It’s official: Worries of possible lead contamination at C.R. Anderson constituted an “emergency situation.”
School board trustees voted on the designation Tuesday at Superintendent Kent Kultgen’s request to validate contracts awarded for lead testing and abatement that were not put to a competitive bid.
“This is a typical move that school boards make at this point,” Kultgen said in introducing the request to trustees, “It is not a way to get out of anything.”
State law requires districts to bid out maintenance and construction projects exceeding $50,000, but the requirement can be waived in emergencies.
Trustees approved the measure after brief discussion in a 5-1 vote. Trustee Betsy Baur opposed.
In response to a question from board chair Libby Goldes, Kultgen told the board that the firm hired to conduct the lead work, A.L.M. Consulting, has worked with the district in the past, including on its asbestos removal plan. The firm also has experience in lead testing through work at the Armory building on Euclid Avenue, Kultgen explained.
Kultgen did not have cost estimates or receipts available at the meeting but said the work actually may be below the threshold for bidding.
Trustees also took the opportunity to thank district officials, C.R. Anderson staff and other community groups for their efforts and support during the school closure.
Cherche Prezeau thanked administrators for responding quickly to the issue, and Ellen Feaver commended county health officials and St. Peter’s Hospital for their assistance.
“That was a great performance by health department staff,” she said. Feaver said she’s grateful the hospital offered lead screenings for students and staff at no cost to the district.
Baur said she would like the district to develop a written crisis communication plan to follow for similar situations in the future.
Kultgen said all rooms are now open inside the middle school. However, two ventilation systems have been shut off and will be cleaned, he said. Kultgen said “higher levels” of lead were found inside those systems but noted that no lead was present in air samples throughout the building.
Staff at Central School hope to improve the student attendance rates in coming months, Principal Vanessa Nasset told trustees.
The discussion about attendance occurred as part of a presentation on academic achievement and support programs Central staff have put in place.
Each month, trustees hold a work session that rotates among district buildings. Tuesday’s meeting was held on the Lincoln campus, where Central School was relocated to almost a year ago.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind,” Nasset said, calling the past 12 months a year of transition and unsettledness. She said staff are on “pins and needles” to learn about the long-term future of the school.
Meanwhile, the move may have affected student attendance, staff surmised.
Around 37 percent of students had more than two recorded absences last quarter, according to data presented to the board. That’s up about 10 percent higher than the first quarter of the current academic year. New district targets put the goal at 20 percent or less with more than two absences.
This year, students who arrive to any elementary school after 9 a.m. are considered absent for half of the day.
Nasset said the school’s move across town has required bus rides for students who haven’t needed them before.
“Some of these families don’t get their kids to the bus on time,” she said. “We do think that is impacting our numbers some.”
Nasset added that while attendance is something school staff cannot control fully, “It’s certainly an area where we don’t want to make excuses or accept the way things are.”
Trustee Terry Beaver asked how the school plans to work with parents on the issue, commenting that attendance rates are linked closely to future academic success.
Nasset said the school currently doesn’t send out notification letters to parents regarding their student’s attendance, as some other schools do, but emphasized that staff want to work with parents in a supportive manner.
“We feel like we need to target some of these absence concerns,” she said.
Teachers Amy Casne-Fetz and Pam Murnion also presented their impression of the school’s new effort to provide teachers with weekly collaborative preparation.
By aligning “prep periods,” teachers are able to discuss with each other student learning and teaching strategies on an ongoing basis, they said.
“We share the best parts of both of us,” Murnion said in reference to her work with Casne-Fetz. “It’s like having two super teachers for everybody.
“I feel like our students have benefited from this,” she said.