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Esky schools make strides despite virus

ESCANABA — During a regular meeting Monday night Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher provided the Escanaba School Board a general idea of how the school district is doing during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Fletcher, Escanaba is one of the first school districts to get online schooling operational. In a short period of time, over 600 devices were distributed to students who didn’t have internet service or a computer at home. Students had to adjust quickly to an entirely different way of learning and now they are doing very well, according to Fletcher.

“It’s not easy to do this. It’s not easy for our staff. It’s certainly not easy for families and kids to adjust very, very quickly to an entirely different format,” said Fletcher.

The Escanaba School District is continuing to make food distribution a success every Tuesday, he said. It takes approximately 50 volunteers to create food containers for families to pick up.

“We distributed, as of last week, almost the equivalent of 75,000 meals,” said Fletcher. “We have never, in all the weeks that we have done this, run short of the volunteers necessary to do this work.”

Ten meals are in each bag and 800 to 1,000 bags go out each week.

“A lot of the districts in the state are struggling with this right now. They don’t have the people … to help out, and they’re having difficultly organizing it and difficulty getting the food out to kids. That is not a problem we have ever faced in Escanaba … it speaks to how well invested our staff are, not just in the academic success of our kids, but also in their well-being.”

Fletcher said he enjoys the fellowship and seeing the kids come through the line.

The next topic Fletcher covered was financial. Escanaba did benefit from the CARES Act stimulus funding and received about $440,000 after the government took a look at what the district gets paid in Title I funding.

Knowing that difficult times may be ahead, the school district is reducing expenditures and saving as much of the stimulus money as possible now.

“We’re really trying to set ourselves up as well as we can for next year,” said Fletcher.

Due to the state’s budget taking a hit from closures and tax revenue loss, Fletcher heard schools may receive a 25% decrease in funding for the next school year.

“They anticipate a three year period of negative impacts on the state budget,” said Fletcher.

The school administration will work on the budget with contingencies in mind, to get the school through the next three years, said Fletcher. He will be watching the new committee Governor Gretchen Whitmer created, Return to School Advisory Committee.

“Bottom line, we are in an unprecedented time right now, which means we have infinitely more things we don’t know compared to what we do know and it’s uncomfortable. We don’t like it anymore than anybody else, but we’re also at the mercy of a virus and the legislature and the governor,” said Fletcher.

In other business the board:

– hired social workers Melani Lindbeck and Jennifer Pastorick, and band teacher Robert Miller.

– discussed changing term lengths of board members from six to four years. In November, three board member terms will end.

– approved the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District budget for the 2020-2021 school year.

– voted to support an Arts in Education Grant that will pay for artists to instruct students in Escanaba.

– voted for the revised 2019-2020 school calendar. The description changed on a couple days to bring the calendar back in line to reflect a 180 day school year after the 2020-35 Executive Order took affect.

– Fletcher told the board about Escanaba’s recent recognition in the U.S. News’ 2020 Best High School report. Fletcher said even though the report honors high schools it takes a district-wide effort for the high school to get on the report. Escanaba has recently been awarded the Marina award, and Band Director Laura Robinson received District 14 Band Teacher of the Year. Fletcher said there are good people doing good things in the school.

The Escanaba School Board Committee of the Whole meeting will be June 8 at 6 p.m. in the Escanaba Upper Elementary School.

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