One of the first items on the agenda during Thursday night’s Estill County Board of Education meeting was to consider the adoption of the “recallable nickel” tax.
Superintendent Jeffrey Saylor recommended that the board pass the tax increase “on behalf of the 2390 kids who attend school in Estill County.”
Following a few comments, board members voted to pass the tax increase by a vote of three to two. Jon Bicknell and L.W. Beckley voted against it, but Beckley praised Superintendent Jeffrey Saylor for his efforts to educate the community on the need for the tax.
“I think you’ve done a tremendous job in campaigning for it,” he said. Beckley also said that he’d heard a lot more diverse comments with this effort to pass the tax than he did the last one.
Beckley asked how much a special election would cost if it comes to that, and Saylor said that according to the county clerk, it would cost $25,000. He said that he has budgeted $30,000 for a special election if needed, with additional money for campaigning.
On June 15, during their regularly scheduled board meeting, the board will be required to hold a public hearing. That hearing is to begin at 6 p.m. If the board reaffirms their intent to impose the nickel tax on that date, the public has a 45 day window of opportunity to form a committee to circulate a petition. After that time, the county clerk would have 30 days to count and verify the signatures. Ten percent of those who voted in the last presidential election must sign the petition for it to be valid.
If enough valid signatures are collected, the county clerk notifies the board by certified letter, and the board will decide whether or not to hold a special election to put the tax to a public vote. County Clerk Sherry Fox said the results of any potential petition should be known by mid-August. A special election could then be held in late Sept. or early October, with the intention of getting it done before tax bills go out.
If a special election is held and the voters of Estill County reject the tax, an automatic 4 percent tax increase will be added to real and tangible property. There would be no matching dollars from the state with the four percent increase.
If no petition is circulated, the nickel tax, estimated to be 5.9 percent, will become effective immediately after the 45 day period.
The recommendation of the superintendent to approve a health care provider agreement with Family Health Care Associates (FHCA) was met with some resistance, particularly from two of the board members who are health professionals.
Saylor said FHCA would refund 100 percent of the cost to hire three nurses who would serve children in all the schools, as well as the teachers and staff. He said FHCA could offer “telemedicine,” essentially turning services into a clinic for primary care services.
The agreement listed the services provided to include immunizations, educational supplies as necessary, medical supplies such as ibuprofen, antacids, band aids, etc.; physician oversight, nurse practitioner availability; healthcare services available to infants of students; required school physicals, sports physicals, vaccines, flu shots, social work, behavioral health services and several others.
Board chair Rhonda Hardy, a nurse, expressed concerns that such an agreement with FHCA would take business away from local providers.
Board member Donna Isfort agreed. “It could put someone like Dr. Ong out of business,” she said. adding that the agreement with FHCA would be different from traditional school nursing that refers students and staff to local doctors. It would instead provide primary care within the schools.
Although at no cost to the school district, the services would not be for free but would be billed to insurance companies and the provider would make money.
When Superintendent Saylor said he wanted what’s best for the students, Isfort said, “I feel like every provider in the community wants to look out for our children.”
She asked about appointing a task force to look at the issue more closely, and Saylor agreed that it would be a good idea to form a committee and include a couple of board members on it. He suggested that “a group in the community” might want to come forward and provide similar services.
The general consensus of the board seemed to be that they would like local health care dollars to be spent locally. FHCA is based in Barbourville.
In other business, the board approved district staffing policy revisions. Three certified office staff members will work extended calendar days. The chief information/technician supervisor, will work 230 days instead of 210. The district novice reduction specialist will also work 230 days instead of 210 and will be in charge of social studies curriculum standards related to a new civics test that seniors will be required to pass in the future. In addition, a gifted education position will increase from 195 to 210 days. The overall cost will be $14,000 to the district for the additional hours.
Requests for teachers was approved for both high school principal Chris Winkler and middle school principal Tim Burkhart.
Further clarifications were made to salary schedules. Stipends for intermediate assistant principals were set at $2,000; district principals at $5,000, and the assistant middle school principal will now receive the same stipend as the assistant high school principal. Those positions are no longer based on an index but strictly on days.
Extra service salary supplements were made to the band director for the amount of $1,500, and to the public relations coordinator, whom Saylor said had not had a raise in ten years. A “Let Me Run” coach received a supplement of $250, which was grant funded. The total amount for salary increases was $4,000.
Transportation Administrative Secretary III and District Office Clerk days were also extended by 35 days.
A two dollar per hour raise was approved for the district’s diesel mechanic, whom Saylor and Transportation director Arthur Ballard estimate has saved the county $40 to 50,000 because they don’t often have to send buses out of county for repairs since the hiring of the mechanic.
Bus drivers were also given approximately a dollar an hour raise. The superintendent said they had been the “third or fourth lowest paid in the area,” but the increase brings them up to sixth in the area, and gives bus drivers what he considers a fair wage. Some bus routes have been eliminated, freeing up money to increase pay.
Certified staff (ESS, counseling, professional development, portfolios, pre-school screening, etc.) wages were increased from $22 to $25 an hour, when before they were “by far the lowest around,” Saylor said. He added that that money will come out of a grant.
Overall, the net increase for salary adjustments is estimated to be about $20,000.
A tentative budget for fiscal year 2018 was accepted by the board of education. The superintendent noted that 70 percent of the budget is salary, and that 25 positions have been cut in the three budgets in which he’s been involved.
He provided the board with a report of personnel changes made in FY 2016, which he said saved the district $330,000. In 2017, further cuts in teaching positions, staff positions, and reallocation of other expenditures netted a $442,000 net savings for fiscal year 2017.
This year’s budget, with other cuts and savings, will net the district $475,000 in savings for fiscal year 2018, according to the superintendent’s calculations. He asked the board to hold a special budget session in June.
This month’s Mountain Movers were recognized. The certified staff member recognized was Leah Brown, teacher at Estill Springs Elementary. The classified staff member recognized was Mary Raider, family resource director. The Mountain Mover program is sponsored by Carhartt, Steam Engine, the White House Clinic and BB&T bank.
Personnel actions reported for May include the resignations or term expirations of Traci Baber, assistant cheerleading coach at the middle school; Lauren Bruce, Lori Dawes, Sheila Hays, Courtney Isaacs, Sharon Niece, Carolyn Perkins, Bruce Reynolds and Alison Thomas as substitute teachers; Beverly Hall, middle school dance coach; Glenetta Lynch, substitute para-educator; Gary Mullins, substitute bus driver; Joe Smith, seventh grade boys’ basketball coach at the middle school; Beth Spradlin, middle school writing cluster leader; Clinton Terry, traffic controller; Kim Turpin-Rose, substitute nurse, and Greg Will, high school head boys’ soccer coach.
Following the approval of consent items, Kathy Samples spoke up to say she is proud of the board for approving the adoption of the recallable nickel tax.
In the superintendent’s report, he asked the board to approve purchasing equipment for video/live streaming of board meetings. The equipment could also be used to video special school events such as prom and graduation.
Saylor commended those who worked on the Work Ready Skills Initiative grant for which the school district was approved for $5.7 million to build a new vocational tech school. In particular, he called out Jeremy Simpson for his work on the technical end of it, and Teresa Dawes and Teresa Miller Ruiz for their work in helping with the grant.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Estill County School board is on Thursday, June 22, at 6 p.m. at the central office.