School district joins new conference, approves funds for feminine products

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Sports teams with Columbia Public Schools will compete in a conference for the first time since 2004 with the unanimous approval of the Columbia School Board on Monday.

Rock Bridge, Battle and Hickman high schools will be a part of the Central Missouri Activities Conference, along with Jefferson City, Capital City and Helias Catholic high schools in Jefferson City and Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia.

Participation will begin in the 2020-21 school year “to promote and encourage interscholastic activities,” according to the constitution and bylaws.

David Egan, Rock Bridge athletic director, and Bruce Whitesides, district athletic director, said the conference will make travel more consistent and would guarantee event scheduling.

“One of the challenges that our schools have had over the years, being not-affiliated with a conference, is that we’re often trying to schedule in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield,” Egan said. “To be able to have a partnership with seven total schools will provide consistency for our schedules. That will certainly help in the scheduling process for us.”

District Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the conference will not be exclusive to athletics. Other Missouri State High School Activities Association programs will be associated with the conference, including band, speech and debate, scholar bowl and student government.

“You’re creating, through this, a mid-Missouri identity,” Stiepleman said.

Father Tolton Catholic High School will not be joining the conference as the school is already a member of the Archdiocesan Athletic Association, which consists entirely of private schools.

Membership in the Central Missouri conference will mark the first time since 2004 that any Columbia public high school has participated in an activities and athletics conference, according to Stiepleman’s request to the school board.

Egan and Whitesides said Hickman and Rock Bridge had been too large to be a fair contender in their previous conferences.

According to the conference bylaws, membership in the conference would affect students, coaches and sponsors for cross country, football, golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, softball, swimming, basketball, wrestling, baseball, track and field, academic team, speech and debate, cheerleading, dance, student council and instrumental and vocal music.

Future conference activities will include games, tournaments and regular meetings of principals, club sponsors and athletic directors. Membership in the conference will also create the opportunity for more awards and honors for students and coaches.

Insurance providers

The district also approved bid awards to three new companies for employee insurance that will begin Jan. 1, 2020, and last through 2023.

The district will contract with United Medical Resources Inc., Delta Dental of Missouri and Express Scripts and St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition for medical insurance, dental insurance and pharmacy benefits, respectively.

All three providers showed higher expected cost savings over a three-year contract than the district’s current providers.

Medical and dental premium rates for the 2020 calendar year are projected to remain flat, according to the agenda.

Finance update

District Chief Financial Officer Heather McArthur gave a finance update, which includes almost $2 million in one-time costs for the next school year, like an attendance area review for elementary schools and additional math curriculum and professional development.

The new recurring additions, which total slightly more than $4 million, include $20,000 allocated to feminine products in high schools.

Stiepleman said a Rock Bridge High School freshman approached the district about access to feminine hygiene products. The student said the dispensers did not always work and going to the nurse for products could feel intrusive.

After piloting free tampons and pads to high school girls at Rock Bridge and finding it “wildly successful,” the district is going to expand the program to include Battle and Hickman. This $20,000 cost will be included every year going forward, McArthur said after the meeting.

Chief Equity Officer Carla London helped with the pilot program. Stiepleman called the program “completely student-driven” and a “pretty powerful movement” during board discussion.

In other news, the board unanimously approved an extension for Stiepleman’s contract, which will go through June 30, 2022. Stiepleman will receive $220,592 for the next year, beginning July 1, a 7 percent increase from his current salary.

Supervising editor is Kaleigh Feldkamp.

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