School Boards Lay Groundwork for Coming Year

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The beginning of summer marks the start of preparations for the coming school year by local districts, and that was key in action at this week's board meetings.

Rector Board

The Rector School Board voted unanimously Monday night to offer the City of Rector $10,000 for purchase of the National Guard Armory building.

The facility was donated to the city when the Arkansas National Guard decided to close it last year as part of a statewide cost reduction effort.

Several school officials attended a recent city council meeting to discuss the local district's interest in the facility for multi-purpose use. This would include a practice area for football, baseball and softball, marching band practice and a variety of other school-related activities.

Civic and business leader Danny Ford spoke at the meeting and stressed the importance of supporting the local school, noting that it is the key to the continuing viability of the community. He asked the council to consider that school and community perspective when making their decision on the future use of the facility.

The council for several months has been considering what avenue to take since assuming ownership of the facility, located on Highway 49 adjacent to Memorial Park. Aldermen asked the school officials present at the meeting, including superintendent Johnny Fowler, to consider the matter and present a proposal.

School board members began their meeting Monday by touring the facility. They then moved to the school administration building to conduct the monthly meeting.

Fowler started the meeting by outlining three options -- offering to purchase the building, lease it or do nothing.

He expressed the preference for purchasing the building rather than leasing it, citing the significant improvements the school will make if it owns the facility.

"It is a nice building and we certainly could use it," Fowler said.

He said the district would be prepared to spend at least $100,000 on repair and improvements to the building to make it usable for student and community activities. This would include repairs to the roof, lighting, air conditioning and installation of synthetic turf for multi-purpose uses.

Fowler and several of the board members said the school is in financial position to make the needed investments in the building and assume the significant maintenance to provide future widespread use for the community. They questioned whether the city would be able to improve and maintain the facility at that level.

Board member Kirk Ford said purchasing and renovating the armory would be preferable to trying to build a costly new facility for use by football, softball, baseball and the band.

He made a motion to offer the city $20,000 for the armory. That motion died for lack of a second.

Board member Kim Isom then made a motion to offer $10,000 for the facility. That was seconded by Mike Trail. The motion passed unanimously. Also present for the meeting was board president Jodie Simmons. Tony Lockhart was absent.

Other Business

In other action, the board:

--Approved a resolution for Dustin Burns to perform carpentry work for the district (required since his wife is a member of the school staff).

--Accepted the resignation of fourth grade teacher Brittany Herring and hired Sue Warrington for the position.

--Approved custodial supervisor pay for JoKeaha Midkiff.

--Added 10 days to the contract of technology coordinator Kathy LeQuieu.

--Approved an annual stipend of $2,000 for counselor Brittany Clark as part of her role as high school counselor.

--Approved a $500 annual raise for bus drivers.

--Placed cafeteria employee Kiersten Larue on contract.

--Adopted the certified and classified salary schedules to reflect the approved changes.

--Voted to raise lunch prices by 20 cents to meet federal mandates.

--Heard Fowler report the current district financial balance is $2,162,930.

--Heard a high school principal report from Wade Williams, noting that regular summer maintenance projects are in full swing.

--Set the next board meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14.

Piggott Board

Members of the Piggott Schools Board of Education laid the groundwork for the coming school year at Monday night's regular meeting. The board addressed a staggering 31 item agenda, recognized student achievement and gave the green light on two major construction projects during the gathering. Later, following a 45-minute-plus executive session, they approved six hirings and one resignation, tabling the remaining eight personnel items on the agenda. Among the positions filled were those of head girl's basketball and head volleyball coach.

The board also had the opportunity to meet new PES principal Anthony Dowdy, who was on hand. The Rector native, and resident, is now completing his time at East Poinsett County and will assume the job on July 1.

With members Hope Burns, Bradley Dunlap, Chris Roberts and Jennifer Rahn in attendance the meeting was called to order by board president Jeff Benbrook. After dispensing with the approval of minutes from the previous meetings, they were introduced to Katelin Maynard and Zane Henderson, who represented PHS at the Arkansas Special Olympics in the swimming competition. Accompanied by Tammy Gordon, the duo recounted their experiences which garnered each of them both silver and gold medals. Gordon also noted there were no PHS track athletes attending the state games at Searcy this year due to the lack of a coach.

The board members offered their congratulations on the achievements, and joined the spectators in a round of applause for the athletes.

Teachers Cassie Knight and Michael Harrell were also on hand to be recognized for their efforts to secure grant monies. Knight received a $4,000 grant for science efforts at PES, while Harrell was recipient of a $5,000 grant for technology upgrades in the old gym for PE classes. Both were from the CenturyLink Teachers and Technology effort.

Penny Toombs then introduced Emily Conley and Macey Powell, winners of the statewide stock market game. The Piggott Elementary students won the competition by investing $100,000 in the stock market, and then posting the best earnings over the game period.

Toombs noted the duo took a unique approach, choosing to invest all the money the first day and then letting the game play-out over time.

Two major construction projects will also be moving forward following action by the board, including the new awning and sidewalk area at PES along with the new track and improvements to the football field.

