The St. Joseph School District’s long-range planning committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss various topics, including plans to repurpose Noyes Elementary School as a Pre-K institution.
Noyes Elementary School, which closed in 2014 due to low attendance, among other factors, originally was slated to be renovated as an early childhood education center in 2016. Under previous Superintendent Dr. Robert Newhart, those plans fell through.
However, Tuesday afternoon, current Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl came in with several large sheets of paper bound by rubber bands, saying those plans may get to see the light of day.
“We see that there’s a big gap right now. We’re serving maybe a fourth of our students that we could be serving, and that’s a challenge for us, because if you really take a look at research — getting kids involved early, giving them opportunities to learn and be socially exposed to that learning as well as the expectations of school — it is a big cost saver once they get to that school age. We’re looking at how we can close that gap for some of our students and get them all on a level playing field to start.” he said. “I think it would be wise, even outside of the facilities study that we have going on, that we take a look at how we can make this a priority for what we do as a district.”
The plan in 2016 was set to cost around $4 million, Van Zyl mentioned. However, he’d like to cut that number in half while still meeting the needs of students.
Furthermore, a meeting has been set up with a representative from the state regarding reimbursement opportunities to help the district pay for such a project.
Partnerships may also arise, allowing organizations to support the effort as well.
School Board President Seth Wright brought up a few issues regarding staffing and transportation, though Van Zyl said nothing is set in stone. Other buildings even are being considered to house the early childhood learning center.
“This is a starting point, because we do already have plans that some dollars were invested in,” Van Zyl said. “It’s not something that will happen tomorrow. To us, the plan is to start today, and maybe if we’re lucky it’s ready to go next year.”
Plans to support alternate high school efforts at the Webster Learning Center also were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting.
Jon Slanky, the administrator at Webster, said there were approximately 60 students served at the beginning of the previous school year, though he believes that with the school district’s support, more high-schoolers can be supported through the programs, which focus on a more freeform schedule designed for credit-deficient students or those with waning interest in the schooling system.
“They’re going through the process right now of how do they roll it out to students and parents,” Van Zyl said of the programs. “Sometimes, I think people think of the alternative high school as a consequence or a punishment, when rather we’d like to show this as an opportunity for some of our kids who may not think that regular high school is what’s for them.”
Van Zyl also was tasked at looking at some of the gaps regarding organization within the district’s administrative positions.
He explained that the district had been in a mode of “budget-reduction,” pushing several positions together to help save money over the past few years.
“People were taking a look at some of the administrative positions and looking to shave some of those positions to save some dollars,” he explained. “And that’s all well and good and well-intentioned. The challenge is that there’s still a lot to do in the district, and when you shave a position and add things to somebody’s plate, not everything gets done well. We’ve got great people working really hard, but there are some things falling through the cracks and don’t make us efficient and effective in what we’re doing.”
For example, the special education department within the St. Joseph School District was comprised of around three people only a few years ago. Now, it only has one. And while Van Zyl was complimentary of this employee’s efforts, he said it’s easy for them to get overburdened in an area that deals with federal programs, laws and legalities.
The district also discussed the facilities study helmed by DLR, a company based in Overland Park.
The company released information regarding its first online survey provided to parents late last month. Over 1,900 people participated in the survey, and Van Zyl said some of the information provided by DLR so far echoes much of what those in the district knew already: a number of facilities are in poor condition.
“Even the spaces that we are using aren’t designed for the education that we’re providing,” he said.
Finally, the committee discussed the Mosaic Life Care administration’s move to take a number of buildings off of its tax roll, which would adversely affect the district’s budget in the process.
Mosaic, a not-for-profit organization, is not required to pay taxes on their buildings, but has continued to do so through the years. However, a recent decision will have Mosaic paying on fewer buildings in favor of more direct community involvement and support.
“They’re looking for how they can support us as a school district and in turn support the community and make us a better community as a whole,” Van Zyl said.
The move will result in an approximately $145,000 hit to the district’s $120 million-plus budget this year and around half-a-million dollars next year.
Van Zyl said their relationship with Mosaic is unaffected by such a move, citing the district’s own efforts to look for efficiencies and pave the way toward future success.