Local School Boards Meet
Both the Rector and Piggott school boards handled full agendas at their regular meetings this week.
With the absence of president Jody Simmons, Tony Lockhart presided at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Rector School Board.
Both high school principal Nate Henderson and elementary principal Anthony Dowdy were excited to share activity on each campus. “We’re really busy,” said Henderson. “We are into the fifth week of school and parent-teacher conferences are coming up. What I’m especially excited about is the opportunity for RHS to continue partnership with ASU in offering concurrent college level courses. This semester, our juniors and seniors have opportunity to enroll in up to 15 college credit hours. Second semester offerings will be the same. It is now possible for students graduating from Rector High School to enter college with quite a few college credits on their transcripts.”
“The legislation regarding students with concurrent credit has changed,” superintendent Johnny Fowler added. “Now these students will be allowed to enroll as first-year college students, though they may have credits enough to be classified sophomores.”
“The beauty of that is these students will now be eligible for scholarships allocated for first year college students.” Henderson said. “If they finish their bachelor’s degree within three years, the remaining scholarship dollars can be spent toward the master’s degree.”
Henderson went on to remind the board and wanted the community to know that 107.9 KFIN radio morning show will be broadcast live from Rector High School on Friday morning. In addition, at 6 p.m. Friday, the area churches are assisting the school in hosting a community-wide tailgate party before the Rector-Piggott football game to be played at Temerian Field, home of the Cougars. Henderson encouraged board attendance and community support.
Dowdy reported that he has seen high student engagement in the elementary classrooms. He went on to say that the faculty has taken on an attendance incentive program and within the past few weeks, he has noticed improved attendance. For whatever reason the student may be absent, one of the teachers, counselors, secretary or the principal will make a phone call expressing concern for the student. “When students are present on a regular basis, the chances for advancement in learning follows,” Dowdy said. “Improvement in attendance will help improve test scores and student achievement.”
In regular business, the board approval budgets for special funds such as Title I, Title IIA, NSLA, ALE, Professional Development and REAP. These funds carry specific guidelines as to use, such as augmenting teacher salaries, reduction in class size, technology, alternative learning, workshop attendance and funds to be set in contingency for technology hardware necessities. These being standard budget items and amounts, Fowler presented each to the board for their approval, which was given. Also, the Special Education budget in its entirety was approved by the board.
Title IV funding is “new money,” according to Fowler. This money is to assist the school in paying for half the fee for students enrolled in concurrent classes at the university level with the student responsible for the remaining half.
The board also approved paying a stipend of $1,000 to Shannon Hill who will serve as school nurse at the pre-school campus, thus removing that campus from Kocaina Blount’s responsibilities. Blount serves as school nurse for both the Rector Elementary and High School campuses where several medically-fragile children are enrolled.
The recently-renovated library at Piggott High School served as the backdrop for the school board's annual public meeting Monday night. Following the special gathering the board held its regular monthly meeting, punctuated by a lengthy executive session to discuss personnel matters. Offering no reason for the closed-door session, the body reconvened afterward and adjourned without taking any action.
The annual public meeting was called to order by interim superintendent Barry DeHart, who offered an overview of current and completed projects. He noted the electronic door locks are being installed, the fencing is complete at the football field and the completion date of the track project is unknown at this time.
DeHart then introduced PES principal Brock Swann, who offered his update. He noted there were 450 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and an additional 66 in the pre-school program. Currently, there are 70 employees at the campus.
Noting the year was off to a smooth start, he reported the fourth grade has departmentalized this year with good results. He also added the climate committee has been formed, and will be gathering ideas for improving the climate at the school. Swann also noted the new “breakfast for teachers” program is underway at PES.
He also provided an update on grade level meetings, and gave an overview of upcoming events.
“Friday is youth day at the fair, and the sixth grade is working on having a booth,” he added. “September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and we're having fundraisers each Friday to benefit St. Jude's.”
Swann also reported Grandparent's Week will be Sept. 25 to 29, Red Ribbon Week will be observed Oct. 23 to 27 and the ACT Aspire recognition will be Nov. 16.
In the absence of PHS principal Paul Seegraves, who was out of town coaching the Mohawk tennis teams, DeHart provided the update for the high school campus.