Bids were opened on the proposed addition of a track at Parker Field and replacement of the natural turf field. Only one bid was submitted, by Turf Renovations, of Portageville, Mo.

The company offered three bids which included work on the field alone, the cost of the track and the cost of installing the track. The bid for the field dirt work and turf was $270,548 while the price tag for the track was $68,000 and installation was set at $325,000.

After reviewing the bids the board voted 5-0 to accept them, giving priority to completion of the upgrades to the football field for the coming season.

Prior to acting on the bids the board discussed a proposed donation of four acres by PHS grad David Ballard. The property in question is adjacent to the practice field, located just west of Parker Field, and is currently farmland. Superintendent Charlie Powell informed the board members that Ballard had stipulated he would only donate the parcel if it was used to build the new track.

"This is really generous of David, this is super generous," noted Benbrook. "But, there's a lot to consider and logistically I just don't see how we can build the track there."

The board members voiced concerns over the costs of building additional restroom and concession facilities, along with sidewalks, lighting and other amenities.

Reluctantly, the board agreed to table the matter in hopes of meeting with Ballard on the subject.

A major upgrade at PES was also approved, which includes additional sidewalks and an awning over the main entrance. The improvements will also address drainage issues in front of the school, and will provide cover for students entering and exiting the buses each day.

Also included in the effort is a new HVAC system for the cafeteria and gymnasium. Total cost of the projects was set at $226,320 and the bids were accepted without dissent.

Late in the meeting, following the executive session, a variety of personnel matters were handled. The board voted to hire Diana VanderKooi as the new parent center coordinator; named Erica Harris as the reading specialist/dyslexia; transferred Special Education aide Nancy Seal to the position formerly held by Marcia Coyle and promoted assistant baseball coach Alan Rabjohn to the head coaching position.

The board also accepted the resignation of head boy's basketball, and baseball, coach David Reynolds.

Hired as the new volleyball coach was Codie Lancaster, who is currently working in the Trumann district. A graduate of Bell City (Mo.) High School, she graduated from William's Baptist College.

Lancaster will also be teaching, but has not yet been assigned a class.

The board also voted to hire a new girl's basketball coach, giving the nod to Paragould native Seth Medlen. Currently, he's living and teaching in Alabama.

The board also voted to amend the agenda, tabling consideration of hiring a due process aide, self-contained classroom aide, instructional assistant for the third grade, distance learning aide, bus driver, cafeteria director, cafeteria worker and an elementary teacher.

In other business the board--

Accepted a bid of $9,480 from Neal Resurfacing, of Swifton, for epoxy coating the floors and walls of the restrooms adjacent to the middle gym.

Approved board policies per the Arkansas School Board Association.

Voted to accept the licensed and classified salary schedule, with a change for substitute bus drivers and cooks due to the increase in the minimum wage.

Accepted the low bid of $8,853 for the purchase of sewing machines from Superior, of Poplar Bluff. The machines are to be paid for by a Carl Perkins grant.

Agreed to allow Life Strategies to utilize a room at one of the campuses for meeting with students in the coming year. The move was made due to the fact the local office will be closing by the end of the month.

Authorized engineering services on drainage problems at both campuses at a cost of $4,250 at PES and $8,500 at PHS.

Contracted the services of Brett Kingery as facilities manager at a rate of $7,500 per year.

Agreed to only open one voting site, at the Piggott Community Center, for this year's school election.

Approved the proposed budget of expenditures with tax levy for the year beginning July 1, 2017, to and including June 30, 2018, and approve all related election documents.

Appointed the superintendent as ex-officio financial secretary and authorized her and the district treasurer to sign checks.

Accepted the bids from the ASBA on property, vehicles and mobile equipment insurance. The bids were $44,951.68, $7,761.95 and $212 respectively.

Transferred a total of $10,734.94 from operating funds to food service to cover student accounts which remain in the red.

Approved the low bid of $1.99 a gallon by Watson Oil Company on the purchase of 1,000 gallons of gasoline.

Renewed the school messenger, Renaissance Learning and Microsoft EES agreement at costs of $2,325, $12,994.75 and $4,600. The Harris School Solution software used for cafeteria charges billing was also renewed at a cost of $2,149.94.

Accepted the low bid from Legacy Equipment, of Piggott, on the purchase of a John Deere riding lawnmower at a cost of $4,455.

Approved a new PHS bell schedule, which reduces time between classes from five to three minutes. The schedule also allots a daily conference period, designed to eliminate the need for students to miss instructional time for meetings, remediation, pep rallies and other such events.

Authorized the purchase of new social studies textbooks at a cost of $9,618.53.

Voted to acquire a new literacy curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Agreed to join a consortium of schools in the region for the purpose of purchasing food items. Powell noted there were no related costs, but indicated the group's buying power would be of benefit.

Approved the purchase of a number of pans for the cafeterias from Chartwells, the previous food service provider.

Gave their approval to changes to the student handbooks.

Discussed the need for a new driver's education car, and agreed to table the matter until the July meeting in order to review the availability of vehicles.

Agreed to meet early once each quarter to allow members time to take care of their individual personal development requirements. The first such gathering was earmarked for the August meeting.

Heard an update from Powell on work on the library and floors at PES.

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