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A crowd of approximately 40 people attended the June 10 meeting of the Marion County Board of Education. However, no delegations were included on the agenda, and no public comments were made at the meeting.
The June 10 meeting occurred just one day after a public forum in Loretto in which multiple citizens expressed concerns about the direction the school district is heading, including some concerns about recent personnel decisions.
At the June 10 meeting, Superintendent Taylora Schlosser used her report to focus on some of the “highlights” of the 2013-14 school year.
She said the district had a great closing day on June 6. She mentioned the district’s new “Dream Believe Achieve” logo and the district-wide lesson plan, and she added that the district is implementing a new evaluation system for certified staff and a new evaluation plan for the school board.
Schlosser also reminded the board that a year and a half ago, teachers reported that new reading textbooks were needed.
“All of our elementary school students received new reading series books,” she said.
She added that the district had three work-session days for all staff members this year.
With regard to food service, “grab and go” breakfasts increased from less than 100 students per day to more than 400 students.
“We survived the winter of 2014. We missed 16 days, had lots of bad weather. We actually had more ice than we did snow, but we did have a bad winter,” Schlosser said.
In spite of that, the district had no bus accidents this past academic year.
She also pointed out the banners created as part of the strategic planning process.
“Pledge cards indicate the people that are excited about what’s going on and willing to pledge their time,” Schlosser said.
She continued to say that the strategic plan has the district looking at where it wants to be in three, five, 10 and 20 years.
She stressed that learning begins at birth.
“We want our students to be ready to start school, and have all students on grade level by the time they exit primary, which is the third grade,” Schlosser said.
College and career readiness
Marion County High School Principal Mike Abell gave a short presentation on college and career readiness.
In the Class of 2014, 128 seniors attained college or career readiness status. This was short of the goal of 140 students, but it was an improvement over 2013.
Abell explained that the goal was to get 63 percent of students to that point, and they finished at 57 percent. In the Class of 2013, 44.6 percent of the students met college or career readiness requirements.
“I had hoped to make at least a 15 to 20 percent increase, but I feel like we got a good start. We’re getting the foundations in place that are going to allow us to continue to build on that,” Abell said.
Out of the 128 students who met the standards, 61 met the criteria for both college and career readiness. For the sake of state accountability, MCHS will receive additional credit for those students, Abell said.
He explained that college readiness is measured by benchmarks on the ACT, and career readiness is determined by results on KOSSA exams. KOSSA is the Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment.
Abell said they are working for next year to make sure the scheduling is in place to allow more students to complete career pathways in order to be eligible to take career readiness exams.
On the ACT, 85 students scored a 21 or higher, and 10 of those students scored a 30 or higher.
“Our overall scores, in my opinion, were kind of hit or miss,” Abell said.
The high school saw improvements in two ACT test areas, English and science. MCHS students earned an average score of 19.68 in English this year, compared to 18.9 in 2013. In science, the scores moved up to 19.86 in 2014 from 19.3 in 2013.
In math, MCHS students’ average score declined from a 19.2 in 2013 to 18.93 in 2014, and in reading, the average slipped to 19.15 in 2014 from 19.5 in 2013.
Overall, the average ACT score for Marion County students improved slightly from 19.4 in 2013 to 19.53 this year.
Abell added that these are not the official results, but they are based on data the school has received so far.
In 2013, 113 students took KOSSA exams, but only 44 of them, or 38.9 percent, passed. This year, 53 of the 92 students, or 57.6 percent, passed the KOSSA exam.
Abell said he was pleased with the improved success rate on those tests.
“We’re making sure that teachers are teaching the standards that are going to be addressed on those KOSSA exams,” he said.
He added that they also received more feedback from the KOSSA exams about individual students and about general data that will help them address some deficiencies going forward.
One area they are emphasizing more is soft skills, which includes things like work ethic and general job expectations, according to Abell.
“We need to look at putting a plan in place how we can address that, how can we stress the importance of that to success in the workforce,” he said.
Abell concluded his presentation by discussing end of course exams. He told the board that this is one of the accountability measures used by the state. Specifically, he said the state looks at four exams — Algebra 2, English 10, biology and US History.
In Algebra 2, MCHS students had an average score of 146, which was the same as the previous year. This is the equivalent of a C.
In English 10, the average score was 155, which is the equivalent of a B. Abell said he was not able to find the data from last year, but more than half of the students scored an A or B on the exam.
