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Ava R-I Board Remains Divided –– Votes Support New Busing Contracts

Recent storms and lightning inflict damages on baseball field scoreboard and campus equipment. 

By Sue Curry Jones

The Ava R-I School Board met on Thursday, July 21 for the regular monthly session of business.

During the meeting, many points of information were given; however, the contract agreements for student transportation dominated as the topic for discussion.

Board members present were Troy Tredway, Bart Ellison, Marsha Aborn, Randy Spurlock, Ron Wallace, Lowell Strong and Vernon Johnson.

At the onset of the meeting, board members approved prior meeting minutes, the financial summary of fund balances, and payment of monthly bills totaling $176,210.70.

Addressing items associated with the new busing and transportation contracts, Superintendent Dr. Nancy Lawler walked board members through the changes Attorney Karen Bates-Crouch had been instructed to make to the documents, which were now deemed ready for approval.  The documents are entitled Agreement for Right to Contract for Services of Bus Contracts, and Contract for Servicing of Bus Route.

Here is a brief synopsis of each proposed contract agreement:

The Agreement for Right to Contract for Servicing of Bus Routes defines the route to be serviced and the date service commences.  It also states the fee the contractor or bus route owner pays for the right to contract the route.   This document allows the contractor or bus route owner to assign, transfer or sell their Right to Contract to another party, with board approval.

The second agreement entitled Contract for Servicing of Bus Route(s) states the contract is for a period of one year, and may be renewed in perpetuity.  It also defines general provisions of the agreement such as start/end dates, compensation and base pay, mileage reimburse-ment rate, driver and sub training requirements.  The contract details obligations of the district school board, contractors, vehicle require-ments, and driver obligations.

During the meeting, one change was added to the Agreement for Right to Contract for Services, and that item stated the contract must be signed and turned in by Thursday, July 28, 4:00 p.m.

In the Contract for Servicing of Bus Route, a provision was added stating route owners would be paid for 168 school days, whether school was in session or not.  Lawler noted this insertion removes the ‘headache” of trying to tabulate actual service days for bus routes each school year and eliminates confusion associated with snow days.

Additional changes to the Contract for Servicing of Bus Routes were as follows:

  • A clause was added stating the district will provide training for one driver and one substitute driver. This insertion replaced the prior clause which specified a training allowance of $25.
  • A clause was added specifying the global positioning system (GPS) is to be in operation at all times during route service.

Board member Marsha Aborn noted this requirement is helpful in the case of a bus breakdown and is being implemented as a safety issue.

Lawler referenced GPS as a way to oversee fluctuations in routes.  As an example, she referenced an 82-mile route noting if the daily GPS mileage should fluctuate between 81-83 miles each week, that is okay; however, if the mileage fluctuation is regularly more than that, administrators will meet with the driver to verify the route and determine if the course needs to be adjusted.

  • The board also discussed how to handle the termination of a contract, and decided the fairest option would be for the district to buy back the route for a cost factor that does not exceed the original price, as agreed upon at the onset of the agreement.

Board member Troy Tredway noted this “buy back” option is consistent with the Right to Contract for Services of Bus Routes.

  • Pre-Trip tickets will be turned into the office as usual.
  • The code of conduct for school personnel, as delineated and outlined in district policy was added to the contract agreement. The rules will apply to drivers and contractors.
  • Compensation for mileage was increased by 3.16%, which equates to an additional $330 annually to the base pay of each route owner. This change also includes a 3¢ increase to the dirt and paved roadway formula, raising payment for dirt road travel to $2.63 per mile, and paved miles to $1.87. The 3.16% increase is comparable to the board approved increase given to non-certified staff for the upcoming school year.

In the discussion, it was noted the route owners have been operating at least three years at the same rate, without any increase to base pay or mileage.

Motions to approve all the changes and notations were by Lowell Strong and Marsha Aborn.

Board members voting approval of the new contract and figures were Lowell Strong, Marsha Aborn, Troy Tredway and Randy Spurlock.

Opposing votes were from Bart Ellison, Ron Wallace and Vernon Johnson.  However, immediately prior to the vote, Wallace voiced his intentions to “go on record” that the new contracts were contrary to recommendations cited by Missouri School Board Association attorneys. He said the MSBA found fault with the text in the contracts.

Board member Troy Tredway responded to Wallace’s comments by explaining that the write-up Ellison and Wallace sent to the MSBA was not an actual contract for legal review, but a piece of paper with talking points for re-structuring the transportation contracts.  Tredway said the newly proposed contracts, as written by Attorney Karen Bates Crouch, have never been presented to the MSBA for review, so this issue is a moot point.

