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School board approves raises, COVID stipends
Teacher contracts approved
Thexton Khris
Khris Thexton

Great Bend USD 428 will use federal COVID-response money to give district employees a stipend. This month, checks for $1,250 (minus taxes) will go to full-time certified staff such as teachers and $1,000 will go to full-time classified staff such as food service, office, custodial and maintenance workers, for going “above and beyond” during the pandemic, Superintendent Khris Thexton said. New or part-time employees will receive pro-rated checks.

The school board approved the stipend when it met Monday.  Thexton said district employees put in a lot of extra time and effort this past school year in battling COVID-19 and keeping kids in school with relatively few issues. They also spent extra time working with quarantined students who attended school via remote connections.

“Without their help, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. We had a lot of students that were quarantined and teachers stepped up,” Thexton told the board.

The federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency (ESSER) funds that will pay for this were issued to school districts specifically to address pandemic-related situations and to address the impact COVID-19 has had and continues to have on students.

Assistant Superintendent John Popp said administrators asked teachers in January how much time they were spending outside of their regular work plan. “It came down to about two hours per week at all the different grade levels,” he said. Multiplying that by 36 weeks and an hourly pay rate of $18.40, “it came out to be about $1,325, give or take. And so what was discussed with our (bargaining) team was $1,250 as a stipend. It’s not necessarily dollar for dollar but it’s very well justified — and I can tell you there were people that were spending way more than two hours a week.”

That goes for classified staff as well. Extra cleaning and maintenance took time from regular duties. The consensus of the school board was to provide the one-time stipend to all employees “for their endurance and dedication during the 2020-2021 pandemic.” 

Raises/contracts approved

Later the in meeting, the board approved next year’s teacher contracts and other employees’ pay adjustments.

For teachers, $500 was added to the base salary, which means a first-year teacher will start at $40,700 for 185 contract days.

Classified staff, administrators and directors will receive a 2% pay increase.

Personnel - Meter to retire

The board also approved personnel changes, including one retirement being announced a year in advance. David Meter, the district activities director and assistant principal at Great Bend High School, will retire on July 1, 2022.

Carla Markovich, music teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School, is retiring this year.

Other licensed teacher resignations:

• Kelli Henderson, English teacher at GBHS

• Shea Koerner, social studies teacher at Great Bend Middle School

• Jaime Kuhlman, fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School

• Jenni Wittig, fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln

• Anne Drees, language arts teacher at GBHS

The following licensed teacher appointments were approved:

• Angela Orth, kindergarten teacher at Park Elementary School

• Dena Hiss, computer technology teacher at GBMS

• Sam Hill, fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln

• Carli Denning, fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln

• Zusseth Pinillo, science teacher at GBHS

Popp said there were 50 position changes in the district this year, eight retirements, 22 resignations, 20 transfers to other positions, 22 new-to-district hires, zero position reductions and three positions added (at Little Panthers Preschool).

There are 14 positions yet to be filled in the following areas:

- GBHS - English (2), Special Education, English Language Arts coach

- GBMS - English, math

- Eisenhower - Grade 6, Math Coach

- Jefferson Grade 6, Technology Specialist

- Riley - Special Education

- Barton County Special Services - School Psychologist (2), Special Education-Ellinwood

Meeting at a glance

Here’s a quick look at Monday’s Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education meeting:

• A note of appreciation was extended to Karen Shaner, Jane Isern, and several local donors and volunteers for providing 46 bikes to the Perfect Attendance Bike Give-Away program.

• Eisenhower Principal JoAnn Blevins and Little Panthers Preschool Director Amanda Moran-Jones provided a progress update on the new preschool. It is scheduled to open in August.

• The board approved 2021-2022 student insurance for a total cost of $44,375 and risk management (workers compensation) insurance for $99,886.

• The School Mental Health Initiative Partnership agreement was renewed. This partnership has improved collaboration with The Center for Counseling and Barton County Juvenile Services.

• Several policy revisions had their first reading. The board will be asked to approve them in July. Superintendent Thexton said most of the revisions reflected changes in federal guidelines on topics including sexual harassment, procurement procedures, student-staff relations, and student suspension and expulsion. 

• A COVID-19 stipend for staff was approved.

• The board approved 2021-2022 fees for students in grades K-12. There is no increase from last year’s fees:

- Kindergarten $40

- Early Childhood Special Education Preschool $40

- Grades 1-6 $55

- Grades 7-8 $60

- Grades 9-12 $95

• Meal prices were approved

- Breakfast prices are unchanged at $1 for students, $2.20 for adults and 30 cents for reduced-price meals

- Student lunch prices are unchanged at $1.85 for elementary schools, $2.15 for GBMS and $2.20 for GBHS

- Lunches for Holy Family School increased from $2.50 to $3

- Lunches for adults increased from $3.85 to $4

- Reduced-price lunches were unchanged at 40 cents

- Milk increased from 35 cents to 40 cents 

• The 2020-2021 mileage reimbursement rate for qualified parents/guardians who live outside of Great Bend and transport their students to school was approved at 34 cents per mile. This is for families that live 2.5 miles or more from their designated attendance center but within the boundaries of the district. One hundred families participated this year, transporting 167 students a total of 171,728.4 miles.

• Assistant Superintendent John Popp noted summer school started June 1 and runs through July 2 unless it wraps up early for the Fourth of July weekend. Attendance is from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and is by invitation only for students needing additional help or those finishing high school credits. The district offers a complimentary breakfast and lunch for the students.

• Popp reported the GBHS graduation rate is about 90%.

• He also reported that the Outside Validation Team visited the district and its final report “is very complimentary of (our) efforts, especially in a pandemic. The report contains recommendations and suggestions for the district to focus on for the upcoming year.”