By Mark Bell Contributing Writer
February 20, 2014
Two months of difficult winter weather has challenged the Harlan County Board of Education to make necessary changes to its school calendar to make up for the 19 days of instruction missed thus far.
During their regular meeting Tuesday, the board approved one of three options presented by Brett Johnson, director of pupil personnel, that removes the first three days from spring break yet still allows students to be dismissed before the end of May.
While discussing the various proposals, Superintendent Mike Howard noted the need to keep the final day for classes within the month of May because attendance tends to suffer when the calendar extends into June and the district’s finances suffer for it.
Though the budget is in line and the school system is currently in good financial shape, he said, as responsible administrators they need to avoid situations and scenarios that would cause the state to reduce the level of funding it provides.
The board members noted, under current statutes, schools that miss more than 20 instructional days can appeal for some relief and not have to replace all those days, but Johnson reminded them the county’s original schedule includes an extra five instructional days so to meet the requirements of the law Harlan County would have to miss “around 26 days” to gain any advantage from that option.
“And we certainly don’t want to have to miss 26 days,” Howard said.
The board also did not want to take away all the days from spring break, which left them with one option. The calendar will be adjusted from 175 six-hour instructional days to 170 (the minimum required by state law) that still gives the district the mandatory 1,062 hours.
This option also accounts for a local election day and the Memorial Day holiday in May. Spring break will be April 3-4 and the last day for students will be May 27. Closing day for teachers will be May 28 and teachers will have planning/work days until June 4.
This remains the best of current options, Howard said, noting that should additional days be missed due to weather, the board will need to make more adjustments.
“I think we’ll be back to change it (because of the weather),” said board member Wallace Napier.
Besides the winter weather cancellations, three elementary schools — Wallins, Cawood and Evarts — missed instructional days this year due to interruptions in utility services. The district requested and was granted disaster day declarations for each from the state education commission and they do not have to be made up.
In a related matter, Napier noted the big electric bill the school district just received for the prior month. Though somewhat reluctant to discuss it, Howard did acknowledge to the group that it was in the amount of $102,000.
“Which is a big pile of money,” the superintendent said.
While the district has taken steps to conserve power where it can (i.e. shutting off computers on weekends, using fewer lights and switching to more efficient lighting), Howard said the expense required to maintain heat in large and mostly old buildings during the bitter cold the past six weeks to avoid ruptured waterlines was “pretty much unavoidable.”
The new energy manager was formally hired at the January board meeting and has been working for most of the past month evaluating the district’s facilities. Some recommendations are expected as soon as the evaluation process is completed, the superintendent told the board. The position is being shared with the Harlan Independent and Letcher County systems.
In other action, the board:
o Approved payment of claims totaling $545,012.93;
o Allowed the eight elementary schools to apply for the RTA grants;
o Approved a shortened school day for a special needs student at Evarts Elementary School;
o Approved a reciprocal contract agreement with Letcher County Board of Education for the 2014-2015 school year;
o Approved Black Mountain Elementary School’s request to apply for the 2014 Waste Tire Market Development crumb rubber grant;
o Approved payment of entry fee for Kentucky Farm-to-School Junior Chef competition;
o Approved Cawood elementary’s request for a schoolwide fundraiser with proceeds for incentives for good faith effort on KPREP testing and end-of-year trip for honor roll and perfect attendance students;
o Allowed distribution of Food Play Healthy School Package to each elementary school;
o Approved advertising for bids for food service food and food service supplies for the period of July 1 to Dec. 31;
o Awarded school food service bids for pest control services for April 2014 to April 2015;
o Approved advertising for bids on portable and stationary freezers/coolers;
o Approved advertising for bids on full and half size warming cabinets;
o Approved advertising for bids for a double stack combination oven for Green Hills Elementary School;
o Approved participation in the Berea College Gear-Up grant o Approved Green Hills Elementary School eighth grade trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., on May 24;
o Accepted the School Facilities Construction Commission offer of assistance in the amount of $84,449 for annual debt service on bonds to be sold for proposed construction or major renovation of facilities;
o Approved a tentative staffing plan for 2014-2015;
o Approved the purchase of high school track equipment not to exceed $35,000
o Heard an employment report of three certified hires, 10 classified hires and 10 resignations.