Garretson Proceeding With Electric Busses

Earlier in the year, we were pleased to announce that the Garretson School District was selected for a $1.2 million grant to purchase up to three electric school busses and the purchase and install charging infrastructure for those vehicles.  A number of people have asked why we would proceed with the electric busses, and expressed skepticism about whether this is a good thing for our district.  

We have spent a significant amount of time over the course of the school year talking with experts, reading about different options and just generally learning about electric vehicles to determine if we should proceed with just part of the grant award or to move forward with the full grant.  

Over the course of the past year, we have found that in districts that use the electric busses, there is significant savings in not only fuel costs, but also in maintenance costs associated with running diesel busses.  Some studies indicate that the cost of fuel and maintenance on a diesel bus runs close to 49 cents per mile, while the electric busses have a fuel and maintenance cost of approximately 14 cents per mile.  Comparisons of electric equivalent “miles per gallon” also tell a positive story, with our average diesel bus getting between 5 and 6 miles per gallon.  The estimated electric equivalent “miles per gallon” costs point to approximately 28 MPG.  While this is likely the MPG under “ideal” conditions, we are certain that the cost of operation and maintenance on our fleet with be dramatically reduced, thereby having a positive impact on our General Fund.  

Right now, we are considering whether to move forward with two electric busses or three.  The answer to that will depend, in part, on some of the ancillary costs associated with purchase and installation of charging infrastructure as well as changes to property and liability insurance costs.  Our intent is to present this information to the board on April 10.  The board will then make a decision as to how we proceed.  We are excited to be on the front end of the electric vehicle revolution in SD.  It’s even better when the Federal Government, rather than local taxpayers are footing the bill!

72% Reduction in D’s and F’s. Is Wednesday Worth It?

In the summer of 2021, all current staff members were trained in a process called the Masonic Model Student Assistance Program.  The intent of the training was to provide a structure for professional collaboration that would allow us to better meet the needs of our students with respect to behavior, academics, health concerns and attendance.  The first year of implementation was the 21-22 school year.  At that time, we knew that we would need to make adjustments to the process that would help with the “fit” of the structure in the context of our school and that this was a new process for our staff, so a learning curve was to be expected.  One of the hallmarks of our implementation is that we have set aside time on Wednesday afternoon specifically for collaboration that benefits our students.  Had the district attempted to implement the plan without specific time earmarked for collaboration, we knew that the many before and after school obligations of many staff members would prevent the program from being implemented consistently.  In the 22-23 school year, we have continued to adjust the program based on feedback from staff.  In a recent staff survey, we collected attitudinal data from certified staff regarding the programming as well as the necessity of having specific time set aside to allow for all professional staff to participate.  

  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The time spent in Student Support Teams translates into tangible, supportive change for students.  
  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The Student Support Teams time and process allow me to meaningfully collaborate with colleagues.
  • 92% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The scheduled early release time, earmarked for SST on Wednesday is necessary for the implementation of the program.
  • 100% of certified staff agree or strongly agree with the following statement: The Student Support Teams model has helped students in our district to be more successful.

Quantitative data also supports the assertion that this program is having a significant positive impact on our students.  It may be important to note that another supportive intervention put in place for high school and some middle school kids who are at risk of failure is the REACH program.  We know that the collective impact of these two programs may be responsible for some of the improved student performance.  Quantitative data was collected with respect to the number of students earning grades of “D” and “F” for quarter grades in the middle and high school for the year before implementation (20-21) and the two years since implementation of the program.  See the data in the following table.  

MS Quarter grades  “D”MS Quarter grades “F”HS Quarter Grades “D”HS Quarter Grades “F
2020-2021 SY (no GSST)1581314331
2021-2022 SY (first year of SST implementation110612726
2022-2023 SY (second year of SST implementation, in first two quarters)195329
2022-2023 SY Data extrapolated to 4 quarters38106418
Data Table – 20-21 compared to 22-23 data

We knew that we would need to make adjustments to the structure of the program as we worked with it.  As with any program, there can be an implementation dip, where the initial results are not as promising as overall expectations would lead us to believe.  Year two data indicates that some of the changes to the programming and our familiarity with the process has increased the effectiveness of the program.  The 2022-2023 totals are extrapolated based on Q1 and Q2 data.  If the trend continues, by the end of year two of implementation, we will have reduced the number of “D” grades in the middle school by 75%.  In the high school, the reduction in students earning “D” grades has been 55%.  Failing grades in the HS have decreased by nearly 42%.  A more modest reduction in failures at the middle school of 23% is also noted. Overall, we have reduced the number of D’s and F’s in the middle school by 72% and in the high school by 53% since the 20-21 school year.