“This is one of the areas I do feel really good about,” Abell said.
In biology, the average dropped slightly to 151 from 153 last year. A 151 is considered a C.
In U.S. History, the average score was 148 this year, which is a B. (No 2013 information was listed.)
“This is probably our strongest area at the high school at this point in time,” Abell said.
Schlosser said she is looking forward to seeing the state averages when the official data is released.
“It’s nice to see that our ACT average is up, and it’s very nice to see that our KOSSA skills assessment is up to 57 percent from 39 percent,” she said.
Schlosser added that the high school is able to get feedback quicker than the middle and elementary schools because the high school exams are taken online.
“That’s nice see to see the results right away because then you have the summer to plan for what we need to work on,” she said.
Abell added that they are able to print out results for individual teachers, and they will use that data to see where they had the lowest scores so they can address those areas first.
“The feedback and the data will be invaluable in where do we need to go from here,” he said.
No matter what, Marion County will continue to lead in standards-based instruction, according to Schlosser.
“We want all students to graduate college or career ready,” she said.
Student drug testing
Tim Lyons, the director of pupil personnel and technology, reported on the results of student drug testing during the 2013-14 academic year.
Students who participate in extra-curricular activities or drive to school are eligible for drug testing under the district’s policy.
Lyons said the school tested a random sample of 50 students each month from August to May. In all, 450 tests were conducted, and 10 were considered to be positive tests for drugs or alcohol. He noted that two of those 10 were students who refused to be tested. Under the district policy, they are considered positive tests.
According to Lyons’ information, all of the positive results occurred during the second half of the school year.
Lyons explained that it takes about an hour for him to get everything together each time he does the testing.
Board member Mike Cecil clarified that the Heartland Coalition has provided the funding for the district to do the drug testing.
Schlosser said the testing provides an opportunity for students to say no to alcohol and drugs in a positive way.
Mike Cecil also asked who knows what days the testing will take place.
Lyons said he’s the only person who knows what day the test will be conducted. The test date is selected randomly, as are the students to be tested that day.
“No other staff people know about it?” Mike Cecil asked.
Lyons said that is correct. He said the reports are confidential, and normally, he’ll wait to run the reports after hours so no one else will see them being run.
“I try to keep security pretty tight on it so that I can just show up and it will be a true random test,” Lyons said.
The board voted to approve increasing lunch prices by 10 cents for the 2014-15 school year. Lunch prices will change as follows:
• High school, $2.10 to $2.20
• Middle schools, $2.05 to $2.15
• Elementary schools, $1.95 to $2.05
Diane Evans, the food service director, explained that the federal government has a tool to determine what the price schools should charge for lunches. Evans said according to that tool, Marion County should be raising its prices by 13 cents per lunch, but they wanted to leave it as a 10-cent increase.
Evans added that they would prefer to leave the prices the same, but that’s not an option. She also said they have no plans to change breakfast prices at this time.
During the discussion of the financial report, Board Member Bernard Miles pointed out that the district had a healthy balance in its food services fund. He asked why lunch prices were going up.
Schlosser explained that the federal government has a tool that mandates what the prices will be.
“That’s not a decision that comes from Ms. Evans or myself,” Schlosser said.
Miles added that the federal government reimburses the district for lunch expenses.
Schlosser also noted that the district replaced $60,000 in lunchroom equipment during the previous school year, and it didn’t have to replace any equipment this year.
The district’s summer feeding program started last week, and meals are being prepared at Lebanon Elementary School. As of Tuesday, June 10, meals were being served at 24 sites throughout the county, and the district already received requests for additional sites.
“All our sites are considered open sites, meaning that students can walk in and receive a free meal at any of the sites where we are serving meals in the county,” Evans said.
During the first two days of the program, 610 lunches, 205 snacks and 100 supper meals were served each day, Evans reported.
Evans explained that any student can receive a free meal because of the poverty level in the district, and the funding for summer feeding comes from a federal program.
Schlosser said the district served more than 14,000 meals last summer.
Evans also updated the board on the 21st Century Learning Program, which serves Glasscock Elementary, Lebanon Elementary and Lebanon Middle School students.
This year the program served 64 elementary and 18 middle school students. Those students received homework help twice a week for at least 45 minutes each time.
These students make regular visits to the Marion County Public Library, where the staff provide activities for them, Evans said. She added that the students also learn self-help skills in cooperation with the Marion County Extension Office staff.
