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Wright weathers storm

The Board chose not to act on a possible action concerning Superintendent Donnie Wright’s contract.

By: Greg Bird

A three-hour meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education ended with little fanfare Tuesday night as the Board chose not to act on a possible action concerning Superintendent Donnie Wright’s contract.

While the Board did spend nearly 90 minutes in executive session, the closed-door proceedings were to discuss several student issues.

According to the agenda, the Board was slated to enter into a second executive session to discuss a personnel issue, then return to consider possible action regarding Wright’s contract and duties.

But when the meeting reconvened at 9:00 p.m., Board Chairman Brandon Kidd stated he felt the Board did not need to take any action on the matter at that time and called for a motion to adjourn the meeting.

Wright has been under pressure from several members of his Board since budget reductions forced the lay-offs of several teachers over the past two years.

Some Board members were unhappy with Wright’s budgets, and were very critical of other actions.

Before regular business was attended to, the Board voted to change their regular meeting date and time to accommodate the schedule of Board Attorney Jeff Hoover.

The vote to move the meeting to the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. was unanimous.

The meeting opened with a presentation from Yvonne Blair from the Kentucky Department of Education regarding a bullying program offered by the state, which would come at little to no cost to the District.

Blair said if the Board decided to put the program into use, she would train staff members at each school, who in turn would be able to instruct the other staff in the workings of the program.

The only potential cost would be if the District wished to purchase additional materials to supplement the program.

The Board seemed very enthusiastic to learn more of the program, and asked Wright to follow up and report what additional costs could be expected.

The bulk of the open session centered around various aspects of the budget for the next school year.

District Finance Supervisor Kristi Curry informed the Board that the District will most likely see a reduction in funding from the state through the Support Education and Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK ) program.

Curry stated the state overestimated its own funding, and notified all 174 school districts in the state that the funding would have to be adjusted.

The McCreary County School District could see a decrease of about $50,000 than what was projected in the tentative budget presented in October of last year.

The funding decrease will most likely impact the next year’s budget, leading to a projected shortfall in contingency funds if additional revenues are not found or cuts made elsewhere.

Curry did say she didn’t expect the new totals for SEEK funding to change for the worse in the next few months, and believed there is a possibility that additional funds could be found for budgeted salaries in positions that have not been filled or vacated due to retirement.

Sizemore followed with some good news; informing the Board of more than $58,000 left in accounts from old construction projects that the Auditor had recommended be returned to the General Fund. Curry stated the monies were left over from projects that had not been closed out properly, and would help bolster the contingency fund.

The Board unanimously voted to approve the transfer.

Discussion turned to a feasibility study conducted by Curry regarding the possibility of granting an additional one percent raise to classified staff.

Classified staff, such as cooks, bus drivers, custodians and instructional assistants, are to be granted a state mandated two percent raise next year, but the Board asked Curry to determine what the additional cost would be if the District offered an extra one percent.

According to Curry’s calculations the additional salaries would cost an extra $25,000 for the first year (with $5,000 of that coming from the Food Service account.).

“If that’s the amount, go for two percent,” Board member Debbie Gibson said.

Board Chair Brandon Kidd agreed, stating-  “One percent is a no brainer.”

The Board asked Curry to come back with another calculation for a two percent raise at a future meeting.

Curry next presented a draft budget to the Board, outlining projected incomes and expenses for the District for the next school year.

The Board will not have to approve a tentative budget until May, and a final budget until September, but the Board requested regular updates on the progress before those deadlines.

Based on information available at this point, and using projected salary expenses, Curry stated the expenses would exceed revenues by more that $346,000 if no changes were made before the final budget. If the discussed raises to classified staff and additional staffing for the McCreary Academy were included, that deficit rises to over $539,000.

She did note the District is overstaffed by four teachers, which could account for $200,000 if those positions were eliminated.

She also stated the current numbers were “not set in stone” and were just a projection to give the Board an idea what the budget could look like next year.

Assistant Superintendent Aaron Anderson next gave a presentation regarding the District’s role in the Pine Knot Career institute at the Job Corps Center.

The Board had been questioning the costs of maintaining a school within the federal program, and had requested more information.

Anderson stated with current enrolment numbers the District could expect to see a profit of $22,000 this year from the agreement, and that number could go up as enrollment increases now that the federal freeze has been lifted.

Kidd asked how the PKCI could report 100 percent daily attendance within the school, if students don’t attend classrooms daily.

Anderson stated he was unsure how that was possible, but the state allows it based on the unique nature of the program.

Kidd also questioned the nature of the education offered to the students at the Job Corps, noting the students don’t receive the same curriculum.

“I think it is a great program,” he said. “I just don’t understand how we can hold our high school students to different standards.”

Anderson agreed that the Board should be more aware of the educational aspect of the agreement, noting there was room for improvement, as with other schools in the District.

Kidd asked about the Principal/Teacher position the Board eliminated last month at the Job Corps, and was told there still is a substitute teacher filling the role.

“Isn’t that illegal?” Kidd asked.

He was told the Memorandum of Understanding between the District and the Job Corps requires that position to be filled.

It was noted, however, that the cost of the substitute was not figured into the reported $22,000 profit, and would actually mean the District is not coming out ahead with the current enrollment.

Superintendent Wright stated the Job Corps had requested the Board provide them with a idea if they intended to renew their contract with the center when it expires in June.

“He will just have to wait,” Kidd responded.

His concerns were the money being spent on the PKCI could be put to better use hiring teachers for the McCreary Academy, which teaches local students.

“It comes to a point where we have to take care of our own kids,” he said.

“I have a lot of questions,” Board member Rhonda Armijo stated. “I would like to look at it more before making a decision.”

Former PKCI Principal Mike Cash stated he believed there were several issues the Board should be concerned about, such as attendance and curriculum.

Board Attorney Jeff Hoover agreed, saying it was something the Board would have to talk about.

Discussion next turned to the District’s agreement with the Lake Cumberland Health District and the school nurse program.

The program, as it is currently run, costs the District $100,000 per year to pay for five nurses and the Health Department supplements they pay by collecting Medicaid reimbursements.

Due to increased costs, the Health District loses over $51,000 per year, and is asking the school districts in its area to consider one of two options to keep the program.

One option would be to hire the nurses directly through the District, with the LCHD providing oversight, but the Medicaid would be paid directly to the schools. The first option would cost the District only $8,000 more annually than they are currently paying.

A second option would be to hire and supply their own nursing staff, but if so, the schools could not get any refunds from Medicaid and would cost about $231,000 per year.

Before making a decision, the Board discussed a third possibility that would involve using an independent health provider.

Hoover, who also serves as Board Attorney for the Russell County School District, stated that district had recently signed an agreement with the Cumberland Family Medical Clinic, operated by Dr. Eric Loy, which provides health services at next to no cost to the district.

The agreement provides a nurse in each school, who is available to teleconference with a doctor or nurse practitioner in the event of an emergency.

Additionally, since the clinic is a non-profit enterprise, any excess revenue the clinic receives from medical billing for the school, can be turned over to the district.

The Board asked for more information on the possibility of the clinic providing a similar service to the school district, since it does operate a clinic in McCreary County.

The Board then entered into executive session to deal with several student-related issues.

The next regular meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education will be February 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Office.

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