By JANIE SLAVEN
The McCreary County Board of Education’s first meeting of the year was an eventful one.
The Thursday meeting opened with departing board attorney Larry Bryson administering the oath to returning board members Nelda Gilreath, Roxanne Shook and Debbie Gibson as well as a photo for School Board Member Recognition Month.
As is customary for a January meeting, the board elected officers, established voting order and set regular meeting times. Less customary was the division appearing with the officer votes. The board split 3-2 on votes to retain Stewart Jones as chairman as well as naming Gilreath vice-chair (replacing former board member Johnny Barnett). Brandon Kidd had challenged Jones and Gibson challenged Gilreath.
Parent Felicia Strunk addressed board members regarding school safety. Strunk expressed concern that visitors can go where they please after they’ve signed into a school, that pickup procedures are as secure as they could be, and that students (particularly small ones) are not being taught how to respond during lockdown drills.
Though she said she understood if the district cannot afford more School Resource Officers (SROs), Strunk suggested that mesh or clear backpacks be required for students and that doors should be locked with someone stationed there (perhaps volunteers in the VIPS program).
“School safety should be above all,” Kidd said. “If kids don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. We have to have the two SROs back.”
Superintendent Arthur “Donnie” Wright noted administrators would have to look at the budget and called upon Director of Pupil Personnel Schyler Jones to follow up on his December safety report. Before getting underway, he commended Strunk for speaking out. “I would be concerned if no one was concerned.”
DPP Jones noted that all facilities have cameras except the preschool, where they are soon to be installed. He suggested a new fence for the preschool as well as safety vestibules for Pine Knot Primary, Pine Knot Intermediate and McCreary County Middle schools.
After consulting with McCreary Central High Principal Sharon Privett, Jones also recommended gates for drives around the JROTC and science wings as well as increasing security at the track. Another possibility would be to have a security station on Raider Way, although it would require additional personnel. The district is also exploring safety training for substitutes. He noted that school officials must balance security measures not only with finances but also with the community.
“We don’t want our buildings to look like prisons,” DPP Jones said. “We’re all the time talking about parent involvement,” which is important.
The safety discussion led into the a presentation from Leonard Bowers of Ross Tarrant Architects. The Lexington-based firm recently led the local planning committee through an update of district facility plan, approved every four years. The committee recommends closing the existing preschool once additional classrooms can be constructed at Whitley City Elementary and Pine Knot Primary schools. The plan also calls for new safety vestibules for the three facilities which don’t already have one.
A public hearing to gather comment on the plan will be held at 5:30 p.m. on February 28, just before the next regular board meeting.
Discussion moved from security to finances with Kidd asking for a motion to rescind the Accounting Manager position the board created last month.
Kidd, who had before voted against the position, argued on Thursday that board had been misled into thinking that the district’s auditor recommended the job be created. Apparently a summary of audit findings included the recommendation but the actual 64-page audit report did not.
Supt. Wright acknowledged that the auditor did not make the recommendation and theorized that his own note may have been mistakenly copied and pasted into the summary. Chairman Jones suggested that the clause be deleted. Bryson recommended that approval of the December 20 minutes be tabled until the issue could be resolved.
CLARIFICATION: Bryson first recommended deleting the clause so the minutes could be approved as amended, if all board members agreed. The board ultimately tabled the matter for an upcoming meeting.
The board then heard from Christy Sizemore regarding the 2013-2014 draft budget. Although she stressed not all numbers are available at this time, Sizemore told board members that the district could be facing an $881,000 shortfall for the coming year.
Projected losses include a state ADA (average daily attendance) reduction from $3,833 to $3,827 per student — a mere $6 which translates to $103,000 for the overall budget. Loss of student enrollment (projected 11 students) could cost $42,000. Based on a January 8 SEEK forecast, Sizemore estimated a $10,000 reduction in those funds. Capital outlay funds could be reduced by $9,000.
The district must also cover salary increases for personnel depending on their time with the school system. Rank changes are estimated to cost an additional $30,000 while other increases amount to $40,000.
The draft budget also includes a $43,000 KSBIT (Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust) 20-year bond repayment. Two weeks ago, KSBIT announced a $50+ million deficit which all current and past members will have to help cover. While Supt. Wright would only say the figure is an estimate, the budget allocation — multiplied by 20 years — indicates the district could be assessed $860,000.
Supt. Wright said district leadership will be working on options for the school board to consider with the tentative budget approval scheduled for March.
In other business, the board:
• approved the first reading of an Educational Enhancement Opportunity Policy revision, offering guidelines for students who are truant or failing classes.
• hired Winter Huff to replace Larry Bryson as board attorney. Bryson expressed his appreciation for school officials but cited a need to reduce his travel/work schedule.
The next meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education will be held at 6 p.m. on February 28.