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School District Preps For Opening
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Freshening up the high school with a new coat of paint, completing roofing work at a couple of sites and finishing some paving at Collegeville and Farmington are just a few of the projects winding down as officials gear up for the start of the new school year.

"It's been over 15 years since we painted," Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth said of the largest summer project. "It's the same color but it's a fresh coat and the trim is a little different."

Apex Painting of Modesto is doing the work and Mantooth said staff and students alike will come back to a much fresher high school campus.

"We're also doing some roofing work at Farmington, Dent and El Portal, we have leaks every once in a while and we're taking care of them," Mantooth explained. "Every year we also do some carpeting upgrades at every site, at least some rooms."

Paving work at the Collegeville and Farmington sites has been done primarily on the playground areas and Mantooth said there was also installation of the "second wave" of new lockers on the high school campus.

"We did a third of them last year, replaced a third this time," he said, noting that the final third will be replaced next summer. "We also have new locks on all the doors for the district so teachers can lock the doors from the inside and the outside, in case there's any issue."

All of the summer work projects - roughly $300,000 worth - are being funded through the district's deferred maintenance fund.

"That's money we set aside each year," Mantooth said of the school board. "Every year until this year, it has been matched by the state, we're hoping it will be again this year."

In addition to the special summer work, the traditional cleaning and routine maintenance work is being completed, so the doors will be ready for opening on Monday, Aug. 11.

An administrative retreat is on the schedule this week, as all administrators get on the same page for the coming school year.

"Our main focus this year is to plan collaborative time for site staff," Mantooth said, noting that providing time for same subject teachers at the various sites to meet was a need identified during the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) visit last spring.

"We'll let them decide how to do it, whether it's by grade level or curriculum," Mantooth said of giving teachers some leeway in determining how the collaborative time will be spent.

New teacher orientation is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 4 with most new teachers joining the staff at El Portal, with a couple at the high school and also a couple elementary teachers.

Among the big changes this year for the local elementary schools, they will be going to a standards based report card.

"That will allow the teachers to assess the students based on the standards they've achieved," Mantooth explained. "We'll move away from the quarter system and go to a trimester arrangement. The standards based reports require a lot more time and effort, it's a more detailed assessment."

The high school will be staying on the semester system but will do grade reporting every six weeks.

"That will provide parents with better and faster input on how their child is doing," Mantooth said.

Previously, reports were sent out every nine weeks.

Another change is the discontinuation of the auto tech program, which will be redesigned into a small engines program and placed in the ag department under teacher Bruce Campbell.

After having the same instructor for some three decades for the auto tech program, the district has gone through a couple of teachers in the past two years and Mantooth said the program just has not been maintained successfully.

"There's a scarcity of top flight teachers in the vocational area so we looked at several options," he explained. "Bruce has some expertise in engines so we're hoping we can meet some of the basic needs for students. We weren't pleased to have to do that, but in looking at our programs, the numbers were also down."

School lunch prices, meanwhile, will increase, going up to $1.85 for kindergarten through fifth grade, up from $1.60.

Similar 25-cent increases will go into effect in grades 6 through 8, up to $2 and at the high school level, up to $2.25.

Milk will go up 15 cents, to 40 cents but there is no change in the cost for students receiving free or reduced meals, with the cost 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch for the reduced meals.

"We hadn't raised prices in several years," Mantooth said, with the last increase during the 2001 school year. "We've done some ecological things that cost money, went with a new healthy food program, offering kids more choices and the costs had been creeping up a little bit."

With projects nearing completion, new teachers ready to join the team and administrators getting away for their retreat, Mantooth said the finishing touches are being put on to be ready for the new year.

"We're ready to go," he said. "Every year there's challenges but we feel we have a budget that can work, we're excited about our new administrators and everybody is upbeat and looking forward to a good year."