School board declines CRA projects, awards bids for new school and gym

The San Juan School District will not participate in two Community Reinvestment Agency (CRA) projects.
In a unanimous vote at the January 22 board meeting, the school board declined participation in projects that would have assisted the Bluff Dwellings project in Bluff and a proposed Fairfield Marriott project in Blanding.
The board has discussed the proposed projects for several months, after initial presentations were made in July 2018.
School Board President Steve Black released his analysis of the proposals, stating, “I have got to take a stand at some point.”
Black said, “The bottom line is I came out opposed to the district’s participation in the CRA at this time.”
He added, “I admire the supporters for their vision and wish them success.”
Blacks’s analysis can be read at the San Juan Record website at
Superintendent Ron Nielson commended the school board, stating that they “worked through this issue with great depth.”
Board member Nelson Yellowman said future CRA projects may be approved by the district, but added he would like to see good-paying jobs with future projects.
“I want something that can change our economy,” said Yellowman. “That is the type of CRA I would favor over hotels.”
The first meeting of the new San Juan School Board included a full agenda, in addition to the motion on the CRA proposals.
School, gymnasium bids awarded
Bids were approved for a new school in Bluff and a new gymnasium in Montezuma Creek. The winning bid was $13,365,162 for the two projects, which will be completed in the next 16 months.
The groundbreaking ceremonies for the projects will take place on February 26.
Business Administrator Kyle Hosler reported that four bids were received, ranging from $12,750,330 to $14,553,000. Tri-Hurst Construction in Blanding was awarded the contract, which was $10,268,274 for the new school and $3,096,888 for the new gymnasium.
Hosler said there was a lower cost bid, but the selection committee expressed concern about the bid for the new school. That bid was $750,000 lower than the next lowest bid and $1.7 million lower than the highest bid.
Superintendent Ron Nielson said the low-bid company said they may have miscalculated two areas on their bid and expressed concern about the bid.
Hosler said the review committee recommended Tri-Hurst, stating they have the history, the background, and the ability to take on the two projects.
Superintendent Nielson said the bid amount was within the range the district anticipated.
No bonding or debt financing will be required for the projects. Funding for the construction projects will be paid from reserve funds held by the school district.
When the new projects are completed, the San Juan School District will have used reserve funds to complete approximately $50 million in capital projects over the previous 12 years.
Oath of office, board leadership
The meeting began when Soyer Toney, a junior at Whitehorse High School, performed a blessing and song before new board member Lucille Cody took the Oath of Office.
Lori Maughan was elected to a two-year term as the School Board President, with Merri Shumway as Vice President. Maughan replaces Steve Black as board president.
Mission statement and goals
Superintendent Nielson shared the mission statement and goals which have been developed for the district. They have been refined over the previous months. The board unanimously approved the document.
Specific goals for the district include a focus on attendance, early literacy programs, and growth in test scores.
“These are a mission statement and goal that we can rally around as the entire district,” said Nielson. “We have received input and dialogue with all schools and employees.”
Trust Land funds in La Sal
The board approved a change to the use of Trust Land funds at La Sal Elementary School. The funds will be used to buy at-home books for students rather than the original plan to purchase library supplies and books.
School nurse stipend
The board voted to approve a $10,000 annual stipend for school nurses. The stipend is identical to the stipend paid by the district to physical therapists, occupational therapists, and school psychologists.
Superintendent Nielson outlined the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining school nurses. He said the salary is competitive at first glance, but the work load is high and the competition for nurses is high.
Nielson said the district has struggled to retain two school nurses, even though the Utah student-teacher ratio would suggest that the district have five nurses.
Soccer program at San Juan High
The soccer program at San Juan High School will compete at the varsity level in the upcoming school year. Two years ago, the board approved a two-year junior varsity schedule.
The district states there is continued student and parent support, and the programs are moving ahead.
The teams will use the fields north of Albert R. Lyman Middle School.
“I don’t see a tremendous jump in cost,” said Superintendent Nielson. There will be field maintenance, the installation of small moveable bleachers, and expenses to pay officials.
San Juan will continue to compete in the 3A ranks. All other 3A schools have soccer teams.
School reports
The Board heard reports from the principals at Montezuma Creek Elementary and Whitehorse High School.
Elementary school Principal Connie Todachinnie highlighted efforts in overall attendance and the decrease in chronic absenteeism. A key factor in decreased attendance is the ability to safely get to school on muddy or snowy routes.
Principal Todachinnie highlighted the school’s 90-day plan and benchmark goals, noting that a challenge they face currently is that the school has five new teachers, four of whom are in benchmark testing grades.
High school Principal Kim Schaefer opened her presentation by introducing the school-wide theme for the year: “A Great Place to Be.” She stated that 96 percent of Whitehorse students feel happy to go to school, well above the national average of 80 percent.
Principal Schaefer summarized the school’s four main priorities as effective instruction, data and assessment practices, culture and collaboration, and improved attendance.
Sweet Job awards
Two educators were honored with a San Juan Sweet Job Award, including Mabel Martin, who teaches Heritage Language at Blanding Elementary School, and Ella Mae Redhouse, the librarian at Whitehorse High School.
The school board approved a two-year renewal to the contract of Business Administrator Kyle Hosler.
Impact Aid, Native American policies hearing
The annual hearing was held to discuss Impact Aid and Native American policies and procedures.
Business Administrator Kyle Hosler presented an overview of how and why the federal Impact Aid Funds are generated, the purpose and designated uses as ordered in legislation, as well as specific projects and support the funds have facilitated in San Juan School District.
Superintendent Ron Nielson reviewed the criteria of the Native American Policy and Procedure Manual as required by the district in order to receive Impact Aid funding.
Some of the key points of the Policy Manual include consultations with tribes of Native American students attending the San Juan School District.
Public hearing
The public hearing resulted in a number of comments from local residents.
Toniee Lewis requested clarification about the budget reserve and information about the amount of Impact Aid used for Capital Projects. She also asked about funding for the preschool teacher at White Mesa.
Paula Sayers asked about budget information and potential projects that Impact Aid funds might be used for. The district has developed a capital projects timeline.
Bill Todachinnie expressed concern about the Montezuma Creek Elementary gymnasium project and requested the community know the plans for the project.
Thomasina Holly requested Chromebooks for each student and to separate the middle school and high school at Whitehorse. She also requested 4-wheel drive busses.
Cherissa Ben requested a traditional Navajo Hogan for the younger grades at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, along with upgraded playground equipment.
Launita Etsitty requested increased services and resources for disabled children.
Griselda Rogers requested using Impact Aid funds to add a Kindergarten to the class offerings at the White Mesa school.
Lillian Thomas requested the school list publicly all the available activities for all students for the parent and guardian information.
Craig Simpson asked about a citizen’s petition submitted in response to the CRA projects.

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