The Ohio County School Board had a special called meeting on Tuesday night and it was the first meeting with Scott Lewis as the Ohio County Schools Superintendent. During the meeting the board approved changes to the dress code, approved obtaining bids for asphalt sealing and sparred over budget cuts and bus driver monthly compensation.
— Chairman Brad Beatty called the meeting to order and began a discussion on federal budget cuts that would be occurring over the next ten years. Beatty told the board he read an article about federal funds being cut by as much as 10 percent over the next ten years. Beatty was alarmed by the cuts.
(To hear the audio from the meeting of the federal budget cut discussion, click here.)
According to Lewis, the school system was okay for this year because they had put aside ten percent of the federal funds received as a contingency. Beatty was pleased with the contingency set aside, but feared that money would be used during the current fiscal year to offset federal cuts, leaving the board without that contingency for the cuts made in future years. Beatty wondered if the board should take further measures to prepare themselves for the next fiscal year, meaning further reductions of the Fiscal Year 2013 school budget.
Board member Jay Raymond asked Lewis how much of the schools’ budget was made up of federal money. Lewis didn’t have the totals in front of him, but he did say that the contingency set aside was $100,000 and that was ten percent of the federal money.
“Most of our money is not federal money,” Lewis told Jay Raymond.
“So that’s a small piece of the pie?” Jay Raymond asked.
“Small compared to the overall budget,” Lewis answered.
Beatty was concerned that the federal money pays for several jobs in the school system and a reduction in money could cause a reduction in jobs.
Lewis told the board that he hoped to find some savings in the general fund and use those in offsetting any cuts and agreed that the school board needs to be conservative going forward and thought they had been for the Fiscal Year 2013.
— Beatty then turned the meeting over to Lewis. Lewis thanked everyone for helping him make an easy transition. He then welcomed Jan Allen to the school district. Allen will be the local area manager for pre-school and headstart.
Jay Raymond then asked if he could speak and welcomed the new superintendent.
“It’s a pleasure to have you sitting up here with us, Scott,” Jay Raymond said. “I look forward to…I’ve got two and a half years here, maybe four, I want to welcome you and I appreciate all your hard work and your actions since you’ve been at the post.”
— During new business, the board approved an emergency first and second reading of a board code policy on “Dress and Appearance.” The changes in the policy were no visible body piercing other than the ears, clothing must be designed to fit at the waist and shorts can not be shorter than three inches above the knees. These changes will be added to the school district dress code as well.
— The board approved a motion to allow the superintendent to accept the low bid on multi-function devices needed for the schools. Lewis believed that to get these devices purchased and in schools before the school year begins, he needs to be able to accept bids in a more timely matter than to wait until the next school board meeting for approval.
— Next on the agenda was a recommendation from Lewis to approve bus driver monthly compensation. This would compensate drivers for bringing the buses in for inspection, the reimbursement of electricity costs of plugging the buses in at their homes during the winter, the washing of the bus, etc. Basically anything that bus drivers pay out their own pockets to maintain their bus. The drivers plug their buses in during the winter because diesel fuel has a tendency to gel in cold conditions.
(To hear the audio from the meeting of the bus driver compensation discussion, click here.)
Lewis recommended that the bus drivers be compensated a flat monthly rate for their expenses. The yearly total for the compensation would be around $12,000.
Beatty was concerned about approving the motion because the cost of compensation was the same salary as a teacher’s aid.
“That’s an aid’s salary that we’ve tried to save and now we’re giving back,” Beatty said. “I know it’s small potatoes, but at the same time, it’s the small potatoes that we’re going to have to do in order to meet the budget.”
Board member Barry Geary then entered the discussion.
“Here’s the thing that I see, Brad. We’ve got a new superintendent and I think it’s time that we rely on him, let him lead this district and not us try to handcuff him in what he’s doing,” Geary said. “I don’t think he’s going to do anything that would put us in a bind or anything.”
Jay Raymond was concerned that perhaps there were some legal issues in not compensating the bus drivers for their out-of-pocket expense.
Board member Dwight Raymond wondered what the cost would be to send someone out to jumpstart a bus in the winter that hadn’t been plugged in overnight.
“My concern is that this is just the start of unraveling all the budgetary savings we put in place,” Beatty told the board. “And if we’re just going to nitpick and pick at one item and then the next, then it leaves the whole package of savings we put together ready to be picked apart. And that’s not something I want to see because frankly, we can’t afford it.”
Beatty continued, “If we reinstate this concession, then we’ll have this next group come to us and say, ‘Now give me what you took away from me, back.’ I just don’t want to set that precedent just yet.”
“Actually there was no group that came to me,” Lewis told Beatty. “I think that’s the right thing to do and that’s why it’s on there (meaning the agenda).”
Jay Raymond wondered if the compensation wasn’t part of the job description of a bus driver.
“I would hope it is and if it is, well they get compensated for that if it’s extra time,” Jay Raymond said.
Beatty then suggested that the bus drivers should then be paid an hourly rate. No one else on the board seemed to be in favor of that suggestion. Jay Raymond described putting the drivers on an hourly rate as a potential “nightmare.”
The discussion ended and Beatty called for a vote. The motion to approve the monthly compensation of bus drivers passed with a 4-1 vote, with Beatty voting no.
— The board was asked to approve the request to get quotes for asphalt sealing of several schools. During this discussion, Lewis told the board that two of the three schools that needed asphalt sealing could wait until next year. Typically the asphalt needs sealing every three years and the Ohio County High School and the Ohio County Middle School have gone three years without sealing. Lewis recommended the board obtain bids to seal the Horse Branch Elementary School’s asphalt. Horse Branch’s asphalt has gone 8 years without sealing.
Money was put into the 2012 budget for patching and sealing of Southern and Wayland Alexander’s asphalt. It was believed that $15,000 was set aside for this work, but there was no money budgeted for asphalt sealing in 2013.
It was decided that the board would take bids on asphalt sealing. Lewis said that there would be two bidders and possibly three for the job. A motion was made to get bids for asphalt sealing. The motion passed unanimously.
— Next the board was asked by the superintendent to approve a fee based pre-school program. Lewis said this was something that the school system had looked at to increase the enrollment in pre-school. This program will start in Wayland Alexander and Horse Branch Elementary this year. There will be 15 to 20 slots open for students between the two schools. The fee will be $175 a month.
— Next Lewis informed those at the meeting about some goals he hopes to meet during his time as schools superintendent. He said that technology and career readiness will be a big focus of the school system going forward. Lewis wants to increase the use of technology for the students and to do this, the schools have worked on a “bring your own device to school” program for the middle school and high school and in the future, all the schools. This would mean that students would bring in their laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. to help their education. Lewis believes that’s the way kids learn today and that’s the way the schools need to be instructing.
Lewis also wants to make sure the school system can live within its budget and prepare for tough times. He also wants improve relations with the community and the staff of the school system.
Beatty asked the board members to come up with their own goals that they would like to see Lewis meet, so they can better gauge the job he is doing as superintendent. Beatty hoped the board members would get those to him by the next meeting.