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Pandemic forces changes in AES Halloween parade

October 15, 2020
ASHLAND — At their Oct. 6 meeting, the Ashland School Board discussed the impact of the pandemic on the school (including the Halloween parade), the budget schedule, and school activities. For the first time in months, all the school board members and the school administrators met together in the same room, but the public "attended" virtually via YouTube.

The School Safety committee had what Associate Principal Kelly Avery described as "a long and hard discussion" about the annual Halloween parade, in which the students dressed in their Halloween costumes toured the downtown, visiting businesses, the Town Hall and the Library to collect candy. This is a longstanding tradition in

Ashland, which School Board member Leigh Sharps said was at least 55 years old. The Safety Committee's initial recommendation was that the parade was not safe during the Covid-19 pandemic and should be cancelled. However, Interim Principal Steve Guyer later suggested an alternate plan for a shorter parade around the school property. This

new plan was developed by the two principals and office manager Jackie McGettigan. The students in the lower grades would don their costumes and parade around the school property, while their parents and other relatives watched safely from their cars parked along the parade route. The businesses that normally give out treats at their own properties will be asked to donate those treats to be handed out to the students during the parade. Guyer figured that about 35 cars could be parked along the route, so the younger students will be divided into groups for timed parades. The parade will not be the same as it was in the past, but the tradition will continue. The middle school

students will develop their own Halloween celebration.

Superintendent Mary Moriarty explained the Covid-19 decision making process followed by the School Safety Committee in deciding whether the school will remain open for in-person learning, be closed for full remote learning, or adopt some hybrid combination of in-person and remote learning. On a regular basis, now monthly, but it

could be weekly if the situation worsens, the committee reviews the status of Covid cases in the school and the community, and considers the impact of staff and student absences, the availability of supplies for cleaning and personal protection, compliance with the mitigation efforts (face masks, social distancing, etc.) and state guidance on

these factors to decide if the school has to go to hybrid or fully remote learning. So far, there has been no need to change.

Sharps asked about the school bus during the pandemic. Avery said that it was going very well. The school bus now takes two trips instead of one to prevent crowding on the bus, an outer loop to the north and a shorter loop through the village. Since the two runs can still be done within the time allotted for the former single run, the

bus company has so far not charged any extra for the service. As more students switch from remote learning to in-person learning, it will be necessary to adjust the school bus runs to accommodate the increased use.

The school ventilation system is an issue during the pandemic. The school Facilities Committee will be reviewing the building's ventilation. A formal study may well be required as a new system will be a substantial project. School Board member Steve Felton suggested using portable air filtration systems as a temporary solution. Another

consequence of the pandemic is that the school facilities have been closed to outside organizations. Superintendent Moriarity shared a letter she sent to the Ashland Parks & Recreation Director Ann Barney turning down Barney's request to use the school facilities for the After School Program, explaining the problems that would create for

the school, but expressing the desire to collaborate with the program in the future. Substitute teachers have begun hard to find during the pandemic. The school district does have an in-house full-time substitute teacher, but only one substitute teacher on call. The lack of substitute teachers is a problem throughout the state this year.

The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent Trish Temperino reviewed the process for developing the budget for the 2021-2022 school year. The school administrators plan to present their draft of the budget to the school board at their November 3 meeting. After some discussion, the Board members agreed to two budget work sessions on

Nov. 9 and, if needed, 17. After the SAU budget hearing, which will decide the District's contribution to SAU 2, usually the last piece of the budget, the Board will vote on it and send it to the Budget Committee. The Budget Committee must hold its public hearing on the budget by Jan. 13. If the Board follows past practice, the deliberative session will be held before the monthly school board meeting on Feb. 2. The voters will have the final say on the budget and other warrant articles at the local elections on March 9. (It was pointed out that three school board positions will be up for election in March.)

Associate Principal Avery reported on school activities. Enrollment now stands at 160 students, with four students switching from remote to in-person learning when the second term begins. The sudden closing of the school in March prevented the presentation of the Thelma Spohrer Award to a sixth grader. That award has now been given to

McKenzi Melanson. Avery named the special education team as staff members of the month, noting their willingness to do whatever is needed. With the hiring of twe special education paraeducators and a part time custodian, the school now has a full staff. Fire Prevention Week was celebrated the week of the meeting, with two firefighters

bringing a fire truck to the school to show to the students. Two students will soon be inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. The New Hampshire State Assessment Tests were to begin the following week on the day after the Columbus Day holiday for the middle school, the next week for the lower grades. Medical and dental clinics were scheduled for later in the month, as were school pictures. The Squam Lakes Science Center now does virtual presentations for the school classes. The staff is gathering information for the school approval review at the end of October. Four benches for soccer and baseball games were donated to the school by the Ballou family.

Temperino reviewed her report on the 2019-2020 school year with the Board. There were significant over expenditures (compared to the budget) in health insurance, speech services, substitutes and the Principal's Office. On the other hand, there were major savings in other special education costs, facility costs, transportation, and

professional development that more than offset the over expenditures. The District ended the fiscal year with an unassigned fund balance, the surplus, of $113,023 which will be used to reduce the property tax rate. At the school district meeting, the voters approved the transfer of $40,000 from the fund balance to the expendable trust funds for

special education and school facilities. (Moriarty commented that the special education costs this school year may require taking money from that expendable trust fund.) Temperino also reviewed the special funds. Food service continued into the summer, for a total of 191 days, with the extra costs being covered by federal Covid funding.

Temperino distributed copies of the School District's current Capital Improvement Plan, a five year plan prepared by the Facilities Committee and noted that the Committee would be updating the plan soon. She reported that the New Hampshire Retirement System had raised the percentage rates of the contributions paid by teachers and school employees into the system. Fewer new people are entering the retirement system, more are retiring and the retirees are living longer.

At the end of the meeting, the Board approved the second readings of three revised policies on Board - Superintendent Duties, on Number of Board Members and on Resignation (of a school board member).

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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