In the first school board meeting since the February election, members of the Jay School Board rehired a plethora of certified staff for the upcoming school year.
The action came during the three and a half hour meeting, which took place Thursday, March 9, in the Jay Public Schools Administration Building.
At the start of the meeting, the board reorganized its officer team for the next term, elevating member David Holcombe, to president, and electing members Virgil Stump to vice president and Ardin Jackson as clerk.
This was the first meeting for newly elected member Ashley Williamson, who was sworn in at the start of the business session.
Following an hour-long executive session, the board returned and extended contracts for all career personnel, non-career personnel, temporary certified teachers, retired temporary teachers, and the Grand Head Start Employees for the upcoming school year - with one exception.
Board members chose not to extend a contact during the meeting to Sharon Kunze, the district’s agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor.
To leave Kunze’s name off of the career personnel list, Jay Superintendent Charles Thomas read the other 86 names one by one into the minutes, rather than submitted the names as a group, before the board cast its deciding vote.
Thomas said Kunze’s position will be on the agenda during the April school board meeting, set for 7 p.m., on Tuesday, April 11.
He declined to comment specifically on the board’s decision, saying it was a personnel matter.
When contacted after the meeting, Holcombe said he could not discuss the issue, saying the action regarding the decision came during the executive session.
Kunzel joined the district staff in fall of 2014, as the second agricultural instructor.
She became the sole ag instructor in fall 2016, following the retirement of Dearl “Doc” Cunningham - who served as the district's ag instructor for more than three decades.
The second ag position was not filled for the current school year due to the district’s construction project involving the ag department.
Employing family members
In another employment-related issue, the board voted remove the words “or indirectly” from the district’s policy which kept family members of a current district employee from being hired, if they were to “directly or indirectly, supervise or have disciplinary authority over another family member.”
Thomas said the action came before the board at the request of one of the board members.
The move, Thomas said, paves the way for district officials to hire the wife of the incoming superintendent, Kenneth “Kenny” Bridges.
His wife, Cheryl, has taught school for 24 years. Most recently she has served as a fifth and sixth grade language arts instructor within the Syracuse, Kansas School District - where Bridges is currently employed as a superintendent.
In an interview with the Grove Sun/Delaware County Journal, after his hire, Bridges joked that his wife will be the “best part of the package,” adding that he hoped his wife would find a teaching job within the district.
Cheryl Bridges has taught in the five of Bridges’ last districts, two of which she came under his direct supervision.
“I’m assuming [the board] is planning on her being employed in the district,” Thomas said. “She couldn’t have been with the policy like it is.
“I’m assuming that’s why they changed it.”
Thomas said most districts he has worked in, the superintendent’s wife has worked within the same district.
“It’s not uncommon, for those things to happen,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a common courtesy to hire the husband or wife, if they are both teachers.”
Thomas said Cheryl Bridges could be hired, under the revised policy, because she would be directly supervised by the principal of her building, rather than by her husband.
Additional employment issues
The board took action on the following employment issues:
• approved a proposal with Danielle Oxley, independent contractor, for the 2017-18 school year. Sheila Gibe, special services director, said Oxley serves as a sign language interpreter for eight students within the district with hearing impairments at a cost of $27 per hour, working seven hours per day.
• approved extending a contract with Linda McGowen for Complete Comprehensive Battery and Test Interpretation.
• approved Thomas’ request to make Natasha Murray’s pay retroactive to Jan. 2, 20178, at a certified rate of pay. Thomas said Murray had received documentation of her certification from the state.
• approved the resignations of Maegan Hicks, a custodian, Robin Rowley, an elementary teacher, Sarah Adams, elementary secretary, Sheila Gibe, special services director, and Julie Londagin, a contract speech pathologist.
• hired Doris Moore, Jessie Beaty and Lisa Easter as cooks for the summer feeding program.
• approved the following appointments for the Grand Head Start: Melody Turtle from program aide to assistant teacher at the Kansas Center; Hannah Newkirk from the teacher/director at the Colcord Center to the Jay Center; Melissa McGinty as a federal program aide at the Miami Center; and Allison Mitchell as the federal program aide at the Kansas Center.
In one of the first actions of the meeting, board members split the vote on approving the 2017-18 school year by 3 to 2, with Holcomb, Jackson and Monte Rutherford voting in favor, and Williamson and Stump casting dissenting votes.
During the presentation, Thomas explained the changes in the upcoming calendar, saying he went back to the original 175 day calendar the district has followed for many years, with the exception of the current school year.
Thomas said this year’s calendar, with 162 instructional days and five professional development days, meets the minimum standards required by the Oklahoma Department of Education.
“If we miss a day, there’s no extra hours built in [to the current calendar],” Thomas said. “I made this year’s calendar with the understanding that the board wanted to go back to 175 days if the district’s finances would allow.”
Thomas said because he anticipates the district will end the year with at least $1 million in carry-over, he added the 13 days - removed for this year - back into the schedule.
“It’s really no different than what we have done in the past years,” Thomas said. “I think the more time kids spend in school, the better off they will be academically and socially. That’s why I took it back to 175 days.”
During the brief discussion, Stump raised questions about the financial costs of putting the days back into the calendar, while Williamson asked Thomas about moving the parent teacher conferences to the end of the first nine-week period, rather than having it at the previous five-week mark.
Thomas said he changed the dates of the first parent teacher conferences, to be mid-October, rather than mid-September, at the request of teachers.
He said benchmark test data for each student would be available for the later date, and teachers wanted to have that information when meeting with parents.
When contacted after the meeting, both Stump and Williamson declined to comment on why the did not vote in favor of the calendar. Stump added that he never discusses the reasons for his vote.
In a related calendar matter, the board approved making the final day of the 2016-17 school year for students to be May 4, and the final professional development day for teachers as May 5.
The calendar change, Thomas said, comes after district officials canceled school in February due to traffic issues related to the district’s current construction project.
In other business, the board:
• approved the consent agenda, which included change order, fundraiser requests, activity fund reports and transfers, minutes from the two special meetings and one regular meeting in February, the treasurer's report and the district's encumbrances and credit card statements.
• heard updates from the district's principals and the Grand Head Start Director regarding activities taking place on the various campuses.
• learned the district's 2015-16 audit, presented by Bill Turner, was considered clean and without issues.
• approved Jodi Waeckerle as the official prom photographer.
• formalized an agreement with Municipal Accounting Systems for the 2017-18 school year.
• approved a request from Kunze to repair the overhead door of the hog barn. The board accepted a bid from Taylor Overhead Door & Canopy. Thomas anticipates it will cost $3,500 to replace the doors.
• appointed Holcombe and Jay High School Principal James Bryant to serve as the district's negotiators for the upcoming school year negotiations with the Jay Professional Association of Classroom Teachers (J-PACT).
• approved a renewal agreement with OKTLE for the upcoming school year.