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Board Meeting Summary: October 20, 2021

October 20, 2021
School Board Work Session and Regular Meeting

On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the school board held a work session and regular meeting. Community members attended the meeting in person, and the session also was open to the public via live video on Zoom, live audio stream, and radio broadcast on KRVM 1280-AM and 98.7-FM.

Work Session

The board held a work session to hear from candidates who applied to fill three vacancies on 4J’s budget committee this fall. The budget committee is made up of the seven school board members and an equal number of community representatives appointed by the board. The budget committee meets a few times each school year to review the annual proposed budget submitted by the superintendent, hear community input, and approve the spending plan to recommend adoption by the school board. 

Each applicant was provided up to three minutes to provide a personal statement during the work session. 11 of the 15 candidates attended and gave a statement to the board. The candidates also had provided responses to three supplemental questions in writing, video or audio recording. The board will select candidates to appoint in its November 3 meeting.

Regular Meeting

Introductory Comments

Interim Superintendent Cydney Vandercar thanked board members for revising the school calendar to make Oct. 18 a no-school day. She also expressed appreciation to students and families for adjusting their schedules. The no-school day was still a staff work day and provided employees critically needed planning time, she said.

Superintendent Vandercar noted that 96.4% of district staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 4J will continue to work into November on adjudicating about 100 requests for exemptions based on medical or religious grounds that employees filed.

She said 4J senior staff will return to presenting at board meetings in November. She had directed that cabinet members and directors not attend the meetings on a temporary basis.

Superintendent Vandercar discussed how the bus driver shortage has forced 4J to cancel and consolidate some school bus routes. The district is offering stipends to families impacted by the temporary suspension of the routes.

She said federal regulators are considering the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5–11 under an emergency authorization. She said 4J is communicating with providers about setting up vaccine clinics for students in grades K–6, possibly as early as next month. She said the district is not mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students and doesn’t foresee that happening for any grade level this year.

The superintendent also discussed use of canopies for outdoor lunches at schools, the district’s upgraded COVID-19 case dashboard, hiring to fill numerous vacancies, and the upcoming Oct. 28 talk by Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white Louisiana elementary school in New Orleans in 1960.

Board Chair Judy Newman expressed gratitude that 4J schools remain open and the vast majority of students are continuing to learn each school day. She expressed appreciation for 4J staff and families who are working long hours and dealing with challenging circumstances to educate and support students during the ongoing pandemic.

Chair Newman also spoke at length about the superintendent’s directive that district staff temporarily not attend and present at board meetings. The board chair clarified that senior staff continue to prepare informational materials for board meetings as always. She said senior staff will provide answers to questions posed by board members shortly after each meeting if an answer is not immediately available in the meeting. Newman said the superintendent’s directive was intended to be responsive and supportive of 4J staff affected by the behavior and comments of members of the school board. She implored the board to move beyond the controversy and focus on its work of making decisions for the good of 4J students.

Items for Information (no board action is expected to be taken)

Received an update on student enrollment for the 2021–22 school year: Student enrollment in Eugene School District 4J declined by more than 100 students this year, in a continuing sign of the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts. This is the second consecutive year of enrollment decline. During the pandemic more families have chosen to enroll in online learning, homeschool, or delay kindergarten enrollment.

The district’s official annual enrollment count on October 1 was 15,718 students, a 121-student decrease from last year and 795 fewer students than the district had originally projected to enroll this year. This enrollment figure includes students in 4J elementary, middle and high schools, and does not include students enrolled in charter schools or alternative education providers.

Of the 15,718 students enrolled, 14,768, or 94 percent, are attending school in-person. The other 950 students are enrolled in 4J’s online-only learning programs—362 elementary students in 4J K–5 Connect, and 588 elementary, middle and high school students in Eugene Online Academy, representing 6 percent of the district’s student population.

