Harlan, Letcher near agreement on students

November 19, 2013

After months of negotiation and delay, the school districts of Harlan County and Letcher County appear headed toward an agreement for their non-resident students.

During Monday’s regular meeting, the Harlan County Board of Education approved a recommendation by their attorney, Johnnie Turner, to grant their chairman, Gary Farmer, the authority to sign the agreement, which he expected would be approved by their counterparts in Letcher County and be in place by the end of the calendar year.

The details of the agreement, Turner said, would allow each district to retain the non-resident students currently enrolled and the state’s SEEK funding would follow them. Harlan County currently has 52 Letcher County residents enrolled, while Letcher County has 41 Harlan County residents in their school system, he noted.

Although negotiations for a multi-year agreement continue, this agreement will be for the current 2013-14 school year only, Turner added.

The board received an update from Jack Miniard, School Food Services director, regarding changes and improvements that have been made following criticisms by students and board members that garnered national attention during the late summer.

A committee had been formed — including students — to evaluate the quality and quantity of servings for school lunches and to explore options, he said.

Members of the committee have been attending “food shows” to see what vendors have to offer and to get an idea about costs. Early on the committee met weekly, Miniard noted, but they have moved to monthly meetings.

Where possible, serving sizes have been changed to still allow the district to remain within the nutritional guidelines set by the USDA. Special meal days are now included — such as a recent “Asian Day” — to introduce a broader variety to the monthly menus, he said.

More and different fruits have also been added to the daily cafeteria selections on the serving line.

One item of great concern has been the quality of the milk. Miniard told the board if the district switched to plastic bottles for the individual servings, the cost would increase by about $58,000 per year. After the Christmas break, school districts across the region will begin receiving a new brand, “Happy Cow,” which he said the committee and student groups across the state approved by taste test.

A chief student complaint with the milk choice has been flavor. It is now suspected that the current low-fat milk products have not been kept as cold as necessary until delivery to the serving line. Miniard said, unlike traditional milk products, these low-fat choices will not retain their satisfactory flavor if the schools do not keep them refrigerated until the time children receive them.

The board was also presented with its audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Artie White, CPA, of White and Associates in Richmond, told the board their school district “did an excellent job” in working through the auditing process with his team.

“You are a little slim on money,” White said, “but you are headed to greener pastures in the future.”

All major accounts were in good shape, he added. A continuing source of fiscal concern in all school districts are the “activity funds” that represent the cash transactions at schools. Because there is usually less oversight and control of those activities, there is more risk, he said.

“But I can’t see anything that would be embarrassing to the administration or the board,” he said, although he did recommend measures the school administration could take to improve oversight and accountability for those funds.

Superintendent Mike Howard was pleased to note the recent announcement that two students had been nominated for the Kentucky School Boards Association “First Degree Scholarship” Program. The students are Shannon Shackleford of Evarts, and Jacob Dixon of Cumberland.

In other action, the board:

  • Received a status report of the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust plan for workers compensation and the KSBIT Liability and Property Fund;
  • Heard an employment report from Howard that included five certified employments, two classified employments, and four classified resignations;
  • Received an update on the Energy Management Program approving a partnership agreement with the Letcher County and Harlan Independent districts;
  • Agreed to a request from county government to donate the old greenhouse from James A. Cawood High School, currently being installed at the Harlan County Detention Center, and pursue other options for an agriculture education program at Harlan County High School;
  • Approved the payment of claims totaling $716,014.50;
  • Declared laptops as surplus with no monetary value;
  • Accepted a bid from Cooler Trailers for a freezer/trailer for School Food Services at a cost of $20,497;
  • Gave permission to enter a statewide junior chef competition for three to five high school students, including expenses for students, coaches and chef with costs paid by School Food Services;
  • Approved stipend pay for the fresh fruit and vegetable program for labor to serve and distribute educational materials at a cost of $8,500 for the 2013-2014 school year;
  • Accepted bid from Heartland for updated inventory compatible with Mosaic for $3,815 for School Food Services;
  • Approved one hour of school board member training for Oct. 21 for assessment results;
  • Approved an extension of bid prices for school food and supplies through June 30;
  • Approved prices for meals, milk and a la carte extras for the 2013-2014 school year;
  • Approved the low bid (only bid) for a 36-inch heavy duty electric range for Wallins Elementary School lunchroom;
  • Approve the October worker’s compensation report;
  • Approved a memorandum of agreement with Teach for America;
  • Approved medical leaves of absences for four district employees;
  • Agreed to escrow $400,000 in a reserve for the worker’s compensation self-insurance program;
  • Approved an offer of assistance from the Kentucky Education Technology Funding Program (KETS) of $35,713;
  • Approved the Black Mountain Elementary School eighth grade trip to Cincinnati, Ohio on May 21-24;
  • Tabled a request for the Harlan County High School Senior Class trip citing the need for more information;
  • Approved a request for the Harlan County High School Dance Team to travel to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Dec. 6-8 for a competition;
  • Approved negotiations with state and county authorities to allow Cumberland Elementary School to install playground equipment for special needs children on the property of Sleepy Hollow Country Club;
  • Approved a request from Rosspoint Elementary School for a trip to Dixie Stampede for second and third graders on Dec. 6;
  • Approved budgeting $7,000 in band instrument repair through the district’s maintenance budget;
  • Agreed to hold the next meeting as a special called meeting on Dec. 16 at the Harlan County High School Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m.