By Sue Curry Jones
Controversy surrounding student transportation was once again the focus of the Ava R-I School Board meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 19, in the school. Emphasis on the topic of student transportation initially started last year in June 2015 when Superintendent Dr. Nancy Lawler declared a committee was being formed for the purpose of improving busing costs. Initially, individuals serving on the committee were bus route owners Larry Vinson, Mick Swofford, Alvie Dooms, Clay McFarlin, Billy Holt, and school board member Marsha Aborn. The group held their first meeting on July 14, 2015, and in that meeting, Ava R-I administrators began to challenge the efficiency of the current system, as well as who has ownership of the bus routes.
In last week’s meeting, and after nearly six months of wrangling over the issue, the Ava R-I Board voted to place student bus routes on the bidding block, with intentions to complete the task in three months. The vote was 5-2, with board members Marsha Aborn and Randy Spurlock dissenting on the issue.
Prior to the meeting and the vote, however, school administrators had already made the decision to engage Steve Bryant, of K-12 BIZ of Union, Mo., as a consultant to assess and reconfigure student bus routes. The cost of Bryant’s introductory visit, which took place on the Friday after the board meeting, was $2,000. As part of the agreement, the current system, with 20 routes, will be evaluated and re-configured into 18 or fewer routes.
According to Lawler’s timeline, a revised route plan will be completed in one month, and bids on the new routes will be solicited in March.
In a January 2016 closed session, board members also voted to offer route owners a buy-out settlement of $578,262.40 for all routes, with an additional $6500 added for legal fees. The final vote was 5-2, with board members Randy Spurlock and Marsha Aborn dissenting.
The settlement agreement states the school board agrees to purchase each route, with total payment due on June 1, 2016. Lawler advised the payment money would come from the fund balance, rather than a loan, as previously discussed.
In last week’s meeting, it was announced all route owners had signed the agreement, and according to terms of the document, the group must stand together as one or the deal is canceled. The agreement also contains a 21-day cooling off period before it is completely final.
In a prior board session on Dec. 21, 2015, board members had voted unanimously to work with bus route owners, and find a more agreeable solution, rather than adopting one of the options cited by administrators. This action offering bus route owners hope of a better solution and reaching a truce was ignored. To-date, the board has not taken any steps to fulfill any of the principles as stated in the motion and vote.
Accordingly, administrators and board members are offering Options 1, 2 and 3 as previously presented, and no other choices.
The options are briefly explained as follows: Option No. 1 –– a district-owned busing system with transportation venues managed by administrators, for an estimated cost $660,222; Option No. 2 –– contract with a bus fleet service, and estimated costs of $687,193.75; and Option No. 3 –– to request bids on each individual route and meet transportation needs accordingly, by hiring multiple contractors.
The board voted for Option 3.
In last Thursday’s meeting, during public comments, board candidate Troy Treadway, who had filed a request to be on the meeting agenda, addressed the board noting discrepancies in the proposed options and cost figures presented by the board:
“Since my career and livelihood has been in the field of maintenance and repair for almost 30 years, I have some knowledge about this topic and what kind of building is required to perform these duties effectively. In 2003, I built a shop for my business that is 20 feet less in depth, and a few feet lower in height, than what the school would need for a bus maintenance building due to the size of the buses. The two bay bus shop the school proposed to perform maintenance, repairs, and daily inspections on their fleet of school buses would need to be a minimum size of 60×60 feet in size. …
“Materials are now 40% more than in 2003, which would raise the cost for a shop equivalent to mine to approximately $60,000 for materials alone. Labor usually runs about the same price as materials, leading to the estimated price of $120,000 for a shop equivalent to mine in structure and size, if I were to hire a crew for construction. …. The proposed budget of $50,000 by administration is completely unrealistic. … the true approximated costs can easily reach closer to $150,000 or more.
