School board tackles complex issues

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

During the meeting of the Sierra Sands Unified School District’s Board of Education last Thursday, several issues stood out.

Superintendent of Schools Joanna Rummer announced that, while the school year ended with 84 fewer students than at the same time period last year, attendance throughout the district was 95.4 percent. “That’s very, very strong,” she said.

The district has concluded settlements of contract issues with all labor associations involved — iDesert Area Teachers Association, Desert Area Guidance Association and California School Employees Association — and has approved salary schedules for management and confidential employees for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

“I commend all the negotiating team members involved,” said Ernie Bell, assistant superintendent, human resources (and incoming superintendent). “It took a team effort with everyone.” The contracts were ratified unanimously by the board.

The price of school meals will increase effective Aug. 1. Meals at schools throughout the district will go up by 25 cents per meal, including breakfast, lunch, and adult meals.

“We’re not doing this because we want to do this or to break even,” said Kurt Rockwell, board president. “We’re doing it to be compliant [with the USDA mandate]. What happens if we don’t raise prices?”

“We will not get reimbursement,” said Christina Giraldo, director of food services, warehouse and transportation. The district currently gets reimbursed by the National School Lunch Pro-gram. The additional revenue will be used to meet the nutritional guidelines mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The board approved the increase.

Continuing construction issues were brought before the board, which voted to contract with RBB Architects, Inc., for architectural and engineering services related to the heating and cooling equipment at Vieweg Educational Center and James Monroe Middle School. This work is to be completed during the summer. The board voted to use Inyo-Kern Schools Financing as the source for funding, which is estimated not to exceed $195,000 for these services.

Additional costs have also come up associated with the modernization project at Burroughs High School. This project has been funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, administered through the Office of Economic Adjust-ment.

Apparently the earlier contract had not been certified by the Department of State Architect, and the district was notified that in order for the plans to be certified by DSA plans for remediation of uncertified heating and cooling work must be submitted. The district approved incurring additional costs to have the work accomplished by Architects Westberg and White.

The issue concerns the design of the parking lot, which must not cost more than $8,500 to remediate. Several members expressed concern over loose ends in this project.

“The plans kept being changed by any entity that looked at it,” said Elaine Janson, chief financial officer. “We’re at the point where they like the parking lot but plans still have to be put through the Office of Public School Construction. A number of changes were made by the state architect that no one was aware of. This is the first program of its type in the country.

“There is conflict between federal and state regulations. Even when we are aware of the differences, the results are not predictable.”

Board Member Amy Castillo-Covert remarked, “We’re trying to get the federal government to work with the state government in education. This type of project is a very new venture. It’s not often done.”

The board approved the additional costs.

Story First Published: 2014-06-25