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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Making the Choice to Support the 2013 Millard Bond Issue

Making the Choice to Support the 2013 Millard Bond Issue
By: Janette Porter

The 2013 Millard bond issue has my full support. The Millard School Board held a meeting in February, addressing the needs of the Millard School District. They got rid of the fluff that they were criticized for having in the previous bond issue, including the highly debated artificial turf. Millard North was successfully able to raise the funds to provide the artificial turf they wanted. The current bond focuses on the needs of the school district, and is $79.96 million. I am in support of the bond for the following reasons. 

The bond issue includes funds to close off open concept floor plans in 14 elementary schools. This will cost $14.2 million. Closing the schools will enhance security by providing walls and doors with security locks in case of an intruder.  Along with providing added security, it is my belief that it will improve the overall educational environment at each of those schools.  It is highly distracting for teachers and students to focus in an open floor plan concept. This has been a challenge since these schools were built. Probably the most controversial item on the list about which I have heard the most concern from parents is the $6.1 million for the front door buzzer systems, door locks and perimeter monitoring systems. I fully support the security upgrades including the buzzer systems.  I do not feel that these security systems take away any of my parental rights or access to my children. I will be admitted into the school as before. I believe it does provide an extra layer of security to our schools which has been lacking.  There is never an absolute answer to every situation. That does not mean that we shouldn’t take any measures to keep out intruders.  Each layer of security provides extra protection for our children. A buzzer system in some instances would provide needed time to alert staff and police of a dangerous situation. The buzzer system would not prevent parents from visiting the school.  Parents would still be welcome. They would just have to be identified BEFORE they enter the building. 

The bond includes money to renovate and create one secure entrance into Millard North High School.  It would also include a lecture hall, administrative offices and a connecting corridor between wings to reduce hallway congestion. This has been an issue at Millard North for years.

Addressing Overcrowding:
Money has been set aside for classroom additions to relieve overcrowding in the west side of the district. The additions would be added to Rohwer, Upchurch and Black Elk Elementary Schools. It would also provide much needed space for industrial technology at Millard South and Millard West. The total for these additions is $10.1 million. 

Overall Maintenance:
In order to keep up basic maintenance on the district's buildings, we can either pay a little now or a lot later.  Basic maintenance is where the largest amount of money in this bond, a total of $33 million, is going. It includes painting, fixing roofs, carpet, flooring, sidewalks and parking lots. This is about keeping schools up to code with electrical wiring and HVAC, among other things.  It is a necessary expenditure that we as Millard citizens must pay to maintain our schools buildings.

This brings me to the number one reason I support the bond, and one that is closest to my heart, the renovation of Bryan Elementary. It is the oldest elementary school in the district and in need of some TLC.  

Bryan  Elementary--$4.2 million:
Bryan Elementary will be celebrating its 50th birthday this fall. Things were different fifty years ago. Bryan desperately needs to come out of the 20th century and into the 21st.   A fifty-year old building needs a lot of upkeep to stay functional.  If the bond passes, Bryan would have several updates. 
The exterior would be renovated including replacing single pane glass and the thin exterior panels surrounding the school. The updates would make Bryan weather-tight and improve energy efficiency.  Updating the glass with thermal and adding both exterior insulation and a finishing system (EIFS) provides a more energy efficient building for the children and teachers to attend.  The leaky roof will finally be replaced as well, and the ceilings will be repaired and painted where the water has been leaking through. 
Interior renovations include replacing curtain walls with permanent walls, reducing the amount of noise and disruption between classes.  Replacing the original cracked gym floor is also part of the bond. The bond also includes updating the existing heat pumps with a new fresh air duct system that is digitally controlled. Cabinetry would also be updated throughout the building. Bryan would receive an updated entrance where visitors will have to check in the office before being able to be admitted to the main part of the building. It will look similar to that of many of the newer Millard schools. 

