During a recent 'Coffee and Conversation' event Owatonna Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Elstad said teachers were enjoying "moments of joy" as students reported back to buildings for the first time since mid-March. On Wednesday, September 23 he will deliver a State of the District address. The presentation starts at 6:30 pm and can be viewed through the school district's website, visit www.isd761.org/stateofdistrict. There will be a short question and answer session at the end of the presentation.

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Elstad said the school year started well and protocols are being followed. He discussed a positive COVID test at the high school after a student became ill while at school. With social distancing and contact tracing practices in place, Elstad said they were able to identify a handful of students who had been in close enough proximity to merit isolation and were able to control the situation.

Owatonna has started with hybrid learning for the upper grades and in-person at the elementary level. Elstad said the elementary schools could switch to hybrid and not be forced to make many significant changes. He spoke of the importance of consistency during the 'Coffee' talk on September 11.

Elstad was told by one third grader, "It's great to be back in school Mr. E. That's the way it's supposed to be." Elstad said the opening days of school seemed to be going well at the elementary level. A number of students, throughout all the grade levels, have voluntarily started the school year as distance learners.

Director of Finance Operations for the school district Amanda Heilman shared the news of free meal expansion for all children up to age 18 in the district. The program is likely to continue through the end of the school year. Elstad said the district distributed over 160,000 meals through the program over the spring and summer.

Elstad and Heilman talked about the operating levy questions that will appear on the November 3 general election ballot. The first question: "Requests a straight renewal of the district’s existing operating levy which is about to expire. Operating levies provide critical funding for classrooms, instruction and other operating costs," according to the district's website.

The second question: "Requests a phased-in increase to the district’s operating levy in 2022 and 2025. By phasing in the increase over time, it also phases in the tax impact with no tax increase until 2022. The additional revenue provided if question two is approved would enable the district to maintain quality programming and activities, appropriate class sizes and career-technical education programs, while providing financial stability for the next decade. Q2 is contingent and can only pass if voters first approve Q1."

The plan combines budget cuts with the request for funding. Full details on the levy questions can be found at this school district site link. Elstad says a discussion on the levy will be held Wednesday, October 5 at the small group forum at the high school.

Other notes from 'Coffee and Conversation' included

  • Elstad credited Activities Director Marc Achterkirch with handling the beginning of athletics and activities with the new health protocols being enforced.
  • The final stages of the design process for the new high school are progressing and the contractor says it is "still on budget and on time."
  • The next Coffee and Conversation is scheduled for Friday, October 9 at 8 am.