Moving forward from rigorous debate over new high school REVISED VERSION
Woodford County Board of Education member Sherri Springate Monday described the rigorous debate over the last few months related to a new high school as transparent and informative, and thanked schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins for sharing the short- and long-term financial consequences of moving forward with the project. During a special meeting June 25, Hawkins told board members he’s concerned “bonding (borrowing) at least $35 million (90 percent of the district’s bonding capacity) to pay for the initial phase of a new high school would jeopardize the long-term financial health of the district.” Hawkins cautioned the board prior to its 3-2 vote to approve BG-1 documents seeking the state’s approval for a $36.265 million high school project, including $1.26 million in cash. Debby Edelen and Sherri Springate voted no. “As a member of a consensus board,” said Springate during Monday’s meeting, “I just want to reiterate that at this point that is our goal: to have the best possible high school for Woodford County.” In other matters related to a new high school, Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith told the board that she’s heard from five companies that intend to respond to the district’s request for proposal (RFP) to be employed as the project’s construction manager. One RFP had been received by Monday, but the deadline for submissions is not until Friday at 2 p.m., Smith said. Board members agreed to contemplate how they’ll go about selecting a construction manager before their meeting next Monday. Project architect Kevin Locke told board members he’d been contacted by Anderson Communities about the availability of preliminary site plan information for the new high school. Its campus will be near residential neighborhoods along Falling Springs Boulevard that have been developed by Anderson. “I don’t know what their motives are or anything like that,” said Locke. “But I obviously explained to them that it’s very much still a work in progress.” No decisions have been made by the board on placement of the building on the site or design and size of the high school. Board member Dani Bradley said a couple of people have reached out to her expressing an interest in donating money for a new high school. “I think we need to get on top of seeking out donations and corporate partners, and seeing who’s interested in working with us in return for naming rights for different areas of a new high school,” said Bradley. The board supported forming a subcommittee – of five to seven members – to explore the issue of naming rights and accepting charitable donations. Springate said it’s important to have a diverse committee represented by many segments of the community. Board attorney The board came to a consensus to begin the process of employing new legal representation. Its decision came after board member Allison Richardson had requested the topic of legal representation be placed on Monday’s agenda as a discussion item. Grant Chenoweth, she said, “has been very forthcoming in the limitations of their ability to represent us on several different issues lately. And as a new board member, I would like to have someone that is available to us, who can represent us.” Board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV said he talked with Bob Chenoweth (Grant’s father) in his Lawrenceburg law office before Monday’s meeting and “he was very understanding.” “To Mrs. Richardson’s point,” said Wilson, “there are extremely important issues that the board needs to have a clear understanding on, that he has told us that they cannot represent us on. And that’s important that we have someone who can represent us.” Wilson said this decision is not a reflection of the legal services provided by Bob and Grant Chenoweth. Both Springate and Hawkins lauded the Chenoweths for their legal representation and depth of knowledge in school law. “I can just speak to the quality of what the Chenoweths have provided us in the time that I’ve been here (11 years),” said Hawkins. “The two things I always knew you were going to get with either Bob or Grant is number one: they’re going to follow the law and number two: they’re going to try to protect the district. And that’s their two top priorities. … I feel like they probably have some of the longest standing experience when it comes to school law.” A resolution approved by the board employs the Chenoweth Law Office on an as-needed basis through December, Wilson said. He said Bob Chenoweth plans “to retire in the very near future.” Non-discrimination The board voted unanimously to add language to its policies and procedures that states the district does not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The vote came after Woodford County Fairness Coalition spokesman Jerry Sevier explained why such protections are important and will support ongoing recruitment efforts to hire more minorities in the schools. The board agreed to conduct a first reading on proposed changes to all applicable non-discrimination policies and procedures at its regular meeting next Monday. Sevier said the Midway City Council adopted a fairness ordinance four years ago and no issues have come up that has led to litigation. The Versailles City Council did not adopt a fairness ordinance, but in December the council voted to add LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) protections to its employee handbook, he said. Adult education The number of Woodford County adults earning their GED diplomas grew significantly this year compared to last year, according to data provided by Mary Newton, director of adult education in Woodford and Jessamine counties. Twenty-four Woodford Countians earned their GEDs in 2019 compared to six in 2018, two in 2017 and 10 in 2016. Also, the number of students enrolled in Woodford County’s adult education program grew to 84 students in 2019 compared to 14 last year, 35 in 2017 and 43 in 2016, according to her data. The data also showed that the number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students enrolled in Woodford County Adult Education “went through the roof” – from 16 ESL students in 2017 and two in 2018 to 38 in 2019, Newton said. Newton said Woodford County ranked eighth out of 120 counties for best GED performance. She credited Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm for supporting efforts to improve adult education services, including a move to new classroom space the district leases in Thoroughbred Square. Newton then presented Brehm with a Champion for Adult Education Award. He thanked her, but also told the board it’s amazing what Newton and her team of educators “have done for the adults in this community” as demonstrated by the number of them earning GEDs. “It’s fun to support people who are passionate,” he added. Security project The board approved a change order for the district-wide project to install new windows to improve security in the schools. A savings of $4,000 was a result of maintenance workers being able to install steel barriers above the entry doors into Southside Elementary School and Safe Harbor Academy, Hawkins said. An added cost of $80.28 was for a double-pane window at Safe Harbor, according to information provided to the board. The security project will be completed this month, Smith said. WCHS choir room The board approved a change order for an ADA upgrade of Woodford County High School’s choir room that reduces the cost of the project by $3,950.