Pulaski Schools moving forward with supplemental school year

Janie Slaven | CJ

After months of meeting with limited attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pulaski County Board of Education returned to their normal seating arrangement allowing for public attendance. Pictured from left are Superintendent Patrick Richardson, Board Chair Cindy Price, Vice-Chair Dr. Rebekah Branscum, Patty Edwards, Laura Carrigan and Daphne Tucker.

The Pulaski County Board of Education is moving ahead with plans to accommodate students seeking a supplemental school year.

In their regular meeting on Tuesday evening, school board members approved the requests of 263 students districtwide.

"Basically the board has to approve or not approve all requests," Pulaski Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson noted before making his recommendation to approve. "It's an all or none situation."

The supplemental year is being made possible through Senate Bill 128, approved by Kentucky legislators and signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear on March 24, which allows students to use the school year "as a supplemental school year to retake and supplement coursework already completed."

Parents had until May 1 to decide if they wanted a supplemental year for their child, and the board had until June 1 to decide to accept or deny all such requests. The district now has until June 16 to submit its plan of action to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) regarding the supplemental year. The superintendent expects to present that plan at the June 8 meeting of the board of education.

While no more students can request a supplement year after deadline, board attorney Larry Bryson noted that the students who were opted in would be allowed to change their minds. Richardson said that the district will be requiring each family to meet with a guidance counselor and sign off on the program.

"They need to understand the implications -- not only at the high school level but at the elementary and middle school level -- because it can impact their eligibility with KHSAA (Kentucky High School Athletics Association) when they get to high school," the superintendent explained. "A lot of those age requirements are still in effect, so all that has to be discussed."

Supt. Richardson advised board members that the district currently plans to add only two teachers to accommodate supplemental students. "Currently we're not projecting that SB 128 will impact our budget greatly," he said. "In some situations, we were on the borderline of allocating another position anyway."

Lawmakers approved SB 128 to address "learning loss" due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its prolonged school closings. On the local level, the Pulaski school district is also gearing up for a more extensive summer school program.

"We have a very big summer school planned this year for kids trying to close those learning gaps from virtual learning," Richardson told board members. "We're hoping to be able to recoup a little bit of that."

Board chair Cindy Price asked how many students would be participating, with Richardson estimating between 800-1,000 districtwide.

Supt. Richardson also discussed the launch of a virtual academy for students who may not opt for in-person instruction next school year.

"Currently we have between 500 and 700 home-school students in our district," the superintendent explained. "If we are able to offer something that's computer based and supported by teacher-coaches, they can take advantage of the more social aspects of school such as sports and clubs that they currently can't take advantage of. We're hoping to draw some of those students back in as well as offering someone looking for more of a virtual option that as opposed to in-person classes."

In other news:

• Board members approved the 2021-22 salary schedule which includes a one-percent raise across the board for certified and classified staff. The scheduled also includes a $1 increase on base pay for bus drivers as well as a $5 per day increase for certified substitutes.

"There hadn't been a change on that pay schedule as long as I can remember," District Fiscal Services Director Rebecca Wright said. "Everyone across the state is having trouble with [hiring] bus drivers, substitutes and custodians."

Regardless of the classified shortages, Wright continued that it was nice to see raises for district employees. "I appreciate that we're headed in that direction," she said. "It's been several years."

While other districts have opted to give employees one-time bonuses through federal ESSER (Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding, Supt. Richardson noted that the one-percent raise will accumulate over time. "It will also figure into retirement," he added. "In my mind, that's a better option to try to give a little bit more over a longer time."

• Supt. Richardson announced the hiring of Mark Flynn as the new principal of Southwestern High School. Flynn has headed Oak Hill Elementary for the last three years but previously served as assistant principal at Southwestern under Principal Danita Ellis, who retired at the end of last semester.

In terms of upcoming retirements, Supt. Richardson said the district normally averages 30-35 per year. As of Tuesday, the number stood at 63 certified and classified personnel districtwide.

"It's been a rough year as far as COVID is concerned," he said. "…We have plenty of jobs available for anybody that wants to work."

• The school board approved a $1,642,133 Capital Funds request. Wright advised board members that the funds would be applied toward a $918,000 KISTA bus payment and $723,000 of the athletic lighting project at Pulaski County High School, which is expected to cost some $800,000. In a separate motion, the board awarded the lighting project to locally-owned Deco Architects.

• Jessica Phillips and Kristin Whitson presented the Readers to Leaders Story Book Trail project on behalf of the 2020 Leadership Lake Cumberland Class. The class has partnered with the Pulaski Area Technology Center's carpentry department, which is building the 24x36 wooden plaques that will house the storybook pages, as well as the school system to apply for a two-year grant that could possibly fund trails on school campuses. Sponsorship opportunities range from $100 to $5,000.

• Board members awarded a four-year contract with Winchester-based Patrick & Associates LLC for auditing services at a cost of $25,000. Wright noted the district had been happy with White and Company, however that accounting firm had to drop the Pulaski County School System -- their largest school account -- due to their own staffing issues. Their notice, Price noted, fell within an emergency time frame -- allowing the district to contract with another firm without having to advertise an RFP (request for proposals).

• Supt. Richardson reported "very few" positive COVID-19 cases for the district since Spring Break.

• The meeting closed with an executive session to discuss Supt. Richardson's annual evaluation. A summative report is expected to be released at the June meeting.

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