Sharing Seegrave's notes on the subject, he reported there were 420 students enrolled at the high school. The overall total of 870 students is up one from the same time last year, when 869 students were enrolled in the district.
The high school report outlined the success of the various clubs, including the FBLA, FFA and Art Club. He also applauded the various sports teams, noting the football Mohawks are 2-0 and 1-0 on the season; the volleyball team is 4-6, with the majority of their losses coming at the hands of highly ranked teams; the boys golf team is 18-4; the tennis teams were 4-1-2 and 6-0-1 on the season entering Monday; the Marching Mohawk Band will be competing at Union City, Tenn., this weekend and members of the cheerleading squad will be competing at Disney World in the future.
Sherry Taylor, ACSIP supervisor and federal programs coordinator, next provided the update on the programs under her guidance. She noted the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) was signed into law to go into effect this year. It reauthorizes the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) under which the district receives funding for federal programs.
Title I-Part A is the largest program of federal aid and this year's allocation was $183,366.17, which was down $23,516.36. The bulk of this funding is used for salaries and benefits, including—pay for instructional assistants; salary for a reading recovery specialist; half-salary for the federal programs coordinator with the remainder going toward supplemental materials and supplies for teachers and their classrooms.
Title II-A is known as the “Improving Teacher Quality Grant” and the funds are used for class size reduction as well as the salary for one full-time teacher. This year's preliminary allocation is $28,621.79, which is a decrease of $9,247.86 from the previous year.
Title VI-State is now the Title V under the ESSA, and is earmarked for the Rural and Low Income School Program (RLIS). These funds can also be used for professional development, recruitment and retention and parent involvement activities or classroom supplies. This year's allocation is $18,000, down just over $1,200.
She also reported on the ACSIP, or Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, which is used throughout the year to determine needs.
Penny Toombs then provided an update on the PACE programs at both campuses, noting there were a total of 69 students involved. “We have 20 at elementary and 49 students at the high school,” she offered.
She noted there would be seminar classes for the high school students, and reported on a CenturyLink grant effort to fund a robotics effort for seventh and eighth graders. Toombs also noted students would be attending a performance of “Wicked” at The Orpheum in Memphis, and “The Lion King” at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock.
“The junior and seniors will also be working with Shannon Williams from the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Lisa Mikel of Regions Bank on life skills, such as budgeting, cooking and interviews and such,” she explained.
Mentoring activities are also planned for sixth graders with Debbie Baker, Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Science. Additional activities are also planned for first and second grade students.
She also reported the junior and senior high chess teams will begin practicing in early October.
DeHart wrapped up the public meeting with an overview of several other subjects, many of which were also discussed in the regular meeting. He reported on a new effort called Alternative Measurable Instruction, which could end the loss of days due to bad weather.
“It will begin in October, and under this plan we can develop alternative measures which will be put into place if we have to be out for snow, allowing students to do work at home,” he offered. “If the work is completed the days won't count as snow days, we'll get credit for them.”
He indicated the maximum number of days the district can utilize is 10, and noted other regional districts have already developed such plans.
He also reported on recent legislation which allows schools to display “In God We Trust” in all classrooms. He also indicated the district had received a letter from the American Atheist Legal Center, noting schools who do so will be running the risk of being sued.
“The law does stipulate that no school funds can be used to put up the posters, and it also stipulates what it can look like,” he added. “But, any church or group can purchase them and the law covers the district against any legal action which may result.”
The only public comment from the handful of patrons in attendance came from board candidate Steve Champ, who noted the parents he has spoken with are very pleased with the installation of the new electronic door locks. But, he added the lack of parking in front of the high school caused problems and should be addressed. “If they're going to have to use the front doors there needs to be more parking,” he concluded.
Currently, there are only two visitor parking spots at the front of the high school campus with the majority of spaces utilized by staff and teachers.
Afterward, DeHart thanked those in attendance for their input and closed the public gathering.
Moments later board president Hope Burns called the regular meeting to order, dispensing with the consent agenda items.