A federal grant has provided the funding for the 21st Century program for the past five years, but Marion County did not receive a grant for the 2014-15 academic year.
She said the district has been approved for an additional $22,000 from the Kentucky Department of Education to fund the program through Sept. 30. During last week’s meeting, the school board unanimously approved a revised memorandum of agreement with the KDE to include the additional funding.
Evans added that the school board previously covered the expenses for the program for one year when grant funding was not available.
She also told the board that the federal government plans to open another 21st Century grant opportunity in October. If Marion County applied and was approved for that grant, the funding would be available in December or January.
Miles said providing funding locally in the interim may help the district if it applies for grant funding again.
No decisions were made about funding the 21st Century program last week, but Schlosser said they will continue the discussion about how to keep the program up and running.
In other business:
- The board approved the 2014-15 salary schedule. Schlosser said the state legislature approved a 1 percent pay increase for all public school employees earlier this year. She added that she hopes the state will also providing funding for that increase.
Schlosser said the salary schedule includes step increases (which are based on experience and education levels).
She also pointed out that coaches for middle school baseball and softball were added to the salary schedule. She said the state athletic association has taken over administration for middle school sports, and the district is adding baseball and a softball team with student-athletes from each of the middle schools.
Schlosser also said the salary schedule includes a district-wide athletic director with a salary of around $7,500 and an assistant athletic director would serve both middle schools.
She continued to say that the district wants to pay its maintenance and mechanics staff salaries that are comparable to neighboring districts.
She also noted that the administrative assistants salaries should be based more on the number of people they deal with during the day as opposed to where in the district they work. For example, she said the high school secretary is dealing with 1,000 students, 100 employees, and all their families.
- Rev. DeLane Pinkston was recognized as the new chairman of the board of education. Then, Mike Cecil was elected as the vice-chairman of the school board. Butch Cecil and Mike Cecil nominated themselves for the position, and Mike Cecil was elected with a 3-1 vote.
“I appreciate the confidence the board showed in me, and I look forward to working with you and our superintendent, Miss Taylora Schlosser,” Mike Cecil said.
- Schlosser welcomed Paula Walston, who was recently named the new principal at West Marion Elementary School.
- Schlosser said one of the district’s goals has been district-wide preschool. One of the issues affecting this is finding spaces that meets the state requirements to house that program.
Scott Spalding, the district’s transportation and maintenance director, reported that he’s spoken with Lebanon City Administrator John O. Thomas.
St. Catharine College is moving out of Centre Square. One possibility may be moving the adult and community education into Centre Square, and using the 21st Century Learning Center to house preschool programs.
No decisions have been made, but city and school officials are in discussions about options.
- The district’s financial balance at the end of May was $10.35 million. Of that, $9.5 million is in the general fund.
Miles asked about the building fund, which was listed as being overbudget by $228,504.88 in May after it had a balance of $50,393.61 at the end of April. Schlosser said she would have to check and report that information back to him.
- The board approved re-establishing the Marion County High School football booster club. Schlosser explained that part of the new accountability procedures is for the board to official recognize booster clubs.
- The board approved renewing its property and worker’s compensation insurance policies with Curneal and Hignite Insurance. Under the renewal, the school district’s annual premium will increase from $283,468.13 to $292,081.89
- The board approved $8,000 in matching funds for a grant for community based work transition program through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
High school students in this program spend part of the school day at a job, Schlosser explained.
After the meeting, Schlosser wrote in an email that additional funds for the grant come through the Kentucky Department of Education, but she would need to check on that amount.
- The school board approved fuel bids from White Oil for the 2014-14 academic year. White Oil bid 19 cents per gallon above the rack price for regular gas and 9 cents per gallon above the rack price for diesel. Kentucky Petroleum Traders submitted a bid of 35 cents above the rack price for gasoline and 7.99 cents per gallon above the rack price for diesel.
- The school board approved $15,000 for a project at the Marion County Area Technology Center. Schlosser said the plan is to switch the locations of the industrial maintenance lab and the carpentry lab at the tech center. She added that the tech center will be receiving a donated dust collector for the carpentry lab.
Kenny Marrett of the Marion County Jobs Consortium explained the consortium is going to provide $35,000 for this project as well. Marrett has been working as a liaison between the consortium at the tech center, and he said the carpentry class has had some issues due to space limitations. The industrial maintenance lab has large overhead doors, but that program does not require them, he said.