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Lawyers, busses and money

By: Greg Bird

Board hires new attorney, discusses bus routes

It was a busy two days for the McCreary County Board of Education last week, meeting twice in two days to discuss legal representation, the budget and school bus over crowding.

On Wednesday the Board met in special session with two aims in mind. First was to interview and possibly hire a new Board Attorney. And the second was to review the working budget before the final approval slated for the Thursday meeting.

With all Board members present, Chairperson Nelda Gilreath called for a motion to approve the agenda. Brandon Kidd made the motion, with Debbie Gibson seconding, but when calling for a vote, both Roxanne Shook and Larry Davis voted against.

Shook, who opposed the last special called meeting, restated her displeasure at a second meeting, when the regular session was scheduled for the following evening. Shook also stated her displeasure in the fact that she was not informed that a candidate for attorney would be present and a vote was expected.

Davis echoed Shook’s concerns, saying he was under the impression the Board was concerned about the budget.

The motion passed 3-2 and discussion turned to attorney Jeff Hoover of Jamestown.

Hoover, who was in attendance, informed the Board that he serves as Board Attorney for both the Russell County and Adair County Board of Education, and would be honored to serve McCreary County as well.

“I have no agenda,” he said, adding his role would be to provide legal assistance and guidance to both the Board and the Superintendent while representing the School District according to Kentucky guidelines.

Hoover, who also is the Kentucky House of Representatives Minority Floor Leader, stated he would not attend every Board meeting if hired, but would review the agenda and speak with the Superintendent prior to each meeting to determine if his presence would be required.

He was also asked his opinion on “working sessions” in regards to the budget, and whether it was advisable for only one or two Board members being asked to participate in such meetings.

Hoover said it could be considered an open meetings violation if the meetings were closed to the public, or no notice of such meetings was advertised.

After further discussion, Kidd made a motion to retain Hoover as attorney with Gibson seconding. The motion passed 3-2, with Shook and Davis voting “nay.”

According to Hoover’s letter of introduction presented to all Board members, he would charge $150 per hour for his services.

The Board also met with District Finance Officer Christy Sizemore, who provided an update on the Working Budget, which the Board would be required to approve before September 30.

The Board approved a Draft Budget in January and a Tentative Budget in May, but the Working Budget would be the final budget the District would operate on for the remainder of the school year.

Sizemore informed the Board since they have already approved the salary schedule for the school year, the only changes they could make to the budget would be in the operating budget.

With automatic salary changes due to rank increases and the raise mandated by the state, the biggest change between the tentative and working budgets were in salary costs.

In Thursday’s regular called meeting, held at Whitley City Elementary School, the two main topics of discussion were bus routes and the proposed construction of two indoor batting facilities for the baseball and softball teams.

Superintendent Donnie Wright presented the Board with an update on bus routes.

Last month a question was raised by the Board and members of the public about reports of overcrowding on some busses.

Wright, and Director of Transportation Donna Stevens said there was some issues at the beginning of the school year, but those had been worked out. Stevens said some busses were operating at capacity, but never overcrowded.

“Sometimes we have three to a seat, but never four,” she added.

Bus drivers in attendance did state overcrowding did occur, particularly on some after school routes where students were transported to day care or after school programs.

Concerns were also raised about the length of time some students spent on the bus; with some very early morning pick-ups and late afternoon drop offs.

“Mr. Wright, there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed ASAP,” Kidd said.

The issue, Stephens  said, was not a lack of busses, but a shortage of bus drivers. She stated the Bus Garage had been advertising to hire new drivers, but have not had any luck in finding people to fill the positions.

One concern, apparently, was low pay combined with a decrease in insurance coverage.

Board member Gibson stated the Board intended to do something about the low pay when work begins on next year’s budget later this winter.

Finally, the Board discussed approving plans to construct new indoor batting facilities at the McCreary Central baseball and softball fields.

The issue was tabled last month when the Board learned most of the donations for the project were for the baseball facility, and planned construction of that building first would be a violation of Title IX, which guarantees gender equity in sports.

Chairperson Gilreath opened discussion stating the Board wasn’t against either project, but wanted to ensure both teams were being treated equally.

The Board was informed that over $770,000 was in the construction fund, left over from the high school expansion project three years ago. Since the money can only be used for construction related projects, it could be used for the batting facilities.

Jeff Terry, speaking as a parent of a baseball player and uncle of a softball player, said the project should have been considered when the high school project was ongoing.

“We shouldn’t punish the kids for the decision that wasn’t made then,” he said.

Tim Moore, who has been working on securing donations for the two projects said the actual cost to the Board would only be about $25,000-$30,000 when completed.

The cost shown on the BG-1 forms (a required document to begin any construction) for each building (approximately $36,000), which will be heated and cooled for year-round access for both teams, can be misleading since the value of materials have to be shown as cost.

He stated he has already secured a donation of materials from one donor for the baseball facility, but has not approached the donor about a similar donation for softball, but guaranteed that the girl’s team will get equal treatment.

With those assurances, the Board unanimously voted their approval for both projects, as well as a project to renovate the gym floor at the high school out of the construction funds.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education will be on October 23, at 6 p.m. at McCreary Central High School.

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