Under old business DeHart updated the board on the elementary school roof project, indicating he had been approached by a firm interested in bidding the project. He noted this company intended to coat the roof in a foam material, alleviating the need for closing off skylights and moving fixtures.
“Basically, it would be about a quarter of the cost of the project we're currently considering,” he explained. “We'd like to look into it further with the architect.”
The board next heard a presentation by representatives of Excel Energy Group, of Little Rock, on updating the district's lighting. The group presented a bid on retrofitting both campuses with new energy efficient LED lights and fixtures at a cost of just over $254,000.
In turn, the effort is expected to save about $84,000 a year in electrical usage, effectively paying for itself in just under three years. Following that the district would benefit nearly $24,000 per year in savings.
The board took the matter under advisement.
Agri instructor Casey Simpson, and members of the FFA chapter, next provided a PowerPoint presentation on the need for a new truck. Simpson introduced the chapter president, Hannah Powell, and vice president Luke Boyd, who gave an overview of the PHS program.
They noted there were 146 students in the agri program, 55 percent male and 45 percent female, while the FFA chapter boasts around 120 members.
Currently, the department utilizes a 2004 Ford three-quarter ton diesel which is used to transport students on field trips and competitions, livestock and students to competitions and items earmarked for the annual farm sale in early April.
Simpson reported the truck is not adequate, and sought to have a new one purchased by the district.
He indicated the current vehicle was not able to easily pull the department's 24-foot gooseneck trailer, which is often loaded with 15,000 pounds of livestock and a ton of feed.
“We don't have any kind of back-up, that's the only truck the district owns that will pull the gooseneck trailer, and we have to go long distances at time,” he explained. “We also travel to judging competitions and such, it's usually me and five kids in the cab.”
Simpson presented details on a state-bid Dodge one-ton diesel truck, which carried a price tag of $41,969. He also offered an option of purchasing a late model truck of similar features, which was estimated at around $36,000.
“Or, we can have a flatbed put on the current truck for around $3,000 and use it as long as we can,” he concluded. “But, I'm very concerned about the safety of the kids—that's the most important thing.”
Following the presentation the board thanked Simpson, and the FFA members, for their input. They instructed DeHart to look further into the matter, and gather prices on late-model units as well.
Later in the meeting the annual financial reports were presented, and approved, along with the special education annual financial reports for the previous school year.
According to district treasurer Sheila Mayberry, the end of year balance was $2,064,214.10, which was up about $280,000 from the previous year.
The board also discussed buying a new bus for the district, allowing transportation supervisor Fred Hicks to begin to gather information. DeHart noted the district had been in the practice of replacing one route bus each year, but had not done so the past few years. Currently there are nine route buses and three trip buses in the fleet.
The board also discussed purchasing a trailer for the Marching Mohawk Band to be used to transport their equipment to competitions and football games. After discussing their options the board chose to table the matter pending further details from band director Jeremy Wortham.
During his update to the board, DeHart reported the district will be taking possession of a piece of property behind the new gym, although it won't close for 30 days.
He also reported on a new policy from the Arkansas School Board Association which allows home-schooled students to attend public schools incrementally.
“The law stipulates high school students can enroll in just one class a day if they want to, but it's up to us about elementary students,” he offered. “If we do pick up a student for just one or two classes a day we are reimbursed by the state, by either one-eighth or one-seventh or such. But we are paid by the state for those students.”
DeHart noted other districts have allowed the practice, and many have found that part-time students often become full-time students after they've become a part of the school.
He also provided an update on the funds remaining from the bond issue which was previously approved by voters. He noted there is about $1.3 million still available, and noted the cost of the safe room project will be around $447,000.
“We are going to do the safe room project, FEMA's part has already been approved, although it won't be complete until August of 2020, but we also need to do the LED lights and if you add-in the $500,000 cost of the roof project at the elementary school we go over what we still have available,” he explained. “So we'll need to look closely at everything.”
The board then voted to enter into an executive session to discuss personnel matters. They re-convened over 50 minutes later, but took no action and adjourned without comment.
During the meeting the board also--
--Approved several resolutions allowing the district to do business with employees and relatives of employees.
--Voted to delete a variety of fixed assets.
--Approved the resolution of local support for the 2016 six-year facilities master plan.