Is Wednesday worth it? The time our staff has earmarked for collaboration for the benefit of our kids definitely makes a difference!

Have any changes been made?  The Scalpel or the Axe

The scalpel, or the axe.   In 2016, we asked the community to support our opt out to allow the school to make precise changes that would reduce our costs, but not directly harm our educational programming or negatively impact our students.  The community supported the opt out at that time, allowing us to take a precise, surgical approach to reducing costs.  Had the opt out been defeated at that time, the reductions would have been more like whacking away at our programming like using an axe.  Because the community supported the school seven years ago, it allowed us to find reductions in expense that have had a small impact on the educational programming and our students.  Some of the adjustments are relatively small, but some of them are significant adjustments to our expenditures.  

  • In 2016, the district contracted a service provider for custodial rags, microfiber mops and rugs in the building.  As we looked at the cost for the service, we decided to make the investment in our own washing machine/dryer and purchase our own custodial mops, rags and permanent rugs.  Our custodians now wash these materials, and outside of the initial purchase costs, replacement of worn out mops and rags has been a minimal cost.  Savings to the district is 3-4,000 annually.  
  • In 2016, our Spanish teacher took a position at another district.  We did not feel like we had the enrollment numbers to support a full time replacement.  At that time, there was an opportunity for “shared services grants” from the state, to encourage cooperation between districts in close proximity to one another.  We applied for the grant with the Baltic School District for a full time Spanish teacher to be split between the two districts.  The state paid the entire cost of the position for the first year, 50% the second year and 25% the third year, saving each district approximately $75,000 over three years.  We continued the partnership with Baltic for two more years.  At that time, Baltic had grown to the point where they felt it was necessary to move that position to full time.  We have advertised for a half time Spanish teacher, but the position remained unfilled.  At this time, our students take Spanish classes via distance learning, through the NSU e-learning center.  Overall, this saves the district approximately $67,000 per year.  
  • In 2017, the food service fund was in the negative by a little over $90,000.  The district worked with Lunch Time Solutions with the goal of breaking even in our food service.  In 2019, we no longer needed to subsidize the food service fund with general fund money.  In 2020, the revenue generated through the food service program was enough to pay for the entire cost of the program.  We expect that to continue in 2023 and beyond.  Savings: approximately $90,000 annually.
  • In 2018, we compared costs associated with refinishing our gym floors with different vendors.  Up until that point, we had spent $9,000 annually in refinishing those wood floors.  After exploring different options, we were able to reduce e that cost to around $2,500.  Annual savings to the district of approximately $6,000.
  • In 2019, we went through the Request For Proposal (RFP) process for our copier lease.  At that time, we had a five year lease that was costing us approximately $36,000 per year.  After the RFP process, our costs are now closer to $12,000 per year for copier services.  Savings to the district is approximately $24,000 annually.
  • In 2019, we went through the RFP process for waste services as well.  Through the process, we were able to reduce the cost of those services significantly.  Annual savings to the district is approximately $6,000.
  • In the summer of 2020, we completed a project to replace the old chiller and replace our fluorescent lights with LED lighting.  Costs of the improvement were paid through the Capital Outlay fund, but we expect to see savings of between $15,000 and $20,000 in the General fund through reduced energy costs.   

In 2016, the Garretson Board of Education made two promises to the community.  The first was that of the $500,000 approved for opt out, that the board would only request as much as the school needed.  Over the five years that opt out was in place, the budget demanded the full amount the first three years, and then our enrollment went up and the opt out was reduced to $350,000.  The board and the district kept its word.  The second promise was that we would continue to look for ways to reduce expenditures in areas that have as small an impact as possible on our students.  The board and the district held true to this principle as well.  As a district, we will continue to explore the different ways that we can reduce our expenditures.  We are optimistic that our community will allow us to continue to look at reductions in a targeted, precise manner with the support of the opt out.