by Johannes Brann
If there is one month in the year when school boards typically have two meetings it is the month of June. The regular meeting is usually about summer school and physical plant items and maybe a few last minute hires while the special meeting, at the end of the month is focused on budget matters.
True to form, Thursday evening’s regular meeting of the Northeast Vernon County R-1 School Board heard an update on work in its buildings, approved a presentation on organ donation to students, adopted a salary schedule for certified employees and, in closed session, approved the hire of several teachers, staff and coaches for the coming school year.
On hand were board members, David Bruce, Heather Brown, Heath Brown, Connie Gerster, Deland Prough and Mike Newman; Scott Pritchett was unable to attend. Also present were Elementary Principal Kendall Ogburn, incoming Superintendent Chris Holcomb, Superintendent Charles Naas, as well as two representatives from Energy Solutions Professionals (ESP) – the firm overseeing the district’s heating and air project – Chris Salzmann, business development manager and Rick Ginestra, project manager.
Handing out drawings of the elementary and high school buildings, Salzmann and Ginestra provided a status update. The project – encompassing work at both the elementary school in Schell City and the High School in Walker – includes a whole new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. The $1.1 million program is largely being funded by federal moneys provided as part of COVID-19 relief.
“As you can see, at both the elementary and high school buildings we’ve made great progress,” said Salzmann. “What’s holding us up is delivery of the large outdoor condensing units; once we have those, the rest of the hook ups will go fast.”
Ginestra believes delivery of the condensing units could be in late July or more likely in early August. “So we still hope to have everything done by the first day school,” added Salzmann.
The board discussed providing students information on organ donation.
Explained Holcomb, “It makes sense to do this when students are about to get their first driver’s license because that’s a question they’ll be asked about for information on the license.”
The incoming superintendent said a presentation will be given, along with materials to take home to their parents.
The board gave its approval by a 6-0 vote.
The incoming superintendent updated the classified (non-teachers) salary schedule and reviewed that with the board.
“The one we have now uses annual salary amounts and these days, most folks think in terms of what they make per hour and so I adjusted the schedule to show that and what they can expect in terms of raises based on years of service,” explained Holcomb.
By a vote of 6-0 the board adopted the salary schedule.
In his report, Ogburn said the first two-week session of elementary summer school had about 27-28 students each day. Due to families going on vacation, the second session – going on now – has a bit lower attendance.
Explained Ogburn, “The after-school reading program we launched last year definitely brought up our poorest readers but we’re finding that spending time on reading in summer school is helping everyone read better, which is fundamental to all learning.”
During the hiring process for its new superintendent, the board was offered several hours of training to supplement what is required by the state for all board members. The board directed its President, David Bruce, to set up such a training.
While the elementary school has had a single custodian for a number of years, the high school has had two. The retirement of both of those custodians, one with 20-years of experience and the other with 30-years, led the incoming superintendent to propose the hiring of only one person for the high school.
With the adoption of its current budget in May, the Missouri General Assembly has promised to underwrite a minimum certified teacher salary of $38,000 in each district of the state. For the next two years, the General Assembly promises to underwrite this by providing 70-percent of the cost while the other 30-percent is to be funded by the local school district.
As explained the next day in a separate interview with the outgoing superintendent, “that’s a huge raise for our staff,” said Naas.
The starting salary for a first-year certified teacher at NEVC had been $29,000.
“In our old salary schedule, being paid $38,000 meant you had at least a master’s degree and about 20-years of experience,” said Naas.
The result of this, explained Naas, is the district must give a substantial raise to its most experienced teachers as well as administrators.
“But those costs are not underwritten by the state but have to be absorbed by us,” said Naas.
While not giving precise numbers he said it was placing a significant strain on the budget at NEVC as well as on the budgets of many other small districts. As a result, all cost savings are being explored, such as consolidating custodial positions.
“But understand, our teachers and staff work hard, do a good job and deserve more, and so I am glad the General Assembly is doing this,” added Naas.
Upon voting to enter closed session, the board hired a custodian for each building, a para-professional and a number of certified staff which rounds out all positions. Also, the board reviewed and approved a list of coaches for volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball.
And true to form for June, the board is set to gather next week for its budget meeting.
On hand are (from left clockwise) Superintendent Charles Naas; board members, David Bruce, Heather Brown, Connie Gerster; Elementary Principal Kendall Ogburn; incoming Superintendent Chris Holcomb; and board members Mike Newman and Deland Prough. Board member Heath Brown arrived later.