by Johannes Brann
Thursday evening’s regular monthly meeting of the Northwest Vernon County R-1 District school board approved the 2023-2024 school calendar, adjusted graduation requirements, accepted a settlement regarding the old solar panels, adopted a resolution on open enrollment and heard reports from administrators.
However, it was during discussion of a new position that the most significant issue of the meeting came up, that is, getting the district in full compliance in several areas prior to on-site visits in the next school year.
On hand were board members David Bruce, Connie Gerster, Scott Pritchett, Mike Newman, Heath Brown and Deland Prough; Heather Brown was with family.
Holcomb told the board, “Be prepared for a long meeting in March as we will be presented with the regular audit for the 2021-2022 school year and what they call the ‘single audit’ because we received over $750,000 in federal funds as part of the three rounds of ESSER funds.”
Congress approved three rounds of emergency Covid-19 aid to schools known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER)..
“I expect we’re going to get dinged on quite a number of things,” added Holcomb. “And so I, our bookkeeper and with the help of several outside our school, we are cleaning up and making sure we are coding and entering things properly on a consistent basis.”
Holcomb assured the board that no funds are missing but instead, during the transition from the previous superintendent to himself, some numbers were not properly coded and entered in the right places which has taken longer than he hoped to straighten out. He thanked his predecessor, Mr. Naas, for making several return visits to clarify a number of things.
The superintendent continued: “As I said in one of my first board meetings with you, I’ve been working in a number of areas, trying to do what I call streamlining so we do things properly the first time, avoid getting dinged for anything, reduce waste and make sure we qualify and apply for money and in-kind grants which we’ve been missing out on.”
Holcomb sought authorization for a full-time director of food service and buses.
“I know this may seem a little unusual but having a single person overseeing both of these areas will really help us in several ways,” said Holcomb. As to those helps, he cited closer adherence to all regulations, maintenance and on-time submission of necessary paperwork and reports, central ordering as well as qualifying and applying for financial and in-kind grants.
“Right now in food service and with the buses, we’re missing things such as getting timely oil changes on the busses and applying for commodities and other sources of food we qualify for plus centralizing our ordering,” said Holcomb.
He added that this person would also be expected to fill-in in case of an absence in either the elementary or high school kitchens as well as serve as a replacement bus driver.
Asked about the salary, he indicated it would be an hourly position.
“But let me make this clear. I am fully convinced that with the right person in the job, this position will keep us in compliance, eliminate a lot of headaches and more than pay for itself,” stated Holcomb.
The board approved the hire on a 6-0 vote.
Turning to the school calendar for the 2023-2024 school year, Holcomb prefaced the discussion.
“Finding and retaining teachers is an increasing challenge,” began the superintendent. “The main reason districts are going to a four-day school week is to attract and retain teachers; teachers like having three-day weekends.”
He said the proposed calendar tries to capture some of the time advantages of a four-day school week while still having five-days of school, which is often easier on parents and provides a safe place with nutritious meals for children.
In terms of time, the proposed calendar has 159 contracted/working days for teachers, compared to 169 this year. Of those days, 150.5 will be with students present, compared to 161 for the current year. The first day of school is listed as Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 while the final day is Thursday, May 2, 2024.
In terms of vacation, this calendar has one full week off at Thanksgiving, two full weeks at Christmas, a full-week again for Spring Break, along with a four-day weekend for Good Friday and Easter plus at least one day off every month. The proposed teacher work day would be from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. while the student day would run from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“I should add that students will not have to be picked up any earlier,” said Holcomb. “And even though the number of contracted days does go down, certified staff salaries will not decrease.”
The proposed calendar has seven class periods in a day, instead of the current eight. The final period of the day would be a non-credit study hall which would be a 29-minute period. This would be the meeting time for clubs and class-meetings and be a way for sports teams to leave early without missing a core class.
Holcomb told the board how a poll of staff resulted in a vote of eight opposing the change while 40 gave their approval.
The board gave its approval on a 6-0 vote.
The superintendent informed the board that the new calendar necessitated a change in the number of credits in order to match state requirements with the number of classes being offered and needed for graduation.
The needed credits will move from the current 30 for those graduating in 2023 and will drop one credit per year until it levels off at 26 credits with the class of 2027 and thereafter. This too was approved on a 6-0 vote.
Last year’s addition of a pitched roof at both the elementary and high schools necessitated the removal of the old solar panels which have not been operating for some time; the high school has about 90 panels.
“We still owe $60,000 on them and they’re an older generation that solar companies don’t want.” reported Holcomb. “But after a lot of back-and-forth, they offered to settle our bill for $4,000.”
The board welcomed this offer and suggested that at next month’s meeting they be declared surplus and put up for sale on the district’s website.
The Missouri General Assembly is currently considering bills permitting what is termed “open enrollment” which allows students to be enrolled in another district and bring the tax money from their old district to the new one.
“Small districts like ours would be hurt the most; the loss of students and money could force some to close and others to merge,” explained Holcomb.
With a 6-0 vote, the board agreed and endorsed a resolution stating so.
Mr. Ogburn in his report noted an elementary enrollment of 99 while Mrs. McInroy said the high school stood at 110.
In closed session, the board accepted the retirement or resignation of four staff and the hiring of three certified staff and Jim Rayburn to be an assistant baseball coach at the high school.