Summary of Why I Support the Bond Issue: 
When the bond issue was voted down in 2011, the Millard School Board took note of what voters were saying. The Millard School Board has put together a bond proposal that is based on immediate needs for the schools which include updating the schools for safety. The 2013 bond proposal addresses the needs of the district and not the wants.  No one wants to pay more taxes, including me, but I am 100 % behind the Millard Bond Proposal.  To maintain the quality of education that our children receive, we must maintain our schools, provide needed security, and make the school environments more conducive to the educational process. It is important that we vote yes.  

--Janette Porter is a stay-at-home mother of five children.  Four of her children attend Millard Public Schools.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Millard School Board passes changes to attendance policy!

Millard Parents:  Great news!  Last night, our school board passed revisions to the attendance policy which allows more flexibility for families.  Two categories of excused absences were added:
  • Matters related to military service
  • Personal or family vacations not to exceed five (5) school days per year.
 The following absences will still be considered excused with no change in policy:
  • Personal illness
  • Doctor or dental appointments for the student which cannot be scheduled at a time other than during school hours
  • Death or serious illness of the student's family member
  • Attending a funeral
  • Wedding or graduation of a student's family member
  • Legal matters which cannot be arranged at a time other than during school hours
  • Observance of religious holidays of the student's own faith
  • College planning visits
  • Matters involving student safety
 I received a lot of feedback from parents who were very concerned about the following phrase that was added to the attendance policy:  The approval of all excused absences may be subject to review by Student Services.  Two of our board members questioned the Director of Student Services and the Superintendent about the intent of that caveat.  By the time administration had answered our board members’ questions, I felt pretty comfortable that parents will not be questioned or micro managed every time they call their children in sick or choose to use their five personal days.  The phrase was apparently added in case of unusual requests for extensive excused time off.  If parents feel that this review clause is being used inappropriately, we were encouraged to contact our board members and/or the superintendent.

Parents, this is a great victory for our families.  I want to thank all of you who e-mailed and called your board members to express your concerns.  A very special thanks to those who spoke in front of the board this week and last week:  Lani Bresler, Katie Burton, Martha Myles, Christine Bates, and Sharon Call.  Your personal stories were so important to tell.  

We are grateful to the board members who listened to us and voted to revise our attendance policy.  We would especially like to thank Mike Pate and Mike Kennedy for their willingness to speak up for our families.  They were both voices of common sense and family values in this discussion and their support is greatly appreciated.

The Millard Parent Society will remain vigilant about this issue.  We continue to maintain that no non-truant (absent without permission or knowledge of a parent) student should ever be referred to law enforcement.  We will continue to work together towards our mission:   "Promoting policies in our school district that preserve parental authority, the integrity of the family, and a wholesome environment to foster quality educational and social experiences for our children.  We expect school district administrators and teachers to be committed to preserving our children’s innocence and dignity by effectively implementing exemplary standards for both teachers and students."

Friday, December 14, 2012


Millard Parents:  Our school board heard us!

Last Monday, Millard parents spoke to their school board about the urgent need to protect good students and good families from law enforcement.  We asked them to revise the attendance policy to ensure that  students who are not truant (absent without the permission or knowledge of their parents) are never, ever referred to the County Attorney.

To all of you who have participated in this discussion by speaking to your board members, writing e-mails and letters and spreading the word among friends and neighbors, be assured that your efforts did not go unnoticed.  Our school board members heard us and asked Millard Public Schools administration to propose an amended attendance policy that provides more flexibility for families.

Here is a summary of the proposed changes.*

Additions to acceptable excused absences:
  • Matters related to military service
  • Personal or family vacations not to exceed five (5) school days per year
The approval of all excused absences may be subject to review by Student Services

The above items in bold are changes.  The following absences will still be considered excused with no change in policy:

  • Personal illness
  • Doctor or dental appointments for the student which cannot be scheduled at at time other than during school hours
  • Death or serious illness of the student's family member
  • Attending a funeral
  • Wedding or graduation of a student's family member
  • Legal matters which cannot be arranged at a time other than during school hours
  • Observance of religious holidays of the student's own faith
  • College planning visits
  • Matters involving student safety

The board will discuss and vote on these changes this coming Monday, December 17, at their 6:00 meeting.  Concerned parents are welcome to address the board prior to the vote.

