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School district to form citizen advisory committee

The DeForest Area School District is forming a citizen advisory committee to explore facility needs at its schools.

The citizen advisory committee (CAC) was approved at the DeForest Area School Board’s April 9 meeting, following advisement from district administration and Superintendent Eric Runez. Runez said he hopes to form the committee and hold an orientation by the end of the academic school year.

“Our recommendation is that we convene a CAC,” Runez told the school board. “That would also trigger that we would then look for architectural partners and construction management partners to help support the CAC’s work as well.”

In March, representatives of Eppstein Uhen Architects and J. H. Findorff presented phase two of reports that detailed shortcomings at the district’s facilities. Phase two of the report also explored the growth of student population and future enrollment numbers throughout the district.

The report said that by the 2025-2026 school year, elementary schools will be at 7 percent above student capacity. The middle school will be 17 percent above capacity that year, according to the report, while DeForest Area High School will be at its capacity.

As for repairs and improvements at existing facilities, an estimated $3 million is needed at Yahara Elementary School. The middle school requires updates totaling $7.8 million, according to the report. Work at the high school is estimated to cost $3.3 million.

School Board Director Jeff Miller said some of the facility issues are avoidable with prudent maintenance practices.

“I saw things in this report where corners of drywall had been broken, tile was broken, and we’re not repairing that,” Miller said. “…I know that we’ve had some staffing issues, which I get, but I’m hoping those have been resolved and we’re going to take better care of what we have.”

New athletic fields and a pool facility were also explored. The study estimated a new pool at the high school campus would cost between $18.9 million and $20.9 million. Any big-ticket projects would likely be brought to voters in a future referendum.

School officials said the committee will be similar to CACs from the past. Members of the community group will include parents of DASD students, school staff and community leadership. Former CACs tasked with facility studies have numbered up to around 40 members.

The first phase of the facilities study previously looked into needs at the 100-year-old Morrisonville Elementary School. A committee decided to revisit those facility issues in several years.

Other updates

Also discussed during the meeting were updates on the district’s 4K program and policies related to students in crisis.

Initiated during the 2011-2012 school year, the district’s “Get Together for Kids” kindergarten program has generally seen a rise in enrollment.

Early Childhood/Special Education Teacher and 4K Program Coordinator Judi Ramsett reported that 288 children are currently enrolled in the kindergarten classes. That number is expected to rise to 294 in the fall and started at 240 when the program began.

Ramsett was praised for her work establishing and growing the program.

“DeForest should really be proud of the 4K we’ve built,” said School Board Director Linda Leonhart.

Following Ramsett’s report, the board and administration discussed policies regarding students experiencing a crisis in the classroom.

According to Director of Pupil Services Barb Buffington, staff are prohibited from going “hands on” with unruly students who refuse to leave the classroom, unless that student poses a risk of self-harm or of harming others.

Those situations sometimes require students to relocate to another room so the pupil experiencing a mental-health crisis or loss of control can be calmed and helped.

Buffington said teachers are trained in nonviolent de-escalation methods. She said some are also trained how to physically restrain or “hold” a student. School resource officers and police may also be called in during more extreme situations.

Board member honored for service

Toward the meeting’s end, the board recognized School Board Clerk DeAnna Giovanni for her years of service to the board. She was presented with a plaque of appreciation and Runez thanked her for 14 years of service.

School Board Vice President Steve Tenpas said Giovanni brought insight and institutional understanding to the board.

“What I always really admired about you was your willingness to contribute to the conversations, your not being afraid to confront and ask good questions,” Tenpas said.

Dan Colton
DeForest Times-Tribune

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