In a 4-3 split, board members Ron Wallace, Bart Ellison and Vernon Johnson voted against the proposed slate of route owners and drivers for the 2016-17 school year.  The list included the following contractors and routes:

Route 1 – Gary Harvill;

Route 2 – Roger Sanders;

Route 4 – Bill Holt;

Route 6 – Roger Sanders;

Route 7 – Dwain Turner;

Route 8 – Randy Duckworth;

Route 9 – Jan Turner;

Route 10 – Randy Jenkins;

Route 14 – Judy McFarlin;

Route 15 – Rolla Swofford;

Route 17 – Jerry Wagner;

Route 18 – Dewayne Nash;

Route 19 – Clay McFarlin;

Route 20 – Brenda Miller.

Motions to accept the list were by Lowell Strong and Marsha Aborn, with votes in favor by Strong, Aborn, Spurlock and Tredway.  The motion carried.

During the initial vote to approve the list of proposed contractors as cited above, Larry Vinson was intentionally omitted due to his familial relationship with board member Lowell Strong.

Vinson, who operates Route 16, was voted on in a separate ballot, with Lowell Strong abstaining.  In the action, votes in favor of Vinson were cast by Aborn, Spurlock and Tredway; however, with dissenting votes from Ellison, Wallace and Johnson, the motion did not carry and Vinson was initially denied the right to a contract.

In a recall vote, Vinson’s route was approved 6-0, with one abstention from Strong.

In the discussion, it was noted Routes No. 3, 5, and 11, operated by David Stillings, David Dooms, and Alvie Dooms, respectively, are being absorbed and serviced by other route contractors.  It was also mentioned that Routes No. 12 and 13, which were previously operated by Mick Swofford and Jim Miller, may be open and available.

Lawler advised the contracts will be revised as approved by the board, and ready for contractors to pick-up on Monday, July 25.   Contracts must be signed and returned to the school by Thursday, July 28.

Lawler mentioned it would be timely to publish a generic request for qualifications and advertise for route drivers, so if the district has openings and is in need of operators, board members will have applicants to review and approve.  As a follow-up to the issue, the board scheduled a meeting for Monday, August 8, at 6:30 p.m.  At that time the board will assess what route contracts have been signed, what routes are filled, and what routes remain open.

In closed session, Daryla Richards was approved as Title I aide and vision improvement program imple-menter for the 2016-17 school year.  Richards previously served as a special education paraprofessional.

Lawler reported recent lightning strikes damaged several areas of the school, and as destruction is being uncovered, cost factors continue to add up.  In addition to costs, Lawler advised the damage repairs will be covered under the school’s insurance policy.  Items mentioned as damaged and affected by the strikes, included the fire alarm system, middle and high school classroom bell system, baseball field scoreboard, projectors, ten electrical switches, 18 phones, six computers, a fax system controller, and hail damage to the greenhouse roof.  Concern was also expressed that several roof-top air conditioning units may have been hit as well.  At this time, repair costs were deemed to be around $32,000.

Lawler noted summer school was a success, and adding two weeks to the program format will have a positive impact on student numbers.

The school has not been notified of grant funding for Bears Den, so the program will continue to operate as an after-school program this fall, with sessions lasting until 5:30 p.m.  The program will be available to pre-school through sixth-grade students, and middle and high school students will be offered one-hour of tutoring.

Lawler said school tutoring hours have decreased.  She noted numbers will be reviewed for accuracy as it is important to verify student needs are being met.

Auditors will be in-house July 22-26 to prepare the final audit.  Lawler said projected deficit spending for this past school year is $254,000.

During the upcoming MSBA fall conference Sept. 29 – Oct. 2, several staff members will present informa-tion on Ava R-I’s Student Leadership program, Care-To-Learn and the Truancy Court.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Henry reported funds earmarked for technology will be renewed for this school year.  For the fall term, Henry noted teachers are in the process of matching classroom applications to state standards, and to further assist them in their efforts, a professional development day will be held Thursday, Aug. 4.  The speaker will explain how to transition into state standards.  New teacher orientation is scheduled for August 11.

In a 7-0 vote, the board adopted Federal guidelines for the free and reduced lunch program. Motions to adopt were by Aborn and Wallace.

The board also approved Ozark Therapy as the student occupational and physical therapy group for the upcoming school year.  The vote was 7-0, with motions by Wallace and Tredway.

Upcoming events noted for school board members were as follows: admin retreat, August 3; Booster club kick-off, August 5; new student pre-enrollment, August 8-9; kindergarten kick-off, August 15; district teacher work day, August 16; and the first day of school, August 18.

The annual board of education facilities walk-through is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 18, at 5:30 p.m. The tax rate hearing will be held at 6:15 p.m. on Aug. 18, along with the regular board session at 6:30 p.m.   Meetings are open to the public.