Louisiana Press Journal

Follow Us On:

Letter: A board member speaks out on Clopton’s budget

Posted on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 11:53 am

The Louisiana Press-Journal and the Bowling Green Times occasionally publish letters on matters of public concern.

Letters should be sent to lpjed@lcs.net or bgted@lcs.net by noon on Monday for consideration for publication in that Wednesday’s paper. Letters should be signed with the writer’s full name and sent with the information necessary to contact the writer about their letter.

The newspapers reserve the right not to publish letters for any reason. The newspapers are most likely to publish concise letters that make points not already represented in the letters column.

My name is Clay Lockard and I serve on the Pike County R-III (Clopton) School Board. I am writing this letter to clear up some misinformation and inform the public of the real reason our school district is in the financial situation it’s in. I would also like to shed light on some actions the Board took which I feel to be very problematic.

Many people may not realize that the loss of Holcim’s funding and the lack of student enrollment do not really constitute the reasons why we are in this financial predicament.

While it’s true that huge financial stress was created when Holcim left the district 10 years ago, the Board was able to take steps to recover from that. One of these steps included implementing a freeze on the teachers’ salary steps. In fact, the Pike County R-III School district was on a very good path of recovery. So much so that around three years ago, after our annual audit, the Board was told we had too much money in the reserves and we needed to start deficit spending.

Based on the Superintendent’s recommendations, the Board released the freeze on the teachers’ salary steps and then gave the teachers a substantial raise. This was followed up the next year with another substantial raise. With all three actions, the Board asked if the district could afford these expenses and the Superintendent assured the Board the District could. Following this, the Board then implemented a health-savings benefit package for the teachers,  upon the recommendation of the Superintendent. While a few one-time expenses were also made, all of the above expenses occur annually and I believe this caused the district to deficit spend in excess of $900,000.

In less than a year after the Board approved the latest of these salary benefits, the Superintendent informed the Board that if the District continued to deficit spend at this rate, we would soon spend all of our reserves. We were told immediate cuts had to be made in personnel, as this is where 80% of our expenditures occur. In response to this new and unexpected information, the Board halted the teachers’ health-savings benefit package, cut several teaching positions, and implemented a four-day school week. We’re still trying to figure out where more cuts can be made.

Some think a tax increase is the answer. I strongly oppose a tax increase as a solution to our financial crisis. We haven’t been good stewards of our money, not to mention taxpayers in the Clopton district already pay more school taxes than any other surrounding districts by a long shot. How can we ask them to trust us with even more of their money?

In addition, the Board took some recent problematic actions regarding the Superintendent’s contract renewal:

1. The district’s policy requires the Board to conduct a formal review of the Superintendent at the end of every year, however, this policy was not followed before the Board approved the Superintendent’s 2-year contract extension. This is a very important policy and has always been followed since I have been on the Board. Given the circumstances we are in, it seems it would be even more crucial, as the Superintendent is responsible for providing the Board with the budget and is our Chief Financial Officer. It seems to me that the Board would want to review the performance of the Superintendent and ask him for a plan moving forward before extending his contract.

2. On the Board’s agenda for the January 2019 meeting, there was no specific listing of the Superintendent’s contract being discussed. Instead, it was simply placed on the agenda as “Personnel,” which is almost always listed on the agenda. It should have been clearly placed on the agenda so that all of the board members and the public could have been aware that the contract renewal would be a discussion topic.

In addition, the Board President recently instructed the Board Secretary to notify the board that Greg Talbert vacated his position on the board. I believe Greg was not treated fairly. Section 162.303 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states, “Any member of the school board of a seven-director district, including urban districts, failing to attend the meetings of the board for three consecutive regular meetings, unless excused by the board for reasons satisfactory to the board, shall be deemed to have vacated the seat; and the secretary of the board shall certify that fact to the board. The vacancy shall be filled as other vacancies occurring in the board.” (emphasis added)

I believe it was understood Greg’s absences would be excused. Greg missed those meetings because he was coaching the Clopton girls JH basketball team. Greg had been asked by the Board at the September meeting to take on that coaching position, and I believe the Board led Greg to think he was excused from the meetings that conflicted with his coaching schedule. The November and December meetings were on the same nights as basketball games. Greg missed the October and January meetings because he had to rearrange his work schedule in order to meet his new coaching requirements for the girls. In addition, I believe Greg communicated directly with the Superintendent in each of his absences and received a response confirming that it would not be an issue.

To wrap this letter up, I want to say that we have made so many cuts in our teaching staff that I don’t know how we can make any more without crippling the education of our students. It is vital that the Board and the public be given strong, accurate information on our financial standing.

I personally do not feel confident about the financial numbers we’ve been given and I’m not sure how any board member could. I encourage the public to come to board meetings, educate yourselves, and give constructive input. The Board should and does welcome public participation. Remember, this is a public school; it is your school. Your input is not only welcome, but it is crucial.

Signed,

Clay Lockard

Eolia, Mo.