CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School Committee this week ratified a new memorandum of understanding with the teachers' union regarding the resumption of in-class learning.
Children in Grades kindergarten through 5 returned to schools April 5 as required by the state. Like many districts, the Adams-Cheshire schools had been shifting between hybroid and remote.
Grades 6 through 12 will return on April 28.
"There is nothing really earth-shattering in the agreement," Superintendent Aaron Dean said at Monday's meeting.
Dean said the MOU mostly represented updated state guidance such as the 3-foot desk spacing instead of 6 feet. This does lock in a 6-foot buffer between the teacher instruction area and the front row of students.
The agreement also solidifies the full return timeline.
Dean said the MOU gives teachers up to 10 quarantine days that do not count against sick time.
"Given everything that we are looking at at the time, this seemed like a fair compromise," he said.
Staff who come in contact with the virus in the school can tap quarantine time for days off needed to actually receive the test and to await results. He said staff do need to receive a test to use the time and can't just take the 10 days off.
The return to full-time, in-class went smoothly, he reported.
"The team just stepped up in a big way," Dean said. " Everybody worked so well together. ... We did a lot of problem-solving ahead of time to really make it a smooth transition."
Interim Hoosac Valley Elementary Principal Peter Bachli said the school welcomed back 275 pupils up to Grade 3.
"We are back, and we are in full swing," he said. "We did the work that is typically done in the summer months in three weeks ... it was a beehive of activity."
Hoosac Valley Middle Principal Christopher Sposato said Grades 4 and 5 have returned successfully. He said his team has been showing students the new COVID-19 protocols.
Hoosac Valley High Principal Colleen Byrd said her team is preparing for the high school students to return April 28. She said the plan is to livestream the new protocols to students in the classrooms then provide walkthroughs for groups of students.
In other business, Business Manager Erika Snyder said the district has recently undergone a successful audit.
"We were given what they consider a good bill of health," she said.
She said there were no findings or current issues to address. The auditor did suggest that the district find a better way to manage lingering graduating class accounts.
"Either we can't find the class officer or the person that was supposed to handle it or they don't want it," Snyder said. "We just have to figure out what we want to do with those. Some of them are significant."
She said this has been on her radar for some time now and it may be time to craft some sort of policy.
The auditor was unable to make a determination on aspects of the audit having to do with the Adams Retirement System because of a lack of information. The retirement board is not up to date with its own audit and reporting.
"This is an ongoing issue that has become part of our audit," she said. "It is not for us to decide. It is their board. They have to get the audit scheduled it is out of our control."
She said she had reached out to the Adams Retirement Board in the past. She said conversations petered out after the retirement board asked the district to pay for a portion of the audit.
Although this was not a huge strike against the district in regard to the audit, Snyder said it did impact the district's recently downgraded bond rating.
"[The new bond rating] is not awful but it could impact us down the road if we want to borrow in the future," Snyder said. "The further we go the less favorable our interest rates will be."
She said the bond rating assessment has changed for school districts in recent years. HVRSD was impacted by decreasing enrollment, surrounding competitive education options, excess and deficiency amounts, not properly funding other post-employment benefits, and the lack of reporting from the Adams Retirement Board.
She said funding OPEB is a challenge for many school districts and communities. The enrollment decline and the use of E&D funding are larger issues, but if the Adams Retirement System would undergo its audit, it could improve the district's rating, she said.
The Adams Retirement Board also represents the town of Adams, the Adams Housing Authority, the Adams Fire District, and the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste Management District. Snyder said all of these bodies could be impacted by the Retirement Board's lack of an audit.
The School Committee voted to ask Dean to reach out to the rest of the membership and to reach out to the Retirement Board to air concerns over the lack of audit.