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Chelsea District Schools planning underway for 2020-21 opening

By Crystal Hayduk

Statewide, school districts will make decisions for 2020-21 with continued guidance from public health and the governor’s office, said Superintendent Julie Helber in her report to the Chelsea School District (CSD) Board of Education at its virtual meeting on May 18.

On May 15, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-88 established the Return to School Advisory Council. Helber will serve as part of the rural work group for the council.

According to the MI Safe Start plan dated May 7, school districts can return to in-person learning in phase five of the six-phase plan. Michigan is currently in phase three. (The full MI Safe Start document is available here.

A district work group is drafting plans for various scenarios for the return to school. “I’m confident in our administrators to creatively plan instruction that is first and foremost safe for our students and staff,” said Helber. Many areas need to be addressed in addition to student instruction, including bus transportation, lunch, recess, sports, passing between classes, start and end of day processes, and cleaning of buildings.   

The district recently surveyed families about the current Continuity of Learning Plan (COLP). Helber said the district received only 250 responses, a low number that she attributes to families being overwhelmed with emails, virtual meetings, and general information at this time.

By visiting https://www.chelsea.k12.mi.us/updates/ask-a-question, anyone can submit a question, concern, or comment about a health or safety issue.

Now and in the months to come, district staff are receiving professional development to ensure a “robust” virtual component if needed for the next school year, said Helber.

Although additional Wi-Fi hot spots were delivered to some families who do not have internet, Helber said they don’t work unless their residence has adequate and reliable cell service available.

“Broadband internet would really help our families, but it’s not accessible to all,” she said. She is working with Scot Graden, who is serving as Manchester’s interim superintendent, to explore the possibility of applying for a Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant, which would hopefully benefit the rural areas of western Washtenaw County.

Michelle Cowhy, assistant superintendent of finance and administrative services, said the district’s budget is “a moving target.” Preliminary reports from the state indicate next year’s school aid foundation allowance may be reduced by $700 per student, which would mean a revenue reduction of $1.75 million to CSD.

The current year’s final amended budget is not complete yet, so Cowhy and her staff are working through every line item for possible cuts.

The Chelsea Community Preschool held a graduation parade on May 15 (story here: https://chelseaupdate.com/in-photos-by-burrill-strong-preschool-graduation-parade/). The local fire and police departments and a school bus were on site, while staff held congratulatory signs. North Creek Principal Kimberly Gillow stood at the end, welcoming the students to kindergarten. “It was the greatest day around here in a long time,” said Helber.  

In other board news:

CSD has held two virtual Parent Education Series events since the building closure on March 16. “Managing Stress and Anxiety During the Covid-19 Pandemic” and “Motivating Students’ Academics During COVID” are available for viewing on the district’s website at https://www.chelsea.k12.mi.us/special-education/mental-health-and-wellness/covid-19-resources.

The board approved the bid from Nagle Paving Company for improvements at the Washington Street Education Center. These improvements will include asphalt replacement, seal coat and striping, select curb, gutter, and sidewalk replacement, and minimal storm drainage. The cost will be $486,431 to be paid with sinking funds.

The board approved the purchase of curriculum materials for social studies, as well as resources for technology and computer science, at a total cost of $38,717.12. Helber said the materials will be needed whether learning takes place in the classroom or remotely.

Helber recognized Shawn Quilter, president of the CSD Board of Education, for continued education through Michigan Association for School Boards through their Certified Boardmember [sic] Awards program.

Upcoming date:

The next board meeting and budget hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. on June 22, held virtually through Zoom.

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