Ava R-1 School Board Meeting: Audit Results, Bus Camera Dispute, Bus Route Purchase

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

The Ava R-1 School Board held its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, October 17th at 6:30 p.m.

The board voted 7-0 on the Consent Agenda items. 

The vote to pay bills was 6-0, with Mark Henry abstaining.

Board Member Training

Dr. Dial commented about the training requirements for school board members. The State of Missouri is now requiring training past the first year of service. The training is available online or in person. Board member Deana Parsick completed three hours of the required training, and Dr. Dial has forwarded information about the training to the other board members.

Town & Country

The Board recognized Town & Country Supermarkets for their assistance with the “Care to Learn” program that helps provide shoes, clothes, groceries, and other items to students in need. Town & Country helped raise $745 for the program.

Musical Interlude

The Board was then treated to a reprise of the final number “Make a Match for You” from the recent high school musical, Emma, by the cast of the play.

Principal/Director Reports

Ava Elementary School Principal Dr. Clint Hall said that Heart of the Hills had donated three cases of apples and three cases of oranges to the school’s Fall harvest parties.

Middle School Principal Patty Nelson shared a few of the activities students had been involved in: 

Jobs for American Graduates installation of members.

A student council-led assembly for the character word of “respect.”

The district honor band took a trip to Lebanon.

The 8th grade science class took a trip to Springfield to explore careers in the medical field.

The choir put on a spooky concert around Halloween.

A girls and boys basketball tournament.

Ava High School Principal Dr. Teresa Nash reported that the school took 19 students to audition for the district band, and 15 of those students were either chosen for or as an alternate for a district band.

Dr. Nash also mentioned that Ava High School Students Sunsarah Johnson and Paige Kimmons would be performing in the Macys Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City next week.

Special Services Director Erin Swofford reported a busy office, receiving six referrals this week alone. 

Administrators Report – Superintendent

Superintendent Dr. Jason Dial reported that the school financial balance is $361,000 above budgeted revenues and he’s not concerned with finances at this point.

Minimum Teacher Pay

Dr. Dial also reported of an effort from Missouri Governor Mike Parsons to raise teacher pay in Missouri. Currently the minimum teacher salary in Missouri is $25,000 and Parsons wants to get that up to $32,000. The financial impact to the State of Missouri will be $148M to $280M, and there is currently no source for that money.

School Safety

Dr. Dial said that the school had sent out reminders that in order to gain access to any school building you will be required to show a photo ID. He said the school was getting more signage to inform visitors of the policy.

Vaping Lawsuit

He reminded the board that the school district is not spending any money on the recently-announced lawsuit against vaping equipment manufacturer Juul. He said that the school has high school students being trained to educate lower-level grades about the dangers of vaping. Dr. Dial mentioned some PSAs that some high school students had recorded at KKOZ.

School Board Elections

Dr. Dial mentioned upcoming school board elections that will happen on April 7th. Signups start December 17th and will run until January 21st.

Bus Cameras

Dr. Dial reminded the board that, last August, they had approved the purchase of cameras for all of the school buses. He said that they are moving ahead to get them installed on district-owned buses, but that the school and School Bus Owners Association had not yet come to and agreement for installing the cameras on the privately-owned buses.

He said that both he and Deana Parsick had visited with the Bus Owners Association in regards to the cameras. He then had Mrs. Parsick address the board (her comments begin at 24:30 in the video).

Mrs. Parsick said the drivers had concerns that having a school-owned camera on their bus would make them an employee (vs. a contractor), but that wasn’t the case.

“I understand some of their concerns, but the bottom line to me, and to the rest of the board, is the safety of the children,” she said. “That’s it. Bottom line.”

She related some stories from her recent board member training. In one case, not having a camera made student harassment charges against a driver hard to prove. In another case, having a camera allowed the school to find a 12 year old that had attacked a five year old.

Parsick reported that the schools had seen issues with drivers passing the school buses when the stop arms were out, and that cameras on the arms would help local law enforcement find and prosecute those drivers.

“One of the things the drivers were concerned about was the camera hard drive being messed with,” she said. “But we can’t. We approved a motion that says to get on those buses we have to do it with the driver’s permission, they would be present, and only if there is a complaint. Otherwise there’s no reason for us to get the footage off of the bus.

Parsick then asked again that the drivers agree to having the cameras installed on the buses. “Its just another step to keeping our students safe,” she reiterated.

Administrators Report Assistant Superintendent 

Mr. Dalton reported that, while not yet official, preliminary science scores were above state average.

Intruder Training

Mr. Dalton said the school had done some things differently with intruder training this year, with some sessions shared by staff from all buildings and then some building-specific sessions.

Dr. Dial added that Assistant Principal Nathan Houk heads up the schools security team and that his practice is to review the school safety procedures and protocols on a regular basis. Houk also gets the local Police Department, Sheriffs Office, and Highway Patrol involved as often as possible.

Vocational Areas

Mr. Dalton reported on the various vocational areas that Ava Schools offers – ag, industrial arts, business classes, etc. Dalton said there had been some changes at the state level, and that a comprehensive review of those programs would soon be in order. Mainly the programs need to be reviewed against the current job market to ensure they are still relevant.

School Calendar

Mr. Dalton said that he had started conversations around next year’s school calendar. Typically the school waits until spring to do this, but some recent legislative changes affecting fall starting dates are causing an earlier look.

