Ava R-I Hears About Sunshine Law; Appraises Procedures and Budget

By Sue Curry Jones

Ava R-I School Board members assembled on Wednesday, Jan. 13, for an evening study session of board education and procedures. The meeting started at 5:00 p.m., and the agenda cited the following topics:

  • Sunshine Law presentation by Tom Durkin, Public Education Director for the Attorney General Chris Koster;
  • Parliamentary procedure video from the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA);
  • Board self study, MSBA tool review and options; and
  • Budget fiscal year 2017 report.

Attending from the Attorney General’s office, Public Education Director Tom Durkin addressed the board and imparted an important Sunshine Law philosophy for board members to embrace as foundation.  He advised to always operate from a point of honesty, with good cause –– as that is the only way they can stand the test of scrutiny.

Durkin said, “Every board action should be interpreted in a way to promote transparency.”    He noted “Sunshine Law permits closed meetings, but closed meetings are not mandated.”  Board actions best serve the community when meetings offer a full and fair discussion and topics are not sequestered from the public.

Many times, he said, “closed session meetings create fear, and if people in the community believe something is going on, then the board is not serving the community or the school.”

Durkin also posed, “How you are being perceived is vitally important.  Do you want to be seen as a light that is construed as unfavorable?  The board must be judicious.”

In the presentation, the board was advised that the Sunshine Law is an absolute to strike an accord to better serve.  Durkin challenged the board to develop a relational experience with the community and be compliant.  He advised that it is important to reach out to the other side and make the process easier.

As Durkin concluded the talk, he cautioned the board, “I would like you to do these things, so items never go to court.  Always stress transparency, and make decisions that serve the community. We want you to see the good.”

While giving specific recommen­dations to the board, Durkin also clarified certain rules by providing examples and case histories that showcased proper implementation as well as inappropriate action.   He briefly walked through policy rules dealing with record requests, fees, response times, and the custodian of records.

According to the state handbook, Missouri Sunshine Law is deemed the “open meetings and records law.”  The purpose is to nurture transparency and fairness in all aspects of government, and set a uniform tone for openness in public policy.

Before moving to the next agenda topic, President Randy Spurlock provided each board member with paperwork for evaluating Dr. Nancy Lawler and assessing her annual job performance as superintendent.  Spurlock advised evaluations must be completed prior to Tuesday, Jan. 19, as during the meeting, the board will discuss how effectively Lawler has fulfilled contract commitments and duties.  The superintendent is designated and chosen by the school board, and serves under board rule not only as administrator, but also as representative for the district, the community, teachers and students.

During a MSBA review segment of the meeting, as a group, each board member answered a set of ten questions on district policy.  Four of the ten questions are shown below, with the board’s overall response in parenthesis. Answers were totaled into per­centages, and broken down into confidence levels:

  • The cost of my district’s board approved professional development plan exceeds one-percent of the district state received funds. (50%, 33%, 17%)
  • Children and adults are safe in district building. (80%, 20%)
  • Board members seek pertinent data prior to making decisions or taking action.  (71%, 29%)
  • Board conducts itself in a polite professional manner during board meetings. (83%)

Lawler said the MSBA tool is a training option for board members, and several formats are available for purchase.  Board President Randy Spurlock recommended using the tool that includes 2-½ hours of one-on-one instruction for a cost of $350, and $100-plus in travel fees. The board concurred, and Lawler agreed to pursue the option.

The 2017 budget presentation started with an overview of the national economy, and a Moody Report recommendation to move cautiously through 2017.  Dr. Nancy Lawler noted predictions for 2016 have garnered optimism for a higher revenue stream, but predictions for 2017 are warranting careful and watchful spending.

Lawler advised two positions will be eliminated in 2017 as one teacher will retire, and a shift in staffing will occur at the fifth-grade level.  These actions are budget cuts.

Lawler said it is important for Ava R-I to remain competitive with other districts by attracting good teachers, and as a point of reference, she cited (teacher) entry-level salary standards from other nearby districts.  The numbers were given as follows:

Ava                            $29,296

Willow Springs            $30,506

Salem                         $30,250

Thayer                        $29,705

Mountain Grove           $29,300

Another change being considered by administrators and principals is the number of teaching days in the school year, and the pros and cons of 171 instruction days, versus 168.

Bears Den funding ends this year, Lawler reported, and a non-grant proposal to maintain the program is on the Tuesday evening agenda.  She noted the likelihood of a new grant offering is possible, but notice has not been received.

In the Bears Den report, it was noted the afterschool program  provides a safe, curriculum-based learning environment for students, and to-date the program has been predominately funded by grant monies. In the grant, requirements such as transportation are stipulated, and mandatory for compliance. However, if Ava R-I chooses to fund a similar program with district monies, the goal is to meet student needs, but other stipulations as previously required in the grant, would not be implemented.

The Bears Den budget for 2015-16 is $266,000, and board member Bart Ellison asked administrators to provide details on the current budget figures, for comparison purposes.

It was noted Bears Den is open to all Douglas County youths. And, other area schools charge more than our district for a similar program.  In Ava, the fees are:  students who buy lunch at full price, pay a Bears Den fee of $2 per day; reduced/free lunch students, pay $1 a day; and, families with multiple students pay a capped fee of $25 per week.

Citing technology, Lawler advised the school must continue to shape and upgrade the infrastructure.  She advocated the use of Chromebooks or NetSupport School for eighth grade students, and the use of Apple iPads for elementary students.

Under capital projects, Lawler reported the next group of HVAC units is ready for replacement; and, the board must be assessing what the ‘next big campus project’ should be.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Henry once again presented three bus plan options for revamping the district transportation system.  The three options are as follows:

 

Option #1: District Owned

18 routes,

16 part-time employees, salary $14,107 each;

2 full-time employees, salary $39,148.89 each;

(salary/benefits total $304,019.86)

fuel  36,235 gallons, $3.25 gallon, $117,763.75

mechanic salary/benefits $35,000

director salary/benefits      45,000

insurance                        23,000

per bus repairs/upkeep        3,500

purchase 15 buses*      $ 324,000

construction of bus barn*  50,000

*construction of the bus barn and purchase of 15 new buses will be met in a 10-year loan commitment with 4% interest. A payment of $45,438.84 will be paid annually, and is included in the total below.

District Cost:  $660,222.45

 

Option #2:  Leasing Company

18 routes,

$185 a day

Days of school: 171

Fuel: $117,763.75  ($3.25 gal)

District Cost: $687,193.75

 

Option #3: Multiple Contracts*

18 routes,

short routes, 20 hours weekly at $17/hour ($21,468)

long routes, 25 hours weekly at $17/hour ($26,460)

short route wear & tear       $ 4500

long route wear & tear           6500

fuel:  $117,763.75  ($3.25 gal)

District Cost:  $559,099.75

*In Option #3, bus driver hires are based on qualifications and use of a scoring guide. A scoring guide places value on each item deemed important, such as job experience, which might lend five points for 3-5 years of bus driving experience, or 10 points for 8-10 years. The scoring guide provides a numbering system for measuring candidates.

 

Approximately 18 residents were in attendance for the duration of the meeting, with several bus route owners and drivers present as well.

All seven board members were in attendance, as well as Logan Little, student body representative.