In other celebration, Childress told of receiving a Walton Foundation grant in the amount of $36,262 which will be used to purchase trees for Glenn Duffy Elementary and Gravette Upper Elementary playgrounds.
Business manager Dennis Kurczek gave the March financial report.
Board members voted to accept the resignations of cheer coach Dana Betz, SPED paraprofessional Whitney Balentine, middle school teacher Joli Sotallaro, middle school secretary Alaina Carlton, high school culinary arts teacher Connie Nichols, high school paraprofessional Pam Verble, custodian Marleen Post and elementary art teacher Candace Erickson.
Foodservice director Sheila Roughton reported on the district’s child nutrition program administrative review. She said the child nutrition program is assessed and program applications evaluated to make sure they are processed properly and meals meet calorie guidelines. She said the Gravette school nutrition program is “right on track, right where we should be” and praised the “good crew” of women (and one man) she has in all kitchens. Boardmember Hope Duke said, “Thank you, guys” to all the food service workers. And in response to a question, Roughton said there have been changes in nutritional guidelines. Waivers allowed cafeteria workers to serve more food during the covid pandemic since there was more food insecurity. She said they are moving away from the old USDA guidelines and allowing larger portions since the food is more nutritious.
Superintendent Childress reported on the 2019-2020 annual performance report from the Arkansas Department of Education. She said there are a couple of areas to work on in special education. One is the graduation rate. A change for special education students will allow them to participate in an Alternate Pathways graduation. Every student will have to fulfill the required credits except those who will have to be cared for for life.
Superintendent Childress also presented the 2019-2020 annual statistical report. She said it is a required annual report with expenditures for regular and special education and many statistics. She also presented reports from the last three years for comparison.
She reported on the Meeting the Expectations of Our Stakeholders program and its goal of meeting or exceeding patrons’ expectations by 90% or more. She said surveys showed they were meeting that goal in parent-teacher communication, communication within the schools and overall school safety. Parents reported they felt the schools were making the students feel loved and accepted. They approved of the school rules and expectations and felt confident the rules were being enforced. Students’ assessments (from students in grades 3 through 12) did not rate the schools so highly, so Childress said administrators need to study the response to learn where students feel they fall short.
Board members set special meetings for hiring on May 3 and June 2. Candidates for middle school principal will be interviewed May 3 and board president Heather Finley said the board wants to recruit and retain the best.
In action items, board members voted to move forward with offering a wrestling program for both male and female students in the 2021-2022 school year. Superintendent Childress said she felt it was not too early to consider offering soccer for next year or at least setting a timetable for offering it but new turf is needed or some dirt work needs to be done at McAbee Stadium before games could be played there. Board member Jay Oliphant said he felt the main concern about adding soccer was the possibility it would dilute other sports by taking away participants. He said he was not too concerned about the cost because “I think we can afford it.”
Board members voted to approve the request to lease 750 Dell Chromebooks on a four-year lease for $47,889.57 each year. Money received from the Arkansas School Recognition Program will pay for Chromebooks at the middle school. Also approved was the purchase of 50 large screen televisions to replace older models. Cost of the 50 TVs, mounts, tablets and Airtames will be $140,650.75 including installation. Kurczek said some money from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds might be used for this purchase. Hope Duke suggested donating the older TVs to other school districts which might be able to use them.
Board members approved expanding the scope of the renovation project at Western Benton County Career Center to include a renovation of the old alternative learning center building for use as an academic service center to help struggling students. Duke said she approved of the renovation and hoped the historic structure could be preserved. ESSER funds have been approved for use on this project. Asbestos will have to removed from the building and Crossland Construction says it will be December before the project can be completed. Jay Oliphant said he wants to challenge them to move up that completion date.
Transportation director Richard Carver attended a workshop in February and learned the Motor Carrier Association requires a trainer and the school will apply as a training center this summer. Board members voted to move one of the drivers, Chad Whitehead, to Bus Tech 2 and he will become the trainer. Bus drivers must have 303 practices on theory and behind the wheel. The trainer must have been a licensed CDL driver for three years and Carver said this will be tough on all districts as it’s already hard to get new drivers. He said he would like to simplify the training process and make it as easy as possible. He noted that school buses are already the safest transportation in America.
Board members approved the legislative audit. Superintendent Childress said it was an excellent audit, with no findings, and praised business manager Kurczek and Lisa Sizemore for the “amazing job” they did working with the auditors.
Also approved were the special education title assurances. Special education director Vickie Johnston explained these were just assurances that any funds received for special ed will be used according to federal rules and meet guidelines. The intent is to hire highly qualified personnel and make sure reporting is done properly. She will also need to collaborate with the Title I, Title 9 and other federal programs and make sure records are provided when children move.
Approval was given to posting a job opening for an educational examiner for the 2021-2022 school year. The district has had one working here only two days a week as she was shared with other districts. Cost of this examiner will amount to $50,000 by the end of the year, but a full-time examiner is needed and the district will offer to pay a full-time examiner a $46,045 beginning salary. Superintendent suggested hiring an examiner who could give special ed support so the district would save money and also provide additional services.
Board members voted to approve standardizing employee contract lengths. Childress explained this will help streamline the payroll department and help it run more efficiently. This action will eliminate seven contract lengths. Fourteen employees will be affected by the change and all are okay with it, she said.
Salary and staff recommendations were tabled until the May 3 meeting to allow time to consider how to be more competitive and retain the school’s excellent employees. Oliphant commented that the Gravette School District wants to be competitive with other districts across the board. The district also wants to compensate employees well financially in every area. Board members also voted to rehire all classified staff for the 2021-2022 school year.
At the conclusion of the board meeting, members went into an executive session to consider employment. When they returned to regular session, no action was taken.