I attended the May 23, 2022 School of the Osage Board of Education meeting at 6:00 p.m.
All board members were present for this meeting. The Board of Education consists of President BJ Page, Vice President Darrick Steen, and Board Members Mary Whitman, Alison Schneider, Kathy Vance, Stacy Neal, and Todd Miller.
This meeting was held in the Fieldhouse. The Board was once again seated in a U-shaped formation with the open end of the U facing the audience. The only people facing the audience were Board President BJ Page and the Board’s secretary. They did not use microphones and every five minutes or so, the air conditioning unit would kick in, making it even harder to hear than normal.
To make things even more difficult to follow, board members often voted by simply raising their hands so it was difficult to discern which members were voting for each motion since you couldn’t always see their hands.
I contacted the Board Secretary after the meeting to confirm the votes. She only records the number of Yes/No votes during the open session, so for this particular meeting, there is no recorded vote tally for the first motion to amend the previous meeting’s minutes. The Secretary also does not record how individual members voted, so there is no way to tell from the minutes who voted Yes or No on any particular vote. I guess that’s my job.
It does seem strange that individual board member voting isn’t recorded on votes where there isn’t a consensus. The public has no way to know how a particular board member voted on issues that might be important to them unless they watch the meetings live. No individual voting record equals no individual accountability.
The open portion of this meeting took 2 ½ hours, so I’m just going to hit the highlights.
The first item was for approval of the minutes from the April 25, 2022 Board meeting. The newest member, Stacy Neal, asked if the minutes could be amended since they did not reflect the Board’s discussion about wi-fi hotspots and the Heritage Wellness Room. Todd Miller moved to table the minutes until they could be amended. This was approved by the Board. It appeared that Schneider voted against amending the minutes. I have no idea why she did this.
The next item was Approval of Bills from April 26 to May 20. Neal asked about a leadership consulting bill for $5,432, paid to Huron Consulting Services, LLC. She wanted to know if this was a recurring payment or a total cost?
Superintendent Nelson said it was a payment and the vendor has been helping the district with strategic planning. Neal then asked about the $7,623 paid to Lake Physical Therapy LLC and the $17,697.50 paid to Lake Regional Health System. This was for PT/OT for all of the students in the school district.
Neal inquired into the $1,176 paid to Pulsemark LLC. Amy St. John (Executive Director of Student Services) said they received 8 hours of training on how to pull reports from the district’s Pulse system. They haven’t had training on the system in 5 years.
Neal also pointed out a $13,422 payment to Essential Network Technologies. Eric Martin (Technology and Innovation Director) was present, and he said the payment was for the software to manage all of the wireless access points in the district.
$54,999 was paid to the Springfield School District this month for Virtual Learning. Neal asked about this payment. Amy St. John said this payment was for the Launch program. I believe she stated this is paid for the 42 School of the Osage students who are 100% virtual learning. It wasn’t clear to me why they were learning virtually or if this was a regular monthly expense.
There were also a bunch of bank fraud charges on the bill for Motel 6, Domino’s Pizza, homedepot.com, Books N Things, and Ava’s Flowers. St. John explained these were fraudulent charges made on school credit cards, and those fraudulent charges were reported to the bank. They expect to be refunded for those transactions.
The Board then voted unanimously to approve the bills.
The next agenda item was for a Budget Amendment.
Neal had a few questions about this as well.
There was a line item in the amendment described as Lease Principal 2020 which changed the budgeted amount from $354,689 to $410,633. It was described as a Final Payoff. Stacy Neal wanted to know more about this because she felt that paying off a lease was a good thing that should be celebrated. Eric Martin (Technology Director) said the lease was a 2019 lease for Macbooks and iPads for the staff. The plan had been to pay this lease off with the money earned from selling back the district’s old iPads, but they are still waiting for that money to come in.
Another amendment that caught Neal’s attention was a Tuition line item for Assessment/Tuition. This item decreased from $578,705 to $375,430. The description for the item was “Decrease Demand for Tuition.” It was explained that this was due to having less students in virtual school.
I guess it is a good idea to have a CPA on the Board of Education!
The Board approved the budget amendment unanimously.
Three members of the public spoke before the Board of Education. They only have three minutes to talk, and that time goes by quickly. Topics brought up by the public were:
- Objection to DSS not being scheduled for the upcoming year. DSS is a scheduled study hall period during the school day. Some students need DSS to help them get their homework done.
- Questions about what the district is teaching the kids about science, women’s rights, and women’s suffrage?
- Advocating for recording the Board’s meetings and a complaint about the difficulty in hearing what the Board is saying. (Amen. I swear this wasn’t me.)
- A question about Policy JGFA from MSBA that allows teachers to have private conversations with students without their parents being notified. There were concerns about teachers having inappropriate conversations with students about sexual identities and preferences.
- A suggestion to make a bible study class available to the students after school.
In the Old Business portion of the agenda, the first agenda item was concerning the streaming of Board of Education meetings.
Meetings are currently streamed live, and people can log in to watch and (maybe) hear the meetings, but the meetings are not recorded or archived anywhere. Todd Miller and Alison Schneider were fine with the way meetings are currently being streamed. Schneider did discuss using an “intercom box” that they previously placed in the middle of the table for meetings. I assume this served as a microphone for the board members. Darrick Steen moved that they continue to stream the meetings live. This was seconded by Todd Miller. This passed 6-1 with Neal voting against it.
