On Wednesday, Feb. 16, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) provided Warren County School Board members with details on a long list of topics they will have to vote on in the coming months.
Council Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi and Members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo and Melanie Salins got briefing from WCPS staff on planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School (LFK) and Center Blue Ridge technology; accessibility of advice refusal forms; and proposed catering contracts, among others.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger also presented the board with the proposed budget for the division’s fiscal year 2023 – which the Royal Examiner covered in a separate story – and in action, voted to accept the meeting agendas despite some backlash from a board member.
In the proposed budget for the 2022-23 school year, Ballenger pointed out that WCPS has identified $8,100,025 in federal funds to help support a renovation project at LFK, which is considered one of the highest priority expenses. of the school division.
WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith told the school board that the 46-year-old LFK had additions built in 1988 and 1993, and a parking lot renovation took place in 2012, but the school has not had any major updates since. .
Located on 10 acres, the more than 60,000 square foot school, which serves 535 students, has an open-module classroom design concept that Smith says was popular in the 1970s but doesn’t serve students well. students today. Last year the school board approved Grimm + Parker Architecture Inc. to design the renovation and replacement of the HVHC and in November 2021 WCPS staff began working with the firm to develop the design and construction schedule. construction, Smith said.
Stephen Mundt, a partner at Grimm + Parker, updated board members on the schematic design of LFK, which also includes the replacement of all electrical systems in the school, including fire alarms, l intercom, public address system and clocks. A new generator would also be installed for the building, he said, and all lighting and technology infrastructure would be replaced.
Additionally, Mundt said a new restricted and secure entry vestibule would be created at the front of the school to replace the open area that visitors enter when entering LFK. After the renovation, visitors entering the school went to a registration area to check in with the school office, where staff then ushered them into the school.
“It’s very important for school security,” Mundt said, adding that a new electronic card system would be installed for all doors to improve security as well.
The design also includes building real walls to separate classrooms and eliminate the open concept, he said, noting that all windows and glass doors would be replaced, along with all floors and ceilings.
Improvements to ADA compliance would also be made, such as in the restrooms, and the clinic and offices of the director and assistant director would be relocated. The cafeteria scene would be removed to increase space and kitchen renovations and storage are also planned, according to the design.
The tentative schedule would be to begin construction in January 2023 with a completion date set for summer 2024, Mundt said.
Because there is an existing stage in the LFK gymnasium that would be updated with new stages, board member Rinaldi asked if these stages could somehow be childproofed. He said he was concerned that the children were in the gym and “accidentally flew down the steps”.
Mundt responded that the design would not make the stages “more childproof than they currently are”, but that the suggestion could be discussed with division management and the LFK director.
Funk, a board member, was curious as to why the design proposed to move school administrators from their location to the administrative offices at the front of the school. Mundt said current headteachers no longer want to be located behind the main office because they believe it is less accessible to students. Instead, he said principals want to be more connected with the student body. “It’s a common design to take them out,” Mundt said, “and it was an arrangement they were most happy with.”
More information will be made available to the school board on the design outline and related job offers for the project, according to Smith and Mundt.
The second item of the working session was a discussion on the accessibility of opt-out forms included in the Student Code of Conduct and the annual review of counselling/school principal documents.
As WCPS plans to update its website and localize all forms online, school board chairman Pence said the conversation needs to start about how the board wants to make opt-out forms and/or available in print to parents and guardians – for example, should all Student Code of Conduct forms be available at the beginning of the manual or as an appendix, or should additional pages be added.
Ballenger said the plan is to roll out the new website for the back-to-school season in August, and a division committee is currently reviewing possible vendors.
Pence suggested that in addition to website forms and printed forms, the division could also have information tables set up during back-to-school nights. The idea is similar to presentations made recently by WCPS councilors about their programs and lessons at recent open houses after the council voted to suspend the second-stage social-emotional learning program, which has since been restarted.
“Now would be the perfect time for the parents to review the documents in person,” she said.
“We may also have opt-out forms available there,” suggested Ballenger, who reminded everyone that parents can also request to come see the counseling materials at their school.
Board member Lo suggested getting feedback from advisers on the content of the actual withdrawal form, which is in a format asking for withdrawal from the entire counseling program rather than specific lessons. Although several boxes to check on the form are too overwhelming, perhaps advisers could help the board find common ground between the two, Lo said.
Pence requested that sample opt-out forms be available for the board’s review in May. WCPS leaders have agreed to provide them.
Smith made two presentations on proposed contracts related to foodservice: the Sodexo Foodservice Management Contract Renewal and the Sodexo Custody Contract Renewal for the 2022-2023 school year. Board action on the renewals will be sought at an upcoming meeting, Smith said.
He called the division’s relationship with Sodexo, which has provided such services to WCPS for several years, a “model partnership” and said WCPS recommends that both contracts be renewed for the following year.
One of the strengths of the catering management contract, Smith said, is that WCPS doesn’t pay for meals that aren’t served or items that aren’t used, which creates a strong incentive for both WCPS, which saves money, and for Sodexo, which strives to serve high-quality, edible meals. Sodexo also contributes thousands of dollars in scholarships and charitable donations to the division.
The management contract would increase by $11,000 from the current contract, said Smith, who noted that WCPS “can handle the increase quite easily.” Overall, he added, the increase is not bad considering the country’s current inflation rate of 7% and the increase in rates charged for lunches and breakfasts.
The proposed renewal of Sodexo’s custodial contract, which covers 56 employees, would increase by 2.5% for the next school year, which Smith says is less expensive than if WCPS employed those 56 people and offered them benefits.
The board will review the contracts at its March 2 meeting.
Before its business session began on Wednesday, as usual, the Warren County School Board had to vote to accept or change the agenda and then do the same for the consent agenda.
Board member Rinaldi offered to accept the agenda. Waiting a second on the motion, Salins objected, saying a personal element was added too late and should also be made available for public comment.
The item she was referring to was a personnel matter that was going to be discussed in a closed meeting at the end of the working session. Personnel issues are generally not made public, according to WCPS staff.
Salins was reminded of the WCPS Policy Manual, revised September 1, 2021, which states:
“Preparing and distributing the agenda — The Superintendent and the Chairman of the Board shall prepare an agenda for each regular meeting and business session. Except as permitted at the Superintendent’s discretion, each agenda item must be received at the Superintendent’s office and distributed to the School Board by the close of business on the Monday (48 hours) preceding the meeting.
“The superintendent may add an action item within 48 hours of the meeting with the approval or direction of the school board chair. Elements essential to the functioning of the school system can be added before the start of the meeting. This may include personnel matters, finances, or items essential to the operation of the division.
“After the meeting agenda is initially posted, board members will be provided with a description of any changes or additions to any agenda item.”
This policy is available online HERE.
Lo then made a second to accept or amend the agenda and the board voted 4-1 to accept it with Salins voting no.
Next, the board had to vote on the consent agenda, which includes the minutes of the January 5 meeting; the clerk’s report of February 16; the February 16 report and the addendum to the staff report; and a mandatory attendance request for release. Following a motion by Rinaldi to accept the consent agenda, with a second from Funk, the board voted 4–1 to accept it with Salins voting no.
The board then voted unanimously to call a closed meeting to discuss employee personnel issues, as well as the superintendent’s mid-year review.
School Board Business Session Covers WCPS Proposed Budget for 2022-23