*You can see the entire text of the suggested changes at MPSOMAHA.ORG.  Click on "Board of Education," "Board Agenda/Packet," "Current Board Packet," "2012, 12-17 Board Packet.pdf"
Attendance Policy 5200.1 begins on Page 97.  Changes are in blue and underlined.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Testimony to Millard School Board - Brenda Vosik

Testimony to Millard School Board
December 10, 2012

My name is Brenda Vosik.  I am a parent of two Millard Public School graduates and two children currently in the Millard school district.

Last year I had an interesting encounter with a Millard Public School district administrator.  My youngest son has a brain injury which causes seizures and he has an I.E.P. in place because of his condition.  He has a pediatric neurologist who is working hard to minimize and prevent these seizures.  When I presented a letter from the neurologist asking that my son’s absences for doctor’s visits related to these seizures be exempted from the absence tally so my son would never be referred to law enforcement because of his disability, the administrator not only questioned my veracity and judgment as a parent, she questioned the veracity, ethics and professionalism of my son’s doctor when she said, and I quote:  “Some doctors write fake notes.  This doctor could easily have plugged in any other word in this letter besides seizures—asthma, for example.”  I’m not sure when a school administrator became more qualified to make decisions about my child’s health than a highly trained, highly specialized physician or who empowered her to question that physician, but suffice it to say my request, the doctor’s request, was unilaterally denied.  This is an unacceptable shift of power and responsibility from a parent and doctor who are intimately familiar with my child’s health needs, to a high level administrator who has never even laid eyes on my child. 

Last March, hundreds of parents from across the state of Nebraska won a hard fought battle in our legislature.  We were successful in amending an overreaching attendance law that made 20 days absence for any reason a crime.  With this amendment, control of which students were referred for truancy intervention was returned to our local school districts – in other words, you.  Now we are asking you to take the next step to protect non-truant students from ever being referred to law enforcement.

Millard doesn’t have a truancy or attendance problem, yet the district’s attendance policy has been tightened to crack down hard on absenteeism.  The result is that good, responsible parents are not allowed discretion over when their children need to be absent from school.  Family commitments and emergencies, educational enhancements outside the school curriculum and opportunities for extraordinary scholars and athletes are all unexcused absences in our district.  With a 96% attendance rate and a 98% graduation rate, such a strict attendance policy is an unnecessary infringement on parents’ rights to make decisions in the best interests of their children.

Because of state law, these unexcused absences are no longer just an issue between school and parent—they have been made illegal.  Let me explain.  Let’s say a child is absent from school for a legitimate reason, such as a family emergency, a once-in-a-lifetime academic opportunity, national level academic or athletic competitions, or one of many other valid reasons a student might need to miss a day of school.  The parent and the school know where the child is—he is not skipping school, he is not truant.  However, in Millard that absence is unexcused.  Later in the year, the child becomes sick with a long-term illness such as mono or influenza or both.  When his absences add up to 20, even though 19 days were excused for illness, that one unexcused absence would force MPS to refer that child to law enforcement.  Yes, the school can check the box “do not prosecute.”  However, the County Attorney does not have to follow that recommendation and we have good reason not to trust that he will.  In a few minutes, you will hear from a Millard family that has been accused of child neglect by the County Attorney’s office and threatened with having their child removed from their home.  This child has a chronic illness and relevant medical records to prove it.  I don’t believe Millard administration would ever recommend this family be prosecuted, yet the County Attorney proceeded anyway.

We can not rely on the County Attorney or our juvenile judges to protect our families – their job is to prosecute and punish.  We are asking YOU to protect us.  We are asking you to revise Millard’s attendance policy so this scenario never, ever happens to the good kids and families in Millard.  We are asking that you implement a policy similar to Gretna’s.  Their policy respects families and parental authority while still providing consequences for kids who are really skipping school, and their district’s academic performance has not suffered; in fact, it rivals that of the Millard Public Schools.

We need to return to an environment where parental authority and judgment are trusted and the challenges families face every day are respected.  I respectfully request that you revise our attendance policy accordingly.