By: Greg Bird
In a very contentious McCreary County Board of Education meeting Superintendent Donnie Wright faced upset citizens and an antagonistic Board when tackling several hot topics during a special called meeting last Thursday.
After opening the meeting and hearing brief updates on the McCreary Academy and academic progress, Board Chair Nelda Gilreath opened the floor to several citizens, who were in attendance, including former Board member Joyce Kidd, who is also a grandparent of a student.
The concerned citizens confronted Wright and the Board regarding several issues.
The first topic centered on a teacher recently hired at McCreary Central High School.
The teacher, who resigned from teaching at Wayne County High School amid allegations of an improper relationship with a female student in 2008, never had any criminal charges levied against him in the case, and passed a criminal background check prior to the hire.
Additionally, his teaching certificate had been suspended for two years, but has since been reissued, and he is on a 5-year probation period.
Board Attorney Winter Huff tried to forestall the discussion, noting it was a personnel matter, but Board member Brandon Kidd stated it was a safety issue.
Wright said the Site Based Decision Making Council at the High School interviewed applicants for the teaching position and chose to hire the teacher in question following the interviews.
When asked if a policy could be put in place to prevent a similar situation arising in the future, Huff responded that the Board couldn’t change hiring policies.
Wright promised to meet with the parents after the meeting.
Next, a question was raised concerning overcrowding in school busses; with one parent claiming that at least one route had five kids to a seat.
Kidd stated he was upset over the allegations since 8 bus driver positions were cut when the Board set the budget for the coming year.
Wright stated some bus routes were decreased due to budget issues, but two of the drivers let go have been hired back, and at least three more are working as subs. He stated he would speak to the Transportation Manager and gather information on the situation.
Kidd also questioned a proposal to surplus six school busses, that issue was tabled later in the meeting.
A third parent spoke of concerns with the McCreary Middle Cheerleading program, and the lack of a coach. Wright stated the Board had no control over the program at the middle school, but would be happy to meet with the principal and parent to discuss the issue the next day.
After taking care of routine issues in the consent portion of the meeting, more discussion was held on several financial issues.
A lengthy discussion arose concerning a proposal to create a $3,500 stipend for a maintenance worker, who had stepped up to perform additional duties in the stead of the head maintenance worker who had retired last year.
The majority of the Board, which had tabled a similar request last month, did not seem pleased to discuss adding additional pay for one employee when the district is facing financial difficulties.
Wright stated he highly recommended granting the stipend because the employee in question has worked on his own time several times in the past year and assumed a leadership role.
While Board members Larry Davis and Roxanne Shook voiced their approval, the other three members balked at the idea, and the motion was voted down, 3-2 against.
Attention turned to settling the assessment from the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust. Last year, the insurance carrier announced its dissolution due to debt issues, and would be assessing school districts that had carried policies with the group in an effort to settle the deficit.
The McCreary County School District had a policy with KSBIT for 16 of the past 23 years and was hit with an assessment totaling more than $600,000.
Since the announcement the case has been in litigation, but the moment school districts across the state were dreading finally came – payment was due.
The Board was presented with three court ordered options, none of which were met with much enthusiasm.
The Board could have opted to pay the entire assessment, in full, by next month; or pay 25 percent of the total amount due and pay the remainder within six years; or opt to participate in a bond issue, which would pay off the debt within 15 years.
With the assessment totaling $587,277 the options to pay the full amount, or even a percentage would not be possible under the School District’s current financial situation, so the Board opted to take the third option of issuing a bond.
If the school district’s financial situation improves, the bond could be paid off early with no penalties – easing the interest burden on the issue.
The bond will carry a 3.8 percent interest rate and will require annual payments of about $57,000 until 2029.
Board Attorney Huff advised the Board that the issue is still in litigation, but under the court order they still had to decide on a repayment option and the first payment submitted to KSBIT.
Finally, Mike Cash, Principal at the Pine Knot Career Institute, spoke concerning a Memorandum of Understanding between the school district and the Job Corps. The district provides staff and materials to provide education to students with the Job Corps, granting high school diplomas to students who complete the courses and meet eligibility criteria.
Cash, who was named Principal at the PKCI last year after the moving of the McCreary Academy to the high school, stated
“Once I got there last July, we had a whole lot of problems,” he said.
Cash alleged he discovered several irregularities when he took over the position, including a lack of curriculum, and students and staff being held to different standards than in other McCreary County Schools.
In order to remedy the irregularities, Cash stated he made changes to the MOU for the Board to approve.
Cash stated he did not change any financial details, only clarified language within the document and more clearly defined what responsibilities both parties have within the agreement.
Cash and Wright differed at how much SEEK funding the school district receives from students within the PKCI. Cash contended the district actually lost money once salaries for the teachers were factored in, while Wright stated Cash’s numbers were incorrect and the district not only was self-sustaining, but additional fees generated go toward maintaining other essential programs in the district.
Wright cautioned that the joint effort between the school system and the U.S. Forest Service was important, and did not want to see it jeopardized.
“If we lose that partnership it will have severe ramifications to our school district,” he said.
The Board approved the MOU by unanimous vote.
The memorandum will next be sent to the U.S. Forest Service for approval.
In other actions Thursday, the Board set the property and motor vehicle tax rates for the coming year and tabled approving a construction plan for an indoor batting facility at the high school (See accompanying stories in this week’s Voice).
The next meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education will be on September 25 at 6:00 p.m. at Whitley City Elementary School.