by Johannes Brann
On the evening of the first day of school for the 2023-2024 school year, the Northeast Vernon County R-1 School Board set its property tax, removed two books from the English Department’s book list and announced the reception of six grants.
Since no patrons of the district attended the tax hearing, that session was brief. In the regular session, the seven board members unanimously approved a resolution to set the tax rate at $4.0778 per one-hundred dollars of assessed valuation. This is estimated to bring in $930,609.70 to the district.
The Missouri State Auditor’s office informs districts of the maximum rate permissible without going to voters for approval.
The R-1 district’s tax rate was $4.22 in the 2014-2015 school year but until the recent jump in land and home values (over $1.5 million); the district’s tax levy had remained steady at $4.1934. One year ago, mindful of inflation, the board chose not to raise the rate to the maximum allowed which was $4.1934 and instead set the 2023 rate at $4. As was noted at the meeting, this year’s raise in the levy is still less than the maximum allowable last year.
Board members present for the meeting included David Bruce, Heath Brown, Heather Brown, Connie Gerster, Mike Newman, Scott Pritchett and Deland Prough. Also on hand were the new Schell City Elementary School Principal Eric Rhodes, new High School Principal Dr. John Lawrence and District Superintendent Chris Holcomb.
The junior and senior high English teachers submitted a list, by grade level, of possible books to be studied in the coming year. Upon receiving the list and prior to the meeting, Holcomb shared that list with an English teacher he knows at Nevada R-5 as well as a retired English teacher from the Savannah R-III School District (20 miles north of St. Joseph) where he had served as Assistant Principal for several years.
No sooner had the board turned to agenda item entitled, “Approval of Novels for English Curriculum” than board member Heather Brown announced she had some questions and concerns.
“Overall, I think the English teachers selected a good variety and I really like the ones chosen for seniors. But I wonder if “House on Mango Street” with its sexual assault and “The Halloween Party” with its graphic events are really appropriate? There are so many good books out there; I’m sure they could find a couple to replace these two.”
By a 7-0 vote, the board struck off the list the above two books and gave its endorsement to the remainder.
As documented in a separate story, Holcomb announced the district had applied and received approval for grants totaling $183,450. For this school year, the superintendent had asked the board to create a single director of transportation and food service. Hiring from within, last year’s high school secretary, Mrs. Janice Graves, was promoted to this position. Starting on July 1, Graves located and applied for the six grants and the district was awarded each one, which will provide new equipment and more fresh foods for the breakfast and lunch program.
On a 7-0 vote, the board approved a resolution authorizing purchase of a 2023 Chrysler Pacifica mini-van for $44,000 from Fugate Motors in El Dorado Springs to replace the high school’s current mini-van which has had a series of costly repairs and 128,000 miles. The other option was a 2022 mini-van with 14,000 miles on it from Max Motors. When asked about how this is to be paid, Holcomb reminded the board of unspent ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds which must be expended by Sept. 2024. The motion approving the purchase included an amendment to the district’s budget which permits the transfer of ESSER funds and full payment for the mini-van.
Again giving a motion and unanimous vote, the board declared the many old desks, chairs, appliances along with a few sports banners as surplus property, eligible for sale. The Booster Club will be consulted to see if it wants to receive any of the items for use in a future auction.
Holcomb said, “I noticed it has been at least three years since the district has used any E-rate services.” The Federal Communications Commission oversees an Electronic Rate (E-Rate) program to make phone and internet access more affordable to eligible schools and libraries.
“Because this is a federal program with very specific requirements, it is best to hire a professional consulting service to handle the process for our district,” explained Holcomb. “I am proposing that we hire CRW Consulting out of Tulsa, they specialize in in E-Rate applications.”
When Heather Brown asked about the cost, the superintendent said there is a flat upfront payment of $1,000 for the application and then a charge of three percent of the total amount awarded to the district. In response to Bruce asking what the superintendent hoped to fund, Holcomb said the most immediate need was to replace the overhead wires between the high school and the gym with underground fiber optic cable and then other general upgrades. Again, by a 7-0 vote, the board approved a motion to hire CRW Consulting.
The board approved a conflict of interest ordinance.
In his first report to the board as principal, Rhodes quoted a first day enrollment of 99 students with 100 percent attendance. With new doors at the elementary and high schools, the district will be purchasing and installing a “Z-Lock” on each door for using in securing classrooms during an intruder alert.
Said Holcomb, “The Z-Locks are being funded by a generous $2,000 donation from MFA Foundation. They have and continue to be a valued partner of this district.”
Dr. Lawrence reported a first-day enrollment of 105, a successful pre-first day open house and teacher training in student engagement and the use of a variety of methods to assess student learning and knowledge.
In his report, Holcomb said the last day of school will be May 2, 2024 and paperwork has been filed for establishing an NEVC Foundation, a not-for-profit entity for the reception of donations and bequests.