Gym project and personnel dominate school board meeting

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

For the current members of the Piggott School Board, the 2006-2007 school year will be one to remember; sadly most of the memories are bad. The board, including past-member Cliff Winberry, has been faced with a host of difficult projects, several unique incidents, and a messy divorce from superintendent Bruce Evans. Throughout the ordeal the body has continued to look to the future of the Piggott School District, with the students foremost in their minds. At Monday night's regular board meeting the group demonstrated that they intend to continue that trend.

The most recent chapter in the drama actually occurred at a special meeting held on Thursday, May 3. At that meeting the board voted to sever ties with Evans, in light of his resignation effective June 30. At that time the board voted to name PHS principal Barry DeHart as interim superintendent, and board president John Rodery was named ex-officio. The same early-exit was afforded former superintendent Barry Scott when he left the district several years ago.

At Monday's meeting the board came to agreement with new superintendent Ed Winberry, that he would assume the top job June 1. Winberry is currently completing his obligations at Delta C-7, and the board indicated that he would be reimbursed for the additional month of work. And throughout the course of the meeting it became increasingly evident that Winberry's plate would be full.

The ongoing building project was the source of lengthy debate, with board members once again discussing what they feel to be problems with the job. The board members did approve the most recent payment to GAG Construction, but chose to withhold the payment to architect Mark Cahoon pending a face-to-face meeting. At issue, this time, were several problem areas in the building, plus the board wants more information about specific charges assessed in connection with the project. DeHart was instructed to set up a meeting with the architect, possibly as soon as the end of this week.

In other business; Bob Mullins addressed the board on the issue of summer school, which renewed debate on that subject. Last fall the board had voted to no longer accept credit from summer school in Missouri, causing a hardship on students requiring the extra credit. The board promised to look into the possibility of summer school in the future, and asked DeHart to look into possible short-term remedies for the situation. The interim superintendent noted that the district may be able to offer summer school on-line next year through the "Virtual High School" program, but added that it's currently only available for grades 9-12.

PACE instructor Penny Toombs spoke to the board about the planned trip to Memphis to see the Lion King. The trip, for advanced placement students at elementary, had been nixed by the board last month due to the $5500 price tag. Toombs was on hand Monday night to explain that a large portion of the cost had already been absorbed by the parents, and that the remainder would be covered by grant and discretionary funds. The matter was approved without dissent.

A group of non-certified employees were on hand to discuss pay issues with the board. This arose from a misunderstanding concerning a promotion offered to maintenance supervisor Danny Plunk and his assistant Miles McCluskey. By mistake the matter was presented as a stipend increase to the non-certified staff. Board vice president Shawn Parker explained to those present that, in actuality, the two were promoted and given additional duties in exchange for the higher pay.

Veleda Langley and Johnna Murray, speaking on behalf of the para-professionals, noted that their positions require a two-year degree yet most still make less than custodians. They also outlined how more duties have been expected of them due to legislative action, and added that since Christmas, no substitutes have been provided for those who were absent. The board promised to take the matter under advisement and look into the discrepancies.

Winberry noted that the board will be making tough choices in the future. "I know it's the will of this board to take care of these kids first. We'll make cuts in other places, if we have too, but we will take care of the kids." His wife, Julia Winberry, is a long-time teacher at the Piggott Elementary campus.

Board members also approved purchase orders, discussed inventory listings for each classroom, and reviewed the plan to purchase new math books for elementary students for next year. Apparently the needed funds, between $38-40 thousand dollars were not budgeted by the former administrator. That matter was tabled until the next meeting, affording staff an opportunity to do some research.

Two bids were opened on the demolition of the house at the corner of Garfield and Poplar streets, which was purchased by the district this past winter. The board chose to reject the two bids, and have Winberry handle negotiations on the matter at a later date.

The board also discussed a trip to Little Rock, set for Monday May 21, that will allow teachers a chance to talk with Gov. Mike Beebe. The meeting has been arranged by State Rep. Mike Patterson, and affords teachers a chance to air their concerns on insurance benefits. Under the current plan premiums for teachers, and state employees, are comparable but the benefits for teachers are not up to par. Patterson arranged the meeting at the teacher's request, and the board is allowing those who attend to specify that day for professional development.

The board also held a lengthy executive session, for the purpose of discussing employment. Following the session they voted to offer a full-time custodian position to Sue Hill. The board then voted to name Plunk to the position of facilities director, and to name McCluskey as lead maintenance man, with the appropriate compensation.

The board then adjourned until their next called meeting, which will most-likely be held early next week.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: