• By Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board releases $600,000 restriction for new high school

The Woodford County Board of Education voted Monday to release a $600,000 restriction that was set aside for a new high school, but still strongly disagrees over the future of the project. Sherri Springate again urged other board members to stop spending money on a new high school and instead focus its financial resources on programs to educate students and help with their re-entry to school in the midst of a pandemic. Parents and teachers also disagreed with restricting any general fund dollars for a new high school when emailed public comments were read at the meeting. Angela McKale described such action as “reckless,” until the underlying financial consequences of the pandemic are resolved. “We have no idea what sorts of expenses may come up as we go through these uncharted territories,” said Erin Casimir, a teacher and parent. “... What we do know is that it will be different, and we – teachers, parents and students – need your support like we never have before ... This is not the time to be having ridiculous financial discussions about restricting funds. This is a time to be talking about how all funds can be used to serve our students and teachers.” While the board voted unanimously to not renew a Sept. 24, 2018 resolution restricting $600,000 for a new high school, no action was taken to amend project documents or possibly amend a restriction of $350,000 for a high school. Both of those action items were tabled for one week until the board can get additional clarification on the consequences of the decisions. The board has spent $645,000 on the high school project, with a $642,000 cash balance remaining, Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith said in response to a question posed by Springate. Springate also asked for Smith’s opinion on the financial consequences of not having money to pay for unforeseen repairs to other school buildings. Her continued argument that board decisions to restrict general fund dollars for a high school have led to deficit spending was disputed by board Chair Debby Edelen. “It’s just a difference of opinion and priority,” said Edelen. “... We’re not building a shrine to ourselves. We’re building something (a new WCHS) that everybody in this community says we needed. We’re building something that’s only going to get more expensive. “... We’re not trying to bankrupt the school (district). We’re not trying to hurt the children or the teachers. It’s been painted that way, but that’s not what’s happening here.” She said not taking a 4 percent increase in local property tax revenue in past years has had a much larger detrimental effect on the school district’s finances than restricting a portion of the general fund revenue for a high school. Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins firmly disagreed with Edelen’s description of not taking the 4 percent tax increase as “a political move.” “I am offended that you would say that I recommended a flat tax rate for political reasons,” said Hawkins. “... That is absolutely not true. And so I want to be very, very clear about why I recommended that. And that was our community is hurting right now, and to ask them for an additional tax burden at this time – I don’t believe is right. That’s not political. That’s on my heart.” ‘Unethical behavior’ Springate informed other board members that she would “call out all exclusionary or unethical behavior by this board.” She also read from an email that an unidentified district employee sent to her and other board members. It stated no “new plan” for a high school was discussed during a conversation about the use of restricted dollars on the project, Springate said. “As you can see,” she added, “this is a vastly different story from the one told to the public by Mrs. (Dani) Bradley and Mrs. Edelen at the quickly-called special session held on June 4.” Next school year Hawkins again gave board members an update on planning for a very different school year and thanked the local health department and its director, Cassie Prather, for working with the school district on those efforts. He said feedback from parents and staff will be extremely beneficial as the plans begin taking shape. “We will follow the guidance from the governor and state health officials with the goal of having our students return to the classroom when school begins,” said Hawkins. In person learning for students ended in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. WCHS graduation Hawkins told the board that the video of Woodford County High School’s virtual June 1 to 5 graduation will premiere Thursday (today) at 7 p.m. The graduation was not like other years, and he thanked WCHS administrators and counselors for their commitment to making the ceremony go smoothly. Response to racism After he read a statement from the superintendent of Boyd County schools that addressed recent racial tensions in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the importance of creating an atmosphere of anti-racism, board member Ambrose Wilson IV said the board must do better in the areas of minority hiring and the education of minority students. “But I honestly and fervently believe in order for us to begin that process, we have to throw away the excuses of the past,” he added. Edelen later talked about the pain felt by minority students at WCHS when they spoke about the discrimination they’ve faced during a conversation in February. “I can feel their pain, but I don’t understand it,” she said. “And I just think we are in a different time ... and what we can affect most is our community.” To the WCHS minority students who face discrimination, “this is what Woodford County is,” she added. Hawkins said he’s been working on a public statement very similar to the one read by Wilson, and sent that to board members last Friday. “And I would really appreciate your feedback because ... I felt like it was important for us to do a similar-type statement. We have been working with multiple staff members across our district” on its language, which he said, “states our position very, very clearly ...”

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