Springate alleges numerous open meeting violations
Woodford County Board of Education member Sherri Springate alleged Monday that the board has committed numerous open meeting violations over the past 15 months. In a prepared statement, Springate argued that because of divisions on the board, “ethical standards, district policies and state statutes are being violated” and “a majority of the board is now privately having conversations and discussions to secure votes on important matters in advance of public meetings …” Board Vice Chair Dani Bradley took issue with an allegation that she secured the services of a moderator for the public forum on a new high school without prior board approval. Bradley argued that Debby Edelen, in her capacity as chair, asked her to reach out to the Kentucky School Boards Association for recommendations on a moderator. “The board did not authorize you to do that,” Springate said. “The chair sets the agenda for the meetings,” responded Bradley. “… KSBA confirmed … that the chair was well within her scope in deciding on written question submissions …” A remedy for each of the 14 alleged open meeting violations is to publicly acknowledge the violation in a public meeting, with additional remedies recommended for each violation. Springate’s remedy for a board action item – not on the July 24 agenda – authorizing its former Chair Ambrose Wilson IV to solicit potential attorneys to advise on matters related to the superintendent, was to terminate the contract of Joshua Salsburey, the attorney hired for superintendent matters. If the alleged violations are not acknowledged and remedies are rejected, Springate said, “I am prepared to file this with the (state) Attorney General.” She gave board Chair Debby Edelen three business days for a response to the alleged violations. “I think this is something that we need to get to (board attorney) Mr. (Bob) Chenoweth forthwith. I will send it to him in the morning,” said Edelen. Bradley said it would’ve been nice to receive Springate’s written complaint prior to the meeting so board members would’ve had an opportunity to read the alleged violations. “This is just an attempt to get the board back on track and to stop the bad behavior,” said Springate. High school items Springate urged the board to take action next Monday to un-restrict funds earmarked for a new high school. She also recommended doing a SWOT analysis (identifying strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats) of funding options for a new high school, developing a written plan for the options, and creating a “lead team” to research and provide recommendations on funding options. After Springate was asked several questions about the need for a SWOT analysis, board member Allison Richardson said, “She doesn’t like to be questioned.” The board agreed that scheduling a date for a second forum to answer questions from the public about a new high school was premature because of the many uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board did briefly discuss the possibility of doing a live-stream forum, but no decision was made to set a date. When the forum does happen, Springate said the board needs to share survey results from the previous forum, which showed no one supported spending general fund dollars to pay for a new high school. Land appraisal An action item on next Monday’s regular agenda to authorize the district’s staff to seek an appraisal on 22 acres of vacant land between Southside and Huntertown elementary schools was questioned by Springate. She asked if the district was looking into the possibility of selling the property, and said she was not sure why an action item (to pay for an appraisal) was placed on the agenda. “I requested that we look at it to see what the value of the land is,” said Bradley, “because we don’t know what it is.” “I can’t see the flaw in finding out what the value of something is,” she added later, “because if selling it would be of benefit to the schools, then I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t look at it.” Bradley noted that the board talked about the property in an executive session and she asked Hawkins if the district had a value for the property. “If we don’t use it, why not appraise it and see if it is of value to sell,” said Richardson, who works in real estate. “It only makes sense to me.” If someone purchases the land for residential development, Springate said it’s wise to discuss the affect that might have on student enrollment in neighboring elementary schools: Huntertown and Southside. Because of residential development around the vacant district-owned land, it may have some value, Edelen said. “With the current budget (deficit) issues that we’re looking at,” said Bradley, “if we do have land that has value, I think we need to know that.” She also acknowledged that a lot of more discussion needs to occur before making a decision to sell the property. Trips cancelled The board voted unanimously to cancel any out-of-state travel for students and staff until the end of April. If the COVID-19 pandemic leads to continued travel restrictions and bans, Hawkins said the board can take action to cancel trips scheduled for May as early as next Monday’s regular meeting. Hawkins noted that he met with coaches and teachers involved with high school trips last week to let them know the board would be making a decision to cancel trips. “Some may be able to be rescheduled,” he said, “some may not. So that’s the unfortunate thing.” A WCHS junior trip to Washington, D. C. could potentially be rescheduled for the fall, but that’s probably not an option for the senior trip to New York City, he said. Other trips that were scheduled include Charleston, S.C. for eighth-graders, D. C. for Simmons Elementary fifth-graders, an FFA trip to Florida, as well as spring break trips for WCHS baseball and softball, he said. Asked if WCHS students who prepaid for the NYC trip can anticipate getting refunds, Hawkins said representatives of the district will work with travel agencies to do what they can to recoup dollars for families. “This is an unprecedented situation, so I am very hopeful that those groups will work well with us to be able to get back as much as we possibly can,” he said. WCHS prom The board will be asked to approve a contract next Monday for the use of the Kentucky Castle for the high school’s prom on Saturday, April 18. “We will have to be in contact with (representatives from the Castle) on looking at other dates,” said Hawkins. “The contract itself will not change, but the date might” depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Preschool program Because of growing numbers in the district’s 3- and 4-year-old preschool program, the board will be asked next Monday to approve a plan to end an afternoon Preschool Extended Program (PEP) in order to free up a classroom for preschool students. The move is necessary to accommodate all of the students who will qualify (because of a disability or income) for free preschool next school year, Hawkins said. The PEP daycare serves about 15 students currently, but only six of them are not moving onto kindergarten next year, said Preschool Director Kathy Hogg. She said approving this now gives the parents of those children as much time as possible to arrange for daycare services next school year. Currently, the district has 177 preschool students and “there’s been a steep increase in eligible children,” said Hogg. To accommodate that growing need, Hawkins said the preschool program will only accept 4-year-old, tuition-paid students next school year. The board will also be asked next Monday to approve an increase in fees for the district’s after-school program, Explorer Time Company (ETC). ETC’s fee has not been increased since 2013-14, Hawkins said. He noted the proposed increase from $158 to $170 a month (for four hours of daily daycare) is lower than other nearby counties. Financial report Woodford County schools began February with a total cash balance of $15.284 million and ended the month with $16.229 million, according to Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith’s financial report. The general fund, which pays operating expenses, ended the month with $12.299 million and included revenues of $3.135 million and expenditures of $2.251 million, the report stated.