School Board addresses new school year, capital projects, and policy change
by David Boyle
The San Juan School Board met on Wednesday, August 10 to discuss capital needs, material review policies, and the potential sale of some district land in Monument Valley.
Members of the board unanimously approved a repair to the district’s fuel network site in Blanding.
San Juan School District Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton reported that a recent visit from the Utah State Division of Fleet Operations revealed that the district needs to replace its fuel site system in Blanding.
Pemberton shared that the district fuel sites in Monument Valley and Montezuma Creek were updated about five years ago, adding that an initial estimate for the Blanding project came in at around $350,000.
As part of discussions at the latest board meeting, district staff recommended approving the needed fuel system update and also addressing a top capital need to address the district transportation facility.
That renovation would include more mechanical bays for the district, Pemberton said the combined projects would cost an estimated $2.5 to $3 million that had not been approved as part of the district’s budget.
The school board unanimously approved the needed fuel system update but did not approve the proposed transportation facility update.
Members of the board asked for additional information to be compiled in the next meeting for capital needs including the transportation facility and Blanding Elementary School.
During the April 2022 school board meeting a district document highlighted the capital needs at Blanding Elementary, La Sal Elementary, the district offices, and transportation facilities as the highest priorities.
The most expensive item on the list would be a new Blanding Elementary School. District staff estimated its replacement at $30.6 million in an April 2022 document.
Superintendent Ron Nielson shared that one consideration for the board is whether the district should look into the feasibility of a remodel at Blanding Elementary School. The capital plan includes remodels at secondary schools in the district.
Nielson says that answering the question of the feasibility of remodeling Blanding Elementary, built in 1955, would require an evaluation from an architecture firm at an estimated cost of $70,000. Nielson asked the board to consider if that’s an option they’d like to explore.
With capital needs at the top of mind, the district is anxiously following the administration of $50 million appropriated by the Utah State legislature for capital projects in small school districts.
Pemberton reports that just 10 districts in the state qualify for the state matching grant program aimed to aid small districts in the form of matching grants depending on the district’s tax levy rate. San Juan School Districts’ recently approved rate of .0030 qualifies for the maximum of a 4 to 1 matching grant or 80-percent of the total project.
The law requires the Utah State Board of Education to create a panel to review applications for the funds. Although the panel is in its infancy and the application process is not yet available, applications for the project will be due in November.
Pemberton says the program provides a possible method of funding for a large project.
“The big reason we’re looking into this is because we’ve had discussions in board meetings in the past about a Blanding Elementary school and the cost of that project.”
While the funds are currently in a one-time only designation, Pemberton shares that proponents of the legislation are hopeful to see the program refunded.
Also discussed at the August 10 meeting was the creation of new policies to review the appropriateness of library materials, and new in-class materials, including books, used in schools as a result of a recently passed Utah law.
The board has not yet approved the new policy as they asked for information about an option to have a district committee available for appeals before a final appeals process is available before the board.
District Library Specialist Shannon Dewsnup outlined the new process for review of books and other materials in the district as a result of Utah House Bill 374.
“One of the things we had to look for was that we had a very clear cut, specific, materials review policy for any material that are asked to be reviewed. In the school library we needed to make sure that we had a clear policy that included parents that were reflective of the school community.”
The new policy outlines that material review requests can only be made by a parent or guardian of a student at the school, a student or an employee of the school.
Patrons with concerns about a specific material, such as a book, can fill out a materials review form which would trigger the creation of a review committee.
School principals will convene the committee made up of a district-chosen facilitator, a school administrator, the school librarian, a licensed teacher who is teaching English or a subject relevant to the material being reviewed and a reasonable number of parents of current students at the school that are reflective of the school community.
The committee will review the whole material, the review request form, and other relevant information about the title, including professional book reviews.
The policy states that in making determinations about the appropriateness of the material the committee will consider the material taken as a whole and consider whether it has serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
Criteria such as expert reviews, committee members’ experience, community standards and definitions of indecent materials as defined in Utah Code may be used as part of the decision making process.
At the end, the committee will determine the status of the material by majority vote. The committee can either retain the material for all students, restrict access to certain students or remove the material from the school library.
Material may not be reviewed again for three school years following the Review Committee’s determination.
Appeals of the committee decisions will ultimately go before the San Juan School Board, although the board indicated informally that they would likely approve an intermediate district appeals board.
Both appeals committees would follow the same process used at the school level. State law requires the district adopt the policy by October 1 of this year.
The district is also looking at updating its policy for reading materials used in-class.
The district will continue its current process of using approved district canon textbooks and in-class materials. However, teachers wishing to share a new book or literary text that isn’t district canon will be required to complete a form, consult and receive approval from a fellow professional colleague at the school, and a parent guide giving a summary of the text and why it’s being used.
Appeals for in-class literary selection can be requested by students in the class or their parents. The process will mirror the library review process.
The school board also unanimously approved for the district to negotiate a possible sale of some of their land in Monument Valley to the Utah Food Bank.
The Utah Food bank provides free food distributions throughout the state and has recently taken efforts to expand services in San Juan County.
The Utah State legislature recently allocated funds for the organization to build a warehouse in Blanding and distribution facilities in Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley. Those funds must be spent by June of 2023.
While the organization has secured land in Montezuma Creek and Blanding, they have been unable to find a suitable location in Monument Valley. As a result, the Utah Food Bank has approached the school district about the possibility of purchasing a minimum of ¾ of an acre from the district.
Nielson reported the district tried to look at a site that would not compete with any future needs, considering baseball and softball fields, additional housing, and even the eventual possibility of a third school.
District staff recommended an area on the southern end of the district’s property near Utah Navajo Health Systems along highway 163 with a stipulation that the Utah Food Bank provide its own access in order to avoid congestion near Tse’bii’nidzisgai Elementary School.
With approval from the board, the district and Utah Food Bank can now begin looking at the location and begin property price negotiations, with final approval required by the board.