Discussion/Action Items

Audit

Jessica Stokes, an auditor with KPM was at the meeting to deliver the results of the recent audit with the board. Her comments start at approximately 37:00 into the video.

Highlights of Stoke’s comments include:

The firm didn’t encounter any difficulties performing the audit, school officials cooperated with the firm, and any necessary documents or reports were delivered in a timely fashion.

KPM felt that Ava Schools financial statements were accurately reported in all respects. This is a “clean” or “unmodified” opinion and is consistent with results from previous years.

The school saw a $547,000 increase in total receipts over the previous year.

Ava schools gets 39% of total receipts are from local sources, and 60% from federal sources.

Dispersants were $13.2M for the year.

55% of that was related to instruction.

Transportation represented approximately 6% of the total disbursements.

Operations costs were about 11%.

The school had excess balances across all funds.

At year-end the school had approximately $2.4M in available funds, usable for salaries, bus driver costs, paper etc. 

Stoke said the findings of the audit were expected and consistent when compared to other districts. 

The board voted to approve the audit 6-0, with Deana Parsick abstaining. She commented that she felt like the board should have received the audit results sooner.

Risk/Alternative Program

Dr. Teresa Nash reported that the school has an alternative program available for students grades 9-12 who are not successful in a traditional classroom, to give them extra stupor, a chance to earn a high school diploma, and career exploration. Nash said the school received a rating of 4.8 out of 5. Nash said students aren’t usually in school all day, but rather enjoy a blended schedule including both hands-on and classroom-based learning time. Nash reported that last year the school served 161 students who earned 407 through its various efforts.

“I noticed that our numbers are up a lot since 2015,” asked board member Dan Johson. “What are we doing different that causes those numbers to be so much higher?”

Nash attributed the increase to a web-based school offering that came online during that time, and also an increased number of Spanish students in the alternative school.

The review was approved by the board 7-0.

Special Services Program Review

Director Erin Swofford reported early childhood numbers were 25, 21 of those students were in classrooms with typically developing peers. Overall numbers were 192, not including early childhood. 128 of those students were in the classroom with peers 80% of the time or more. 

The school met graduation rate goals and had zero dropouts. 

The program was required to submit a corrective action plan, submitting 25 files for review. The state indicated that four of them were not in compliance, down from eight the previous year. 

The board approved the Special Services Report 7-0.

Nursing Contract

Dr. Dial reported that a student in the Ava district requires a nurse with them full-time, and the parents recently requested a change in the provider. The proposed provider is Phoenix Home Health and the contract with them also represents a cost savings for the district. 

The board approved the new provider 7-0.

Student Advisory Board

Dr. Teresa Nash announced Bailyn Alexander was elected by her classmates as the new Student Advisory Board representative. She will begin her term in January. 

Belcher Scholarship

Dr. Dial reported that he would provide paper copies of student essays to the board members after Thanksgiving. Board members will need to choose 3-4, then at the December board meeting the board will choose the final candidates. 

Lance Stillings

Mr Stillings requested to sell his Right to Contract for his #1 bus route back to the school, then requested to be able to continue operating the route. 

Dr Dial clarified that the school district would be purchasing the right to contract, then Stillings would still be willing to operate the bus.

“Yes,” Stillings said, “On a year to year basis.”

“We’ll own the bus, or we’ll own the route?” asked Deana Parsick.

“We’ll own the route,” replied Dr. Dial. “The right to contract route number one is $35,446. That’s in the contract. So we’d be purchasing the right to contract back, then we would have the right to choose to let him operate it under a regular contract, not in perpetuity, but year to year. Or we can choose to do something else with it at some point. That would be the districts position.

“So is he paid by 1099 or W2?” asked Deana Parsick.

“1099, said Dr. Dial. “He’s still operating as a contractor. We’ve talked about Bus 1 in the past, but I wanted to bring you those numbers. And it’s something the district can afford to do. “

“So we are buying the route, the right to that route,” asked Deana Parsick. “He will still operate it with his own bus?”

“Yes,” replied Dial. “His own bus and at his own expense. We will pay him a base rate plus mileage rate.”

The motion to purchase the Right to Contract route #1 from Mr. Stillings was made by Michael Stewart and seconded by Mark Henry. The vote carried 6-0, with Dan Johnson opposing.

The motion to approve Mr. Stillings as an operator for Route 1 for the remainder of the school year was made by Brandi Stanifer and seconded by Kenny Fleetwood.

During discussion Michael Stewart asked Mr. Stillings if he’d be willing to sign a two year contract. 

“I’m fine with giving you a two-year,” said Stewart. “You’re losing a lot of money on your route with the way that everything went.”

“That’s fine, but however you guys want to do it,” said Stillings.

The board approved Stillings as operator of route 1 7-0.

Closed Session

During the board’s closed session they accepted the resignation of Connie Dean as pre-K director, and Ann Leonard as Elementary and Middle School PhysEd instructor. Both had been with the school system for 32 years.

The board also hired Westin Loftin as 9th grade boys basketball coach.

Attendance

Board members present for this meeting were Deana Parsick, Brandi Stanifer, Michael Stewart, Bart Ellison, Mark Henry, Dan Johnson, and Kenny Fleetwood.

Video

The video from this meeting is available on douglascountyherald.com and on our YouTube channel.

Next Meeting

The next regular board meeting is Thursday, December 19th at 6:30 p.m. in the board of education room on the school campus. Meetings are open to the public.