“Again,” he concluded, “we are excited to welcome back students next week and we look forward to another successful year in the Chillicothe R-II School District."

The district’s COVID-19 “re-entry plan” understandably includes far more details and aspects. Persons seeking further information should contact the district administrative office and visit the district’s official website.

The unanimously-approved 2020 tax rates projected to generate the district’s proposed funding levels for its 2021 fiscal year are $3.6316 for the incidental or general operations fund (Fund 1), $0.966 for the debt service fund (Fund 3), and $0.12 for the capital projects fund (Fund 4). 

Based on current tax collection projections, the Fund 1 rate would generate approximately $5.2 million for the Chillicothe school system during the fiscal year. The Fund 3 revenue would be $1.382 million and Fund 4 revenue would be just under $172,000. Based on a 93% collection rate, total property tax revenues thus are expected to be $6,752,023, according to the summary Wiebers has prepared for consideration.

Approval of the rates came with Wiebers’ caveat that rates could be revised up until Sept. 1, if data resulting from any Livingston County Board of Equalization actions were to significantly change revenue projections from the approved rates.

Later, during his comments related to the monthly financial report he had prepared for the board, the superintendent later noted that the district had managed to boost its unrestricted funds balance (district reserves) by more than 1%. That, in part, was due to fewer expenses during the March-May 2020 period when the initial COVID-19 outbreak nationally prompted discontinuation of on-site instruction.

Wiebers also subsequently related during his own administrator's report, that, at a recent regional meeting of northwest Missouri district superintendents with Missouri Sixth District U.S. Representative Sam Graves, the congressman had stated that he was virtually certain the federal government would produce – at an as-yet-undetermined time – another COVID-19-related “stimulus” measure which would funnel federal dollars to states and, eventually, to local public school districts.

He observed that such federal action is extremely important, in light of the reduction in states’ tax revenues, due to the economic downturn related to the pandemic. State revenue shortfalls translated in lower funding levels to districts than originally expected and budgeted for.

The Chillicothe district leader termed state government’s funding cuts to public school districts “very real.”

Although the district board and administration originally hoped construction of the new administrative building – to be located just north of the primary CHS student parking lot – would be underway by mid-July and completed by mid-December, that did not work out. Instead, the contract okayed at Tuesday’s meeting will be for a 34-weeks time frame, meaning completion next spring.

The construction will be funded totally with insurance money received from the damages to the former district headquarters building on Business Route 36 West. Some alterations to original design plans were done to put the project on-budget with the available insurance payout, Wiebers noted, including scaling back some of the structure’s brick façade.

After having spent last school year utilizing the LifePoint Church facility downtown for the TLC instructional site, because that facility is no longer fully available on a daily basis, the TLC program will operate this year in the Mildred Litton 4H/FFA Community Center on the campus of the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center, northwest of town on Highway 190.

Within the various administrators’ reports submitted to the board were student enrollment figures based on recent registration sessions. By building, those are:

High school – 624 (largest total in past 10 years, according to Principal Dan Nagel, with another increase anticipated next year); Middle school – 419; Field – 242; Dewey – 232; Elementary – 267.

Grand River Technical School has 718 students currently enrolled in its programs, a total which does not include any incoming freshman at Southwest Livingston R-1 School who will take some classes there nor adults who subsequently take the EMT course which won’t start until November or the Paramedics course which begins in January.

The Chillicothe school board took effectively-perfunctory action approving or re-approving of a few policies and plans. Those related to eliminating the district’s “sick leave pool” (effective immediately), board member conflict-of-interest policy, and the local special-education-related compliance plan.

Also introduced by their respective site administrators were a number of the district’s 11 “new” teachers, some of whom were present. One of the “new” staff members actually is returning to the district (in a different position) after two years elsewhere.

The next regular meeting of the Chillicothe R-2 school board is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 15.