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Ava R-1 Board Makes Statement Regarding Nepotism Accusations

Some attending deemed meeting “a joke

By Sue Curry Jones

The Ava R-1 School Board met in regular session Thursday, Aug. 21, but prior to convening the business meeting, the board set the tax levy rate for the 2014-15 school year. During the tax rate hearing, the board voted 7-0 to maintain the tax levy rate of $2.75.

During the two sessions held last Thursday, board members started each meeting with the prepared statement given below –– the write-up was read at the onset of the tax rate hearing at 6:15 p.m., and once again, at the start of the regular business meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. President Randy Spurlock read the notice both times, asserting the board’s opinion as:

“The Ava R-I Board of Education has sought legal counsel and has legal guidance from multiple attorneys. At this time, our district counsel does not believe that an act of nepotism has occurred with the affirmative vote cast by Ron Wallace to appoint Vernon Johnson to fill the vacated board position. Therefore, at this time, we will continue on with board business with our seven member board.”

Due to the alleged violation of the nepotism rule, as cited by Douglas County Prosecuting Attorney Roger Wall, Matt Buhrman of KSPR 33 attended the board meeting. Prior to the session, Buhrman said KSPR had received several phone calls and emails alerting the station to the controversy and board meeting to be held that evening. Later, Buhrman’s report aired during the KSPR newscast at 10 p.m., and the video and news report are still available for viewing on the KSPR web site, under News. Several local residents were interviewed for the newscast.

At the conclusion of open session, several spectators collected outside where they expressed disappoint­ment and reproach upon witnessing the board’s actions and behaviors. Others, leaving the site in dis­belief, voiced embarrassment for students and staff starting the new school term amid controversy.

However, during the meeting, the following recognitions and voting actions took place:

• Introduction of new faculty and staff members.

• Recognition of office personnel: in elementary – Rita Swofford, and part-time assistant, Debbie Towell; middle school – Barbara Strong, and part-time assistant, Debbie Towell; high school – Katrina Matney, and Sabrina Wright; and administration office – Monica Ray, B. J. Sterling and Teresa Stillings.

• In the board spotlight segment, the school board recognized Taylor Haltom, son of Trish and Nathan Haltom, for an outstanding year in golf. In the presentation it was noted that throughout the season, Haltom consistently attained one of three top positions in competitions, and at the conclusion of the school year, was rated 11th in the state rankings.

• Approved payment of monthly bills totaling $429,502.01.

• Approved the 2013-14 Board Report and Year-End Summary in a 7-0 vote. Motions to accept were by board members Dan Watson and Johnny Burkdoll, the vote 7-0.

• Adopted a tuition increase of $295.01 per student for the 2014-15 school year, raising the total cost of tuition to $6,775.71 per student. Motions to accept the increase were given by board members Marsha Aborn and Johnny Burkdoll, with a 7-0 vote.

• Approved a service agreement with Missouri School Board Assn. (MSBA), wherein MSBA provides updates and info on current laws and policy revisions. The contract is fee based.

• A transportation rate increase of $10.75 was adopted for the 2014-15 school year, making the fee $933.63 per student. Motions to adopt were tendered by Marsha Aborn and Vernon Johnson; the vote was 7-0.

• In a 7-0 vote, senior graduation was approved for Saturday, May 16, 7 p.m. The motions to accept were by Burkdoll and Johnson, and the vote was 7-0.

• A legislative revision updating language in the Conflict of Interest Ordinance was approved via a 7-0 vote. Burkdoll and Watson made the motions.

In other business, a six-member group of Douglas County residents appeared before the school board last Thursday, asking for time on the September meeting agenda. The request was denied.

Peggy Charcoal, spokesperson for the group, briefly noted the group’s concerns about the Missouri State Standards and Common Core Curriculum presently used in Ava Schools, and in turn, she asked for an opportunity to address the board and present information on the issue. Charcoal noted she has attempted to schedule agenda time with the board since July, but to no avail. She said citizens have the right to bring items to the board for consideration, and as a group, they would like to update the board on issues associated with common core curriculum.

Again, Charcoal was denied a spot on the September agenda.

Board president Randy Spurlock directed Charcoal to the school’s curriculum committee. Spurlock commented to board members, “if she doesn’t get answers there then she can come back to the board.”

Assistant Superintendent Mike Henry gave a brief overview of the Annual Performance Report for the last school year. Henry advised the data is used to pinpoint academic concerns, or positive factors, such as growth. He said the report looks at academics, attendance, graduation rate, and college & career ready rate, and helps direct the staff on how to make adjustments in the classroom.

According to Supt. Nancy Lawler, during closed session, the board discussed real estate and legal issues. No votes were taken.

Lawler also reported summer school attendance numbers reflect a slight increase.

Opaa! Food Management officers and representatives made a brief presentation re-explaining the five-year contract the school has with the firm, as there had been questions on work flow and number of employees staffed in the school cafeteria. The discussion revealed that Ava may staff additional help, if needed. The board and food service agency also agreed to communicate better in the year ahead.

In the contract for 2014-15, Opaa! representatives noted breakfast and lunch fees have increased slightly, and additional menu options will be announced in October.

Individuals participating in votes and actions, in both board sessions, were Dan Watson, Marsha Aborn, Jeff Davis, Randy Spurlock, Vernon Johnson, Johnny Burkdoll, and Ron Wallace.

The next regular business meeting for the Ava R-1 board is slated for Thursday, Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m.