Heard a report on Division 22 state standards compliance for the 2019–20 school year: School districts must annually report to the school board and the state assurances that the district is complying with various standards set out in Oregon administrative rules for public schools. The standards require school districts to provide a minimum number of instructional hours; adhere to state graduation requirements to award high school diplomas; provide services to children with disabilities, emergent bilingual students (English learners), and talented and gifted students; and assess and record students’ individual progress and achievement, among other things. The superintendent provided a report on the standards the district is in compliance with, as well as how the district plans to meet requirements in the few areas where it is currently out of compliance.

• Received an update on district’s plan for use of ESSER III federal funding: Eugene School District 4J has been awarded $36.9 million in funding from the ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) federal program, part of the economic recovery package that Congress passed earlier this year. The district’s plan to use that money, which is required to be submitted to the Oregon Department of Education, focuses funding in two key areas: support and enhancement of Student Success Act initiatives and support of district operations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Investments include the expansion of summer programs following the prior school year, expansion of the BEST after-school program, and financial support to reduce class size and provide wraparound services to 4J students and families. In addition, funding also will go toward capital projects, new laptops for middle and high school students and staff, and nutrition services and student transportation, among other investments.

Heard an update on bond and facilities work around the district: The board heard updates on three major construction projects: the new Edison Elementary School and North Eugene High School buildings as well as the expansion of Gilham Elementary School. They also heard about the progress of the new Camas Ridge Elementary School, with its design nearly finalized ahead of a construction start in spring 2022. Information was also presented on smaller projects that are in progress or recently completed as well as future construction projects.

Items for Action

• Approved items on the consent agenda: The board approved various personnel actions and approved the official board minutes for the August 25 and August 28 board retreat sessions as well as the September 1, September 22 and September 29 board meetings. The vote was unanimous.

Selected executive search firms for interviews: The board voted to invite three executive search firms—Alma Advisory Group; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates; and McPherson & Jacobson—for interviews. They also approved the seven questions that will be posed to the finalists during the interview and selection process. The board is seeking an executive search firm to assist in the process of selecting a permanent superintendent. The firms will be interviewed virtually later this month. The votes were unanimous.

Items for Future Action (board action is expected at a later meeting)

Considered use of the district’s equity lens: The district has adopted an equity stance and use of an equity decision-making tool as a means to target areas for action, intervention and investment. The tool is a series of questions that officials will consider when making decisions to consider the potential impacts on all students and families, especially those in underserved demographic groups and protected classes. The board discussion centered on whether to move away from 4J’s currently established tool and use a different equity tool.

After discussion, although the topic had been slated for discussion on Oct. 20 and a decision in the following meeting on Nov. 3, the board voted to immediately adopt and begin using the two-page equity tool developed by Lane County that had been included in the board packet, with some edits including addition of considering impacts for LGBTQIA+ students, staff and communities, until the district’s equity team can bring forward a suggested tool for board consideration. The vote was 5–2, with board members Alicia Hays and Mary Walston voting no.

Postponed Items

Due to the late hour, the board voted to adjourn the meeting after discussing possible future agenda items for board consideration. The vote was 6–1, with board member Mary Walston voting no. Two items on the agenda were moved to the November 3 meeting: consideration of a resolution encouraging solidarity and support for student identities, and continued discussion of board working agreements.

Public Input

The board heard live public comment both in person and virtually via Zoom. Six people spoke about 4J’s career technical education program, the adoption process for the new K–5 language arts and social studies curriculum, COVID-19 vaccination, and the superintendent’s directive that senior staff not attend board meetings in person on a temporary basis. To request to speak to the school board, either in-person or virtually, community members may complete an online request form by the Monday before the next regular board meeting. Community members also may send comments via email to board@4j.lane.edu.

Agenda and Materials

Oct. 20 work session and regular meeting materials
Oct. 20 work session audio recording
Oct. 20 regular meeting audio recording

 


NOTE:  This is a quick summary of the topics and actions at a meeting of the school board. This document is NOT the official minutes of the school board. Official minutes are posted after they are drafted, reviewed and approved by the board. Audio recordings of meetings are typically posted within two days after the meeting. 

School Board Meeting Schedule & Information

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