Six things to know from the Union board meeting

OSHA vaccination standard and G-R softball sharing discussed

Newly-elected Union school board directors Lindsay Pipho (center) and Reid Carlson (right) take the oath of office from board secretary Kathy Krug (left) during the Nov. 22 meeting in the district office board room. Director Maureen Hanson — also newly elected — was sworn in the week prior. Photos by Ruby F. Bodeker

Discussion regarding the new OSHA vaccination and testing standard, a softball sharing agreement with Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and a transportation director sharing agreement with Vinton-Shellsburg were just a few of the topics discussed during the regular October meeting of the Union School Board on Nov. 22 which immediately followed the annual meeting of the 2020-2021 board.

1. Organizational meeting, directors take the oath

Newly elected Directors Lindsay Pipho (At Large) and Reid Carlson (District 1) were sworn in as part of the meeting. Maureen Hanson (District 2 Director), who was absent from the meeting, had been sworn in on Friday, Nov. 19 at 2:45 p.m in the District Office. The official canvass of the election was complete, board secretary Kathy Krug reported.

Corey Lorenzen was elected as board president for the 2021-2022 term while Brandon Paine was elected board vice president. The board also approved keeping the date and times for board meetings the same — the third Monday of the month beginning at 6:00 p.m. The locations for meetings may begin to vary again, Superintendent Travis Fleshner said — the practice had been discontinued in 2020 due to the pandemic. An announcement will be made if the board decides to transition back to meeting in different locations across the district buildings each month.

2. OSHA vaccination ruling

Director Reid Carlson smiles immediately after being sworn in as a member of the Union School Board. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

The board discussed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recent Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that requires employers of 100 or more to require their employees either provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by Dec. 6 or submit to weekly testing beginning Jan, 4, 2022. Union Community School District meets the 100+ employee threshold. Supt. Fleshner reported that as of Friday, Nov. 19, the district had less than five total known cases of COVID-19 and attendance was 94.2 percent. Supt. Fleshner told board members there had been a “rollercoaster” of court rulings in regards to the new OSHA standard and that he has attended several webinars explaining the new standard. Ultimately the board decided to take no action at this time but to continue monitoring court cases surrounding OSHA’s vaccination and testing ETS.

3. Iowa School Alerts

Supt. Fleshner reported the state of Iowa dropped the funding for school districts to use the state-sponsored Iowa School Alerts notification system — a text and email alert system. Board discussion centered around the new $2,500 price tag for the service, how valuable the service is to parents and staff within the district, and the difficulty in migrating more than a 1,000 pieces of data ahead of the new year if the board decides to choose a cheaper vendor. The decision was made to continue with Iowa School Alerts despite the absences of state funding next year.

4. Softball sharing agreement with G-R discussed

Discussion regarding implementing a one-year summer softball sharing agreement with Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District took place as part of the business agenda. G-R recently broached the sharing possibility with Union, Supt. Fleshner said, after they failed to engage any neighboring, smaller districts who would be forced to move up a Class in order to absorb the additional enrollment. Supt. Fleshner told the board he felt Union would be able to absorb the increased enrollment without moving Classes. There are four G-R softball players interested in a sharing agreement. The agreement would be for a year at a time as G-R’s softball numbers at the lower grade levels, Supt. Fleshner shared, are big enough to support a future team. G-R parents would be responsible for transportation. Currently, Union has sports sharing agreements with several schools including Waterloo for swimming and bowling, North Tama for girls high school soccer, and Hudson for boys high school soccer. Supt. Fleshner said this possible G-R sharing agreement is part of a larger conversation taking place currently at the state level. The board did not take any action on the sharing agreement as Supt. Fleshner said his goal was to merely revisit discussion as dialog continues with G-R. Note was made by Director Pipho that Union currently does not have a head softball coach.

5. ESSER III funds

Future plans for use of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) III funds — dispersed as part of the CARES Act — were discussed. Allowable ESSER expenditures must assist a district in preparing, preventing, or responding to coronavirus. Supt. Fleshner said such funds were causing school districts across the country to pursue heating and cooling projects but due to supply chain issues, he was hesitant to plan for such projects yet fearing a summer completion deadline could not be met. A recent survey conducted with staff and parents/guardians on how to spend a portion of the ESSER funds garnered roughly 120 responses. Improving the district’s HVAC systems received the highest percentage of positive responses. Supt. Fleshner asked the board to continue to consider such projects including at the middle school but no action was taken. The board did however approve the current ESSER III Plan as presented.

6. Personnel changes

As part of the consent agenda, a resignation and a subsequent appointment was accepted for Dysart-Geneseo Elementary Principal Jim Cayton. Cayton resigned and was then re-hired for the same position due to reaching the maximum amount he could make in a calendar year without having to repay IPERS. His rehire begins in January. Cayton came back to work for the Union district during the pandemic as part of a state proclamation that allowed retirees to return to teaching by removing IPERS caps, Supt. Fleshner said, but the proclamation ended this past May. Cayton asked the district to renegotiate his salary for less money to stay under the reinstated IPERS cap. Supt. Fleshner said both the district’s legal counsel IPERS were approving of the decision.

John Mix was appointed Assistant Transportation/Bldg & Grounds Director. Supt. Fleshner shared Union was currently in discussions with Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District to share a transportation director who would then work as a mentor to Mix. Such a sharing agreement would provide several benefits to the Union district, Supt. Fleshner said, including an increase in students as part of certified enrollment numbers and the use of Vinton-Shellsburg’s transportation shop.