Webster School approves high-tech weather grant

The Webster Board of Education was quick to approve their upcoming tax levy on Monday, which resulted in one of the very lowest mill rates in the state, and included a $220,000 reduction over the 2020-2021 tax levy. The new millrate goes from 5.12 down to 4.76.   

The Webster Board of Education met on Monday, Oct. 18, and while they had a slim agenda for action, among the items they discussed and approved was how they received a $10,000 grant to house a state-of-the-art weather technology station on the roof of one of their school buildings, through a Madison-based company called ‘Understory.’

According to district superintendent Jeff Fimreite, the grant allows the installation of the Understory instruments at no cost to the district.

“We’ll be able to get accurate, up to date information … through a state-of-the-art, solar powered (unit), right from our rooftop!”

According to the Understory company information, the technology is used for a variety of services, including for insurance questions, claim settlements and more, while allowing users to access a host of information, using what is referred to as a ‘Dot’ weather station, which captures 125,000 weather metrics per second, including: Hail size, force and angle; wind speed and direction; accurate rainfall; temperature changes and fluctuations; atmospheric pressure; humidity levels; solar radiation; growing degree units and ‘evapotranspiration.’

Fimreite said the new weather station will allow for truly accurate, up-to-the-minute weather data in an area that is often overlooked. 

Fimreite also pointed out several other unique grants awarded to the district recently, including a $46,000 transition readiness grant for special needs students to utilize Northwoods Technical Institute, as well as a $2,000 school nutrition funding grant and a $25,000 per review and mentoring grant from CESA.   

In other board business:

 • Fimreite reiterated the very good news for district taxpayers on the certified tax levy for the coming school year, which as noted last month, is among the lowest statewide. 

“Our mill rate goes from 5.12 down to 4.76, which is once again, one of the lowest (school district) mill rates in the state,” Fimreite said proudly, affirming that the coming tax levy is now set at $7,346,951, which is down approximately $220,000 from last year. 

The board eagerly approved the final tax levy and a few of them even smiled at the comments and news.

• The district had updates and reports from all of their principals and special education director, regarding challenges, issues and struggles they have had since the pandemic started, last year, to this years’ issues.

Among the highlights were strong ACT testing results from the high school, including very strong scores and results from Native American students, as well as a general note that there was some ‘learning loss’ at several levels on math, especially, at the middle school level. 

At the same time, the middle school is seeing a strong resurgence in some 'brainy' activities like chess, cribbage and other math-based games. 

While there was some good news on academics, compared to last year, several principals noted issues with behavior and some of the basic social skills needed in the school environment, from restroom, garbage and lunchroom etiquette to other areas of interaction. There was also mention that some grade levels seem to be lacking in some basic math functions, like multiplication and division tables, which they are having to address again.

Another mention was how some of the substitute teachers are not garnering the respect of full-time teachers, which can be a problem for both learning and discipline. 

Other concerns noted had to do with technology, cell phone usage and general social behaviors, some of which can be attributed to last years’ distance learning and ‘pod-based’ classrooms, where classes, teachers and specialists were essentially isolated from other classes, to prevent possible infection spreads.

• District nurse Julie Steiner gave an update on COVID-19 infections, and how they continue to be of concern. The overall infection rate for the district is already nearing last years’ overall total of ‘positives,’ which was 47 in all of 2020-2021, but has nearly reached that level, already, just six weeks into the year, with 41, so far, including four staff members.

Steiner said she is in daily contact with the county health department on issues and remedies, as well as contact tracing for positive results. 

“But it isn’t just Covid we’re dealing with,” Steiner said with a nod. “It’s stitches, broken bones, emergency EMS, immunizations, cold, flu, strep (throat) and sinus infections. It’s also hard to tell if some of those symptoms (are from Covid).”