With less than a month under his belt as Waseca’s new superintendent, Eric Huspith is already getting accustomed to uncharted territory.
During the Waseca School Board meeting last week, Hudspith gave School Board members a rundown in what the district’s administrative team is doing to try to stay ahead of the unknown when it comes to the 2020-21 school year.
“We are waiting anxiously for guidance from the Department of Education,” Hudspith said, adding that he anticipates the state’s superintendents to have a more clear direction during a meeting this coming Thursday. “But we are not waiting to prepare.”
In preparing for the fall, Hudspith said that the obvious question lingering in the air for teachers, students, and parents: What will instruction look? Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the country are faced with three options: the traditional in-class model, distancing learning and a hybrid.
“We know how to do instruction if all our kids are in school — if we’re bringing 1,900 students into school every day to do in-class learning at various sites we know what teaching will look like,” Hudspith said. “What we don’t know is how facility areas, transportation, health and safety, and how to keep kids spaced out and social distanced throughout the course of the day will look.”
Hudspith said that when it comes to distance learning, a method all the school districts were thrown into following the initial wave of executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz in response to COVID-19, the Waseca schools have room to improve.
“One thing we know is that if we are in distancing learning, we have to get better,” Huspith said. The district needs to find ways improve synchronization of classes, holding students accountable, and making learning materials accessible to everyone. I think one thing that is worth noting is that as of this moment we are not in a stay-at-home order or a shelter-in-place order, so with a fully distance learning model I anticipate us being able to offer some sort of opportunity for students to connect with teachers on site.”
According to Hudspith, connecting on site under a distance learning model could include regular student-teacher check-ins.
The hybrid model is where Hudspith said most of the attention is being focused, primarily because there is a “lack of discretion” as far as how that model could look. Hudspith said that districts are tackling this method differently across both the state and the country, and that Waseca schools haven’t yet decided how its hybrid model will look.
“I can’t tell you right now that we’ve made a decision on how that’s going to look, but I can tell you that our leading candidate for a hybrid model is clusters of students in the school,” Hudspith said during the meeting. He explained that this model could take the form of two separate groups of students, each coming into school for two consecutive days during the week, with the fifth day of the week serving as a distance-learning day for all.
“We also know that there are students who need to come to school every day, whether that is students with special learning needs, students with disabilities, our language learners, our youngest learners – the list can go on and on, but we will identify those learners with our principals,” Hudspith said.
Hudspith said that the Minnesota Department of Education says all students will have the option of distancing learning if their family decides they do not feel comfortable returning to the classroom due to COVID-19. Hudspith said that there may also be some staff who would feel more comfortable with distance learning as well, and that the district will have to find a way to best support the needs of those students and staff.
Hudspith believes that there could be the need to transition between the three different models throughout the course of the school year, but that the “obvious goal” is to try to get students in the classroom.
“We all feel very strongly that we want to have our kids back in school,” Hudspith said. “We just had a meeting between our negotiations team with the teachers union, and if there was one thing that came out loud and clear it’s that they want to see their students. But we are preparing one way or another.”
According to Hudspith, the Department of Education acknowledges that there is a chance all the school districts could be required to start with the same model across the state, but that the deputy commissioner anticipates that the decision will be left up to the local level.
The Janesville City Council decided Monday that it will try to use the CARES Act funding it received to help with projects within the city.
Waseca County and the city of Waseca created a small business relief fund with money it received from the state. Waseca County is eligible for a little more than $3 million should all cities and townships apply for funds. Any money a township or city receives and doesn’t spend is sent back to the county, which has to return it to the state.
The county alone has received $2.2 million and the Board of Commissioners authorized $500,000 for small business relief. The city of Waseca set aside $300,000 of the $680,000 for the fund. Janesville received around $145,000 and Waseca County asked if the city wanted to contribute to the fund.
The Janesville Economic Development Authority met earlier Monday and felt it was best to keep all of the funding within the city.
“I think it’s really wise to look at our expenses,” said Councilor Russ Wiebold, who is a council representative on the Janesville EDA.
Janesville received the CARES Act money on Tuesday.
“What we don’t spend the county has two more months to spend,” Mayor Mike Santo said. “I agree we need to make sure we take care of our city first.”
City Administrator Clinton Rogers and Officer Manager Andrea Moen have started to put together a list of items to fund with the money and the money could be used to fund other EDA projects.
Businesses cannot use the money to replace revenue, but they can use it to recoup any costs incurred in purchasing materials to combat the spread of COVID-19 for instance.
The council received its audit report for 2019 Monday and the report by Abdo, Eick and Meyers, LLP, showed the city’s reserves to be at 52.3% of the city’s annual operating budget, well above the state auditor’s recommendation of between 35 and 50%.
The nursing home fund and golf course fund remained well below target balances. The nursing home fund had a target balance of $1.6 million in 2019 but had just $169,341. The target balance is based on the following year of debt payments and 50 percent of operating costs.
After two years of not making money, the audit showed the Prairie Ridge Golf Course made about $5,695, but it fell well short of the target balance of $162,405.
The council later discussed reviving the golf board. It previously reinstated the golf board in 2019 after previous boards failed to meet quorums and had limited money.
The city approved a liquor license for St. Ann’s Catholic Church for its annual fall festival for Sept. 11-13.
The council also voted to contribute $500 to a park bench improvement project between the Boys Scouts and the Janesville Rotary Club. The Rotary is expected to contribute money toward the project as well.