The next Old Business agenda item was regarding recording the Board meetings.
Stacy Neal wanted to record and post the meetings online.
Todd Miller said they should consult with MSBA and ask how many schools are posting their meetings online. Alison Schneider stated she had done her own research, and less than 25% of the school districts she looked into record and post meetings. Schneider was concerned about having the meetings on the internet.
Stacy Neal responded by naming at least six school major school districts that post their meetings online. She admitted that she hadn’t checked all 512 Missouri school districts, but she didn’t feel it was fair that people could only watch the meetings if they were available at the meeting time. Neal said the Board has nothing to hide from the public.
Some board members seemed to be worried about risk management and potential liability involved with posting the Board of Education meetings. Miller definitely felt they should check with MSBA first to get more information on recording and posting meetings.
Stacy Neal made a motion to record and post the meetings online. This was seconded by Todd Miller. The Board rejected the motion to record the Board meetings 1-6 with only Stacy Neal voting for it.
Todd Miller amended Neal’s motion to table the issue of recording the meetings until they could consult with MSBA regarding recording and posting meetings. Kathy Vance seconded the motion. The Board rejected this motion 2-5. I can only assume that Vance and Miller were the members who voted for this.
It was pretty funny listening to this discussion when you realize that members of the public were recording this entire Board meeting while they were talking about recording. I’m sure those recordings will be posted online. At least if the Board of Education recorded and posted their own meetings, they would have an official recording of what happened at the meeting. If district residents had questions about a Board decision, the school district could just refer those people to the archive site.
They then played the MSBA monthly message video on the big screen. It talked about cybersecurity and the Month of the Military Child.
The Board approved the video unanimously.
The next item was the Transportation Report.
The school bus system seems to be running well and they’ve only had two minor accidents so far this year. Missouri has just significantly increased the driving hours required to certify new bus drivers so that might become a problem in the future. Salary comparisons between neighboring school districts showed that SOTO bus driver compensation compares favorably with all of them.
The Transportation Report was approved unanimously.
This was followed by the 2022-2023 Draft Budget.
Next up was a Second Reading of the MSBA Board Policy Updates.
Alison Schneider moved to approve the updates.
Not so fast. Stacy Neal had a few questions about them:
Policy EBBC about Lactation Support. Is any remodeling going to be required to comply with this policy? Deputy Superintendent Yoder responded that there would be some minor adjustments, but there wouldn’t be any issues with conforming to the policy.
Policy JGA (Corporal Punishment) and JGGA (Seclusion and Restraint). Neal stated she noticed that the new policy included requirements that seclusion spaces be normal-sized classrooms and have HVAC.
Rachel Bullock (Special Education Director) addressed this issue. She said that the district does not use seclusion or isolation. They use co-regulation to handle kids with special needs. They do not use mechanical restraints. Physical restraint is only rarely used when severe injury might occur. She said the district had no recorded restraints last year.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the new policies.
The next agenda item was Contracts/MOU’s
The first agreement was for the school district to access MOEOP. This is the Missouri Emergency Operations Plan application for phones. It’s basically an MSBA-sponsored app that will allow staff members to access floor plans, school safety plans, and other critical information during emergencies.
Stacy Neal asked if this was a new system or a renewal of a currently used system?
Superintendent Nelson answered that it was a new system.
Stacy Neal mentioned they had just watched the MSBA update about cybersecurity. She expressed some concerns about the school district’s safety plan being uploaded. Neal weighed the benefit of having immediate access to the emergency plans versus the risks of the emergency plans and other associated school information being accessed online by hackers.
Alison Schneider stated that there is a real benefit for staff to have access to the emergency information no matter where they are located.
Eric Martin (Technology Director) said that the best protection of the application is ensuring that the district uses complex passwords and two factor authentication.
Neal expressed concern that while School of the Osage might use strong security measures to protect their emergency data, could the overall system be compromised by other participating school districts that aren’t as diligent?
Darrick Steen said he was willing to accept the MOEOP agreement and use of the application.
Stacy Neal asked what information would be uploaded by the school district to the application? Could the district update the safety plan without signing this MOU?
Superintendent Nelson responded that they haven’t had training on the use of the application yet, but the school safety plan could be updated without signing the MOU.
The MOU for the MOEOP application agreement was approved by the Board 6-1 with Neal voting against it.
The two other contract items were for the Parents As Teachers Program and Dissolving the School of the Osage Headstart Center located in the Osage Heritage Center. These were both approved unanimously.
The Summer School Program was approved unanimously by the Board.
The Draft Agenda for the Board’s Work Day on June 21 was approved unanimously.
I believe the date for the next Board meeting was then set for June 27 at 1800 hours and the Board went into closed session.
And that was that.
I did my best to document what went on, but it’s not easy to parse out exactly what the Board of Education discusses at its meetings. Due to a lack of microphones, the way the tables are laid out, and their tendency to speak and vote softly, you really have to strain to follow what’s being said. Since the Board refuses to even explore the idea of recording meetings (or even recording individual voting records, for that matter), the Gadfly’s questionable hearing is the best record you’ve got.
I did find this interesting image on the Board Members Page of the Board of Education’s website:
It shows a meeting where seven members are seated around a circular table facing each other and looking inward.
Who is left outside of that circle?