Watson Chapel School District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood speaks at a school board meeting Monday night at Edgewood Elementary School. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
The Watson Chapel School District Board of Directors held its monthly meeting Monday evening at Edgewood Elementary School to focus attention on the district’s campaign to persuade voters to support a 2.3-mill increase to the existing 31.8 millage rate in a May 14 special election.
The increase is being sought by the district to raise funds that will go toward the construction of a new Edgewood building to replace the existing school.
Immediately before the board meeting, district superintendent Danny Hazelwood and Edgewood principal Jennifer Barbaree spoke to a group of Edgewood parents and teachers about the importance of getting voters behind the plan.
“The state department of education has already said that this building must be replaced,” Hazelwood said. “The only question is whether we get the millage passed and replace the building ourselves or we don’t get it passed and the state takes over the school district and they build it.”
Hazelwood said the state has agreed to provide 60 percent of the funding for the $10.2 million project which he said comes out to a $6,058,000 investment by the state and a need for the district to come up with the remaining $4,142,000.
“If you have a $50,000 home that comes out to an increase in your property tax of just six cents per day,” Hazelwood said.
Hazelwood said that with the average district millage rate in Arkansas at 37, the new rate of 34.1 would still be well below that number.
“We haven’t had a millage increase in this district since 1974,” Hazelwood said. “The state gives us two chances to get this done and since our millage campaign last year failed we are down to our last chance to do this.”
Barbaree asked the audience for input into how best to communicate the district’s position to the voters and received several answers, including: make a special effort to reach out to the 18-year-old voters who are likely to vote for the measure; contact all patrons by telephone; and create a one-page document listing the pros of passing the millage increase that can be distributed throughout the area.
Hazelwood said another informational meeting is being planned with a date to be announced soon.
Personnel Policy Committee president and L.L. Owen teacher Lorene Green informed the board of the need for direct deposit of teacher paychecks.
“Each month teachers give their suggestions to us and every month they talk about direct deposit,” Green said. “When put to a vote we found that 96 percent of them favor this. We have been told in the past that the district cannot do it because of the extra work involved. We found that many other school districts use direct deposit, including Pine Bluff, White Hall, Helena-West Helena and Star City. When we talked to people in those districts we were told that it is actually not difficult at all to begin direct deposit.”
Green said the use of direct deposit would be both time-efficient and cost-effective.
“We are not asking for something impossible,” Green said. “We looked into it and the cost per month to the district for direct deposit would be $40 compared to between $400 and $500 per month for checks.”
Hazelwood had a statement for Green.
“The PPC is a vital and important part of the school district and we would like you to present a report to the board every month,” Hazelwood said.
Green replied that she would.
In other business the board voted to approve Hazelwood’s recommendation to purchase two 2014 Type C buses from Central Bus Sales, the low bidder, for a total cost of $162,420.
“We currently have between 40 and 50 buses in our fleet and we need to rotate out some of the oldest ones each year,” Hazelwood said. “This year we have the money to replace two.”
Board vice president Robin Barker recognized the Watson Chapel High School Quiz Bowl Team for winning first place at the Oklahoma-Arkansas National Academic Challenge and earning a spot in the national competition in New Orleans. Barker also recognized the junior varsity Quiz Bowl Team for earning a spot in the national competition in New Orleans.
Board president Sandra Boone asked if it would be possible to have a motivational speaker come to the high school to encourage students to go to college.
Hazelwood said that he would look into it after consulting with principal Leydel Willis.
The board approved the proposed 2013-2014 calendar for the new school year.
“The earliest that we can start next year is August 19 so that is the date I have in the calendar,” Hazelwood said. “I submitted it to the Personnel Policy Committee for input but they didn’t have anything to add to it.”
Hazelwood presented the financial report for the month ending Feb. 28 and said that the district had $2,096,510 in revenue; $2,010,874 in expenditures; and an ending balance of $8,494,467.
The board voted to hire Ruthie J. Wells as a substitute cafeteria worker.
Hazelwood reported that he received retirement notices from Linda Collins and Helen Burns.