“…we can look at the information given on January 7. At this meeting Mr. Henry stated the school would purchase 18 buses manufactured from 2003 to 2011. When asked about replacement, he stated he would not replace one bus a year, but rather replace one bus every five years. School Board, do you realize at that rate of replacing one bus every five years it would take 90 years to replace the 18th bus? And with the final replacement bus being a 2011, it would be 95 years old when replaced. …
“Another very important topic I would like the board to consider is that the administration continues comparing the cost of these new plans to what the budget allowed for the current transportation system of about $780,000, when the actual cost for that year was under the budget allowed at around $710,00, which narrows the gap between plans even more to our current system. What I am trying to get across is that we currently have the lowest priced system already in place with less administration hours spent to keep it running. It would be financially irresponsible for the present school board to do away with the current system only to implement another one at a higher cost…to offer less service to the community with shorter routes, putting more burden on the parents driving their children to new pick-up and drop-off points.
“In conclusion, in the December board meeting that was open to the public, board member Dan Watson made a motion, which was voted on and approved, to make no further decisions or take action on open bids or implementing another system until February or later to give board members time to meet with the drivers and see if there were any cost saving solutions in order to save the current system. I have heard from several bus drivers that there have been no attempts to have such meetings, and on the contrary, there were private meetings held by board members, lawyers, and administrators just days after the new year with the intentions to dismantle the current transportation system through a buy-out proposal. I demand that the school board either agree to complete their obligation of the unanimous vote concerning board member Dan Watson’s motion, or make a new motion to rescind the previous approved action … in this meeting tonight.”
President Randy Spurlock thanked Treadway for his comments, and the board continued on with the agenda.
In closed session, board members voted to extend contracts held by Clint Hall, elementary principal; Marcella Swotash, middle school principal; Teresa Nash, high school principal; and Nathan Houk, assistant high school principal. The contracts were extended one year.
Erin Swofford, who serves as process coordinator, was promoted to Special Education Director, for the 2016-17 school year.
Steve Sanders, alternative school teacher, resigned his extra-curricular position as assistant football coach in high school.
In other business, the board voted on the following items:
- Payment of monthly bills totaling $216,057.77.
- Accepted a bid for $12,800 from Houk’s Lawn Service, to mow and maintain the sports complex, from March 1 – Nov. 1. Nathan Houk and Dean Mitchell submitted the bid. Houk is assistant principal at Ava High School.
Additional bids were received from: M&R Asphalt Services, Mike Hampton, $53,550; Miller Lawn Service, Doug Miller, $15,000; Elite Lawn and Home, Erick Smith, $33,500; and John Burkdoll and Mick Swofford, $45,000.
Motions to accept Houk’s bid were by Bart Ellison and Vernon Johnson, and the vote was 7-0.
- Melissa Dalton was approved as a 2016-17 cross-country assistant to Coach Liz Kyger. The motion cited Kyger’s retirement at the end of next year, and noted Dalton will then assume the responsibility of coach. Motions were by Marsha Aborn and Jeff Davis; the vote was 7-0.
- Approval was given for a girls middle school softball program in Spring 2017. The vote was 7-0, with motions by Dan Watson and Ron Wallace. Athletic Director Rex Sawyer noted participation numbers have fallen off, and efforts are being made to get more students involved.
- With motions from Dan Watson and Vernon Johnson, the board voted 7-0 to re-instate KPM CPAs, of Springfield, Mo., as the audit service provider for the upcoming year. KPM’s bid cited a cost factor “not to exceed $17,500.”
A second submission was also received from Elliott, Robinson & Co. LLP of Springfield, Mo., for a cost of $14,750.
- Six evaluations were accepted, with each program receiving a 7-0 vote of approval. Evaluations were on the following fields of study: library media, vocational, business education, vocational family and consumer sciences, and agriculture.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the board meeting room located on the north side of the Decker Library building. Meetings are open to the public.
Video of the meeting may be viewed at: http://bit.ly/avasb022016