BIC to restructure 3rd-6th grades
At the Monday, May 18, Buffalo Island Central School Board meeting BIC administrators presented to the board a proposal to restructure elementary so that all of third and fourth grade would be located at the Monette campus and all of fifth and sixth grade at the Leachville campus.
BIC superintendent Gaylon Taylor explained to the board that restructuring is something the faculty has wanted for years and is how the first millage proposal came about. He explained the district faculty wants to be together to share resources and provide the best education for the students.
"PreK-second grade will stay on the current campuses," Dr. Kima Stewart, principal of BIC West Elementary, explained. "We have been talking about this for about five years. The Arkansas Education numbers for class are 25 per class maximum first-third grade and 28 per class max for fourth-sixth grade. Combining theses grades on one campus will not put us at the maximum class size."
Nicole Stewart, East Elementary principal, told board members that with the restructure the district would not come close to meeting maximum class size but would in fact have room for growth. She also said her campus only had one section of third grade this year. With the restructure there will be three sections (classrooms) for each grade. Both spoke about the benefits of streamlining instruction and having the district's children together as one population at an early age.
Junior High Principal Mark Hurst told board members that 50 percent of his discipline problems occur because in seventh grade students who have gone to separate schools are combined for the first time.
"They will know each other from third grade on and will be used to being in school with each other," Hurst said. "This will take care of over half of my discipline problems. It also helps with our instruction. We have wanted to work more with fifth and sixth grade teachers to make the transition to junior high smoother, but with sixth grade on two campuses we have not been able to do that. Now they would be 100 yards away. This takes care of a lot of issues we have faced."
The administrators told board members the district faculty is excited about this restructure and would like to try it for a year. If it doesn't work Dr. Stewart said the district can always go back but she feels that by October the district will see great results. To have this ready by fall administrators asked the board to move quickly so parents can be notified, classrooms moved and things made ready for the new school year. The Board approved the restructure unanimously. PreK-second grades will stay on their current campuses. It will be third-sixth that will be restructured starting this fall.
Earlier in the meeting citizen John Steele presented the board with a packet of information and three questions he would like them to answer. He asked the board to review the information and respond to his questions within the next few weeks. The questions concerned the millage proposals and how much state mandated repairs were going to cost.
Superintendent Taylor did address the millage proposal. He started by thanking the board, faculty, staff and everyone else that worked to put the proposal together.
"The first millage election got out of hand," Taylor said. "So we tried a different approach to this one. A millage increase is one of the most gut wrenching things to deal with and for us triple so because we have three communities: Monette, Leachville and Black Oak. From a millage standpoint no one, including me, wants to put a hardship on anyone. In most cases a new superintendent would not jump into a millage increase. Some say we did this quickly but we don't know when the partnership program is going to end and we had a March 1 deadline to meet for facilities."
Taylor explained the states building fund for school districts has three legs and two of those have been phased out already. The partnership program where the state pays a portion of building cost is the third and final leg and it is unknown how soon that will be phased out. He did say that BIC was approved for up to $11 million for replacing its school buildings. The district has 18 months from April 30, 2015, to get a millage passed and contracts signed or that money will have to go back. Taylor explained that money is to replace buildings not repair because the state building inspectors recommended replacing not repairing them.
"For many who oppose the millage they say our buildings are fine," Taylor said. "I encourage them to go to other school districts and see what is being offered to those students that we can not offer here because of our facilities. Buildings don't educate kids but they help provide the means to do so. I encourage people to go to Brookland Elementary, Nettleton or even Valley View and see what they are able to provide to their kids that we cannot provide to ours in the current buildings we are in."
Taylor gave a special thanks to the teachers, students and administrators for the work they are doing. He said teachers use their own money to buy items for their classrooms and the entire staff physically fixes and repairs their own rooms and other things in their buildings.
"They have embraced the Mustang pride," Taylor said. "I want to give a special thanks to our students for respecting our school and they do that because their parents have instilled in them how to act. We have a whole lot to be thankful for. When you hired me two years ago I promised to do my very best for education and Buffalo Island Central School District. I have not and will not waiver from that promise. Every educational decision I make is for the best of the kids of this district."
Taylor said a millage increase for educational facilities at BIC has not been done for many years. The district is below the state average in millage and Taylor feels if it waits 10 or more years to address the current facility issues it will take more than the 9 mills the district has asked for to fix and the state partnership funding may not be available. He went on to discuss key problems the district was facing two years ago and some still today. The first was lack of technology.
"I'm amazed at how far we have come in two years but we are still behind," Taylor said. "All of our state testing is done online. When I came here the district did not have the ability to do that. Devices are the future of education and we have to put our kids on a level playing field."
Lack of quality professional development was another issue. That has been addressed and the district has made great strides in that area. The lack of collaboration between buildings and campuses was another issue. Taylor explained faculty members didn't talk to each other and each building worked separately. That has changed some but faculty members still feel they need to be together on the same campus to truly make a difference in that area.
Those are just the educational issues. The district is facing costly state mandated repairs. Salaries have been frozen district wide until a firm estimate of how much those repairs are going to cost is known. Other cost cutting measures are likely.
Some board members suggested bringing in a state inspector to speak to patrons to help them understand what the state is telling the district about the facilities. Taylor said that might be an option in late fall.
"We have one more shot at this and if it fails we have to turn back the partnership funds," Taylor said. "The state has said our buildings need to be replaced. They will not let us use these funds and will not give us funds to repair our existing facilities. It is my plea to find a way to get our town leaders to help us with this. We need them to get behind us and help get this passed. I wonder if these towns know the economic impact a $20 million project will have on these two communities.
The BIC district is looking at presenting voters a third millage proposal in January and will be working with patrons and leaders to come up with the best option possible.
In other business the board approved five resignations, two hires, financial statements and the school calendar for 2015-2016, which does include the option of taking days off of spring break if the district takes more than eight snow days.
At the beginning of the meeting the board recognized the BIC high school journalism staff for its 15 national awards this year.