Area School Boards Address Contracts

Thursday, January 14, 2016

All three of our regional school boards met in the past week, and all three considered extensions of the contracts of their superintendents.

Piggott

A detailed report on district test scores, and a lengthy executive session to consider extension of Superintendent Charlie Powell's contract, dominated Monday night's Piggott School Board meeting. Board members also approved the purchase of new weight lifting equipment, accepted a donation from the Mohawk Football Booster Program to cover half the cost and approved the purchase of fuel and legal liability insurance.

The meeting was called to order by President Jeff Benbrook, with members Hope Burns, Bradley Dunlap, Chris Roberts and Jennifer Rahn in attendance along with key administrative staff.

Test Scores

Board members heard a review of district test scores from Barbara Batey, and were provided with copies of the pertinent numbers. "I can tell you that it was an interesting adventure," she noted. "Overall, our test scores were about average."

Batey reviewed the Benchmark and Augmented Benchmark numbers for the high school, and the assessment numbers for PES, but noted there will be a change for next year as the state has opted out of PARCC. She also outlined areas of excellence, and those needing attention, based on the scores.

"For the most part we were in the neighborhood of where we thought we'd be," PHS Principal Barry DeHart observed.

The high school scores did indicate an issue with geometry test scores, as none of the students tested met, or exceeded, expectations. Otherwise, the report indicated the local district recorded test scores consistent with the state average.

"I just want our scores to be above the state average, that's my main concern," PES Principal Leann Mann added.

And, students at the elementary school fared well in the testing, with last year's fifth graders recording 79 percent proficient and advanced, compared to the state average of 60 percent, on the Benchmark exam. On the other hand, among last year's seventh graders only 29 percent were proficient and advanced, while the state average was 35 percent.

"But, even in areas where we have low scores the state average is much lower, too," Batey explained.

Powell's Contract

The local school board traditionally considers extensions to the superintendent's contract during the January meeting, which prompted the long session behind closed doors. Powell was hired in March of 2012 as the replacement for Ed Winberry, who had tendered his resignation effective at the end of the school year. She took over in the fall after accepting a two year contract.

In January of 2014 the board voted, without dissent, to extend Powell's contract by two years which will keep her in the top job through the 2016-2017 school year. Last January board president Neil Morgan offered a motion to extend Powell's contract by an additional two years, and was joined by Benbrook in voting for the extension. But, board members Burns, Dunlap and Roberts did not favor the extension and voted it down.

Following Monday night's 90-minute-plus executive session board members apparently failed to reach a conclusion, and voted to table the matter until the February gathering. The board is also expected to consider renewals of the contracts of the campus principles at that meeting as well.

Superintendent Update

During her update, Powell presented diagrams of the new bleachers which will be installed in the PES gym. She also offered color samples, with the board agreeing on a burgundy shade for the seats. She indicated the new bleachers are set to be delivered in mid-March, and should be installed during spring break.

She reported the school census has remained the same since the last meeting, and reminded board members the Clay County Spelling Bee will be held Thursday, at Rector. Powell also noted the new 15-passenger bus has been delivered, and indicated the recent standards visit went well with no findings.

Late in the meeting DeHart presented each of the board members with certificates in recognition of January being School Board Appreciation Month, and invited them to lunch at each of the two campuses.

In other business the board-

* Accepted a donation of $7,200 from the Piggott Football Alumni group to pay for half the cost of the new weight-lifting equipment.

* Approved the purchase of the equipment from Bigger Faster Stronger, Inc., of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the amount of $14,400, plus tax.

* Voted to accept the low bid of $1.16 a gallon for fuel from Watson Oil Company

* Approved Oct. 1, through Sept. 30, as the "look back" period for offering health insurance to employees.

* Voted yes on a motion to allow an engineer to go onto school property to place signs, if needed, for the Safe Route to School program. This effort is being funded by a recently-approved grant.

* Approved the purchase of legal liability insurance through the Arkansas School Board Association at a cost of $6,259.

Rector

The Rector School Board unanimously approved a one-year extension of superintendent Johnny Fowler's contract at Monday's monthly meeting.

Fowler, who is in his fifth year in the position, essentially saw his contract extended to a total of three years.

All board members were present for the meeting -- president Jody Simmons and members Kirk Ford, Tony Lockhart, Kim Isom and Mike Trail.

In the other major item on the agenda, the board voted unanimously for a resolution that will begin the process for refunding (refinancing) the district's current bond schedule.

Michael McBryde of Stephens Public Finance, representing the district, explained the step can save an estimated $118,996 by taking advantage of lower interest rates in the current market.

The district's current indebtedness is approximately $2.8 million on bonds that were issued Sept. 1, 2011.

In discussion headed by president Simmons, it was noted the board can decide at a later date details of the refunding, including the schedule of the realization of savings to the district. That will depend, Simmons indicated, on various factors to be considered, including any future short-term or long-term projects the board deems advisable.

McBryde indicated in his remarks the district is in "very healthy" financial condition, with a debt-to-assessment ratio of 6.47 percent, well below the state average of 8-9 percent.

The Rector district has a millage of 38.49 with the state-required 25 for maintenance and operation and 13.49 for debt service. The 2014 assessment for the local district was $43,286,200 with a 2014-15 student enrollment of 599.88.

Superintendent Fowler and the board will be in contact with Stephens over the next several months to continue to take steps for the refunding to determine the best course of action, and financial savings, for the district.

Other Business

In other items, the board:

--Approved a contract with Thomas Bus Sales of Van Buren, Ark., for a 30-passenger gasoline bus at a cost of $51,769.

--Heard a report from high school principal Wade Williams that his building has an increase of seven students and that homecoming will be held Friday, Jan. 22.

--Heard a report from elementary principal Nathan Henderson that the school's LEGO League team will compete in Fayetteville the weekend of Jan. 22-24. Henderson also said the school is looking at the possibility of developing a computer science club.

--Acknowledged Fowler's report that the total balance of district funds is $2,375,111.37.

Marmaduke

The Marmaduke School Board renewed superintendent contracts and approved the district's facilities master plan at Monday's monthly meeting.

The facilities master plan is a possible building projection for the 2019-2020 school year, superintendent Tim Gardner said. The main projects listed in the plan are a possible new physical education complex and ADA compliance extras. While the school is already handicap-accessible, Gardner said there are more ramps and door handles, "small things," that could be added.

Gardner's contract with the school as superintendent was extended through the 2019 school year and assistant superintendent Keith Richey's contract was extended through 2018.

The board also approved the resignation of elementary custodian Darlenia Crowe and hired Jeff Boswell to fill the open position.

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