The Cherokee School District Board of Education Monday night heard troubling reports on the District's outdoor athletic facilities and the adverse governmental impacts on the food services program.
The Board also approved the addition of a competitive bowling team for Washington High School, precipitated by interest from a growing number of students and parents requesting the program.
During his regular monthly report to the Board, Superintendent Dr. John Chalstrom outlined the District's concerns about the WHS athletic fields, which were severely impacted this past spring and summer by the record drought conditions and high temperatures.
Chalstrom said a water sprinkler break during the extreme July heat and record drought has worsened areas of the football field at George Hicks Field at WHS, and the drought and heat had taken its toll on the Cherokee Middle School football field, and the WHS practice fields.
Chalstrom said the lack of watering due to the sprinkler break at WHS severely damaged much of the south endzone turf, but that the break had been repaired and staff were watering the dying, browned-out portions much of this week to try to bring it back in time for the Braves opening football game here Friday night against Storm Lake.
The WHS baseball and softball fields also have been negatively impacted by the weather, according to Chalstrom.
Already under plan to replace the George Hicks Field turf as soon as the 2012 football season ends, the football field has steadily degraded through the years due to a poor mixture of various grass blends and a lack of proper watering and nourishment, according to horticultural experts previously summoned by the District.
The District is planning to completely renovate the WHS football field because of the poor blend of grasses that have steadily overtaken the turf, making it uneven, bumpy, unsightly, and difficult to groom.
Phipps explained that when that task is undertaken, plans are to widen the upper south gates and sidewalk leading into George Hicks Field to allow transportation of concessions and alleviate the crowd congestion at the gates, to build new stairs to the press box replacing the poorly designed existing stairs, and relocate the long jump lanes and pits from the east side of the field to west of the new utility building at the northwest end of the track and football field.
The District/City tennis court complex on East Indian Street is also settling and cracking and needs repaired sooner rather than later, according to Chalstrom.
Chalstrom and Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Dave Moore previously reported that the courts have slid about two inches east and sunk about two inches since their construction due to underground erosion undermining the base.
The result is widening cracks and fissures on the six-court complex that represents a danger to players.
The courts are a 50-50 proposition between the City and School District and the two bodies are aware of and have been discussing the problems. "We're looking at considerable expense to fix them, resurface them, and resolve the problem," said Chalstrom, who added that both the District and City are faced with tight budgets and no extra funds to pay the high costs that would be involved.
The District and City have summoned the contractor who built the courts, and an engineer, to come to Cherokee to study the matter, according to Chalstrom.
In regards to the District's hot lunch program, Director Quinn Woods gave the Board a troubling report while identifying the increasing, mandatory government nutrition restrictions and stipulations on food offered, saying it's leading more and more students K-12 to bring sack lunches and/or snacks to compensate.
As the government continues to crack down and mandate fewer calories and less fat and sugar intake, more kids are eating less food that ends up going to waste. A recent school day where mandatory legumes (plain black beans) were served admittedly stuffed the garbage receptacles in all three buildings with untouched food gone to waste.
"The kids just won't eat it," said Woods. "It's tasteless to them. We can't even offer condiments to make it tastier because the condiments add calories, fat, and sugar. And it'll get much worse next year when the new sodium restrictions come in. This is a serious, serious problem."
Woods said more parents are now sending food with their students because they get really hungry during the school day. She said she's heard reports of athletes during physical activity getting ill because they're so hungry.
"It's all because of these restrictive state and federal mandates and guidelines from the FDA targeting child obesity. This is a real problem that's only going to get worse," added Woods, whose expertise and efficiencies in the food services program have it well in the black, an accomplishment that has not gone unnoticed by the Administration and Board.
At the urging of the Board, Chalstrom said an attempt will be made to register complaints over this issue through the proper channels, although admitting that nobody could tell them what channels those were due to government and FDA red tape.
"All school districts across the country are fighting this same fight and nobody seems to have an answer," said Chalstrom.
Regarding the bowling team, former WHS AD and new WHS Principal Neil Phipps said he has spoken with Cherokee Bowl proprietor Tim Gaydo and Gaydo said he would be willing to work something out with the District for the students to practice and bowl in meets at Cherokee Bowl at no cost. Phipps even speculated that Gaydo, an accomplished bowler, would be willing to become certified to coach the team.
Phipps reported that some area schools already have bowling teams, including Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn, Le Mars, Denison-Schleswig, and Sergeant Bluff-Luton, to name a few. He said he has contacted Le Mars and they advised that about 85-percent of their high school bowlers do not participate in any other extracurricular activities.
The bowling season would rival the basketball and wrestling seasons, according to Phipps, who said the normal schedule consists of 12 meets, usually held on Saturday mornings. A student/athlete could not wrestle and also bowl because most wrestling tournaments are on Saturdays. Le Mars averages between 20-30 bowlers each season, said Phipps.
Phipps and Chalstrom also pointed out the additional costs involved in such a program, including uniforms, transportation, bus drivers, and coaching.
With the Board's approval to start the bowling program, Chalstrom said he would have to reopen the CEA Labor Contract and negotiate a salary for a coach. Chalstrom said a check with other schools revealed that the bowling coach's salary is equivalent to a middle school football coach and that would be an estimated $2,040 per season to coach both the boys and girls bowling teams.
The competition includes six-member varsity teams and Phipps surmised about 15-20 WHS students were interested in joining the bowling team.
In other action, the Board approved a contract for Walter Schwartz as the District's new Technical Coordinator, and approved Bruce Dagel as a voluntary varsity football coach.
The Board also approved an estimated $33,000 expenditure for a new steam table/kettle system (cooker) for the WHS kitchen, replacing the existing aged, dilapidated unit whose boiler was condemned by the state inspector. The new unit acts as a convection oven and has no boiler.
A bit of good news was shared by Roosevelt Elementary Principal Barb Radke who reported that Roosevelt enrollment for grades K-4 reached 416 students this year, up 37 students over last year's 379 enrollment.
Phipps also reported that the WHS enrollment was up by 11 students this year, totaling 302 students.