The Woodward News

May 15, 2013

Committee preparing bond issue

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — The Woodward Public School District's Long Range Planning Committee has a "very busy summer ahead" as it prepares to present a bond proposal to the school board.

Superintendent Tim Merchant presented Woodward Board of Education members with some of the committee's preliminary bond recommendations during the board's regular meeting Monday night.

"These are preliminary figures as far as the amounts," Merchant said.  "As this point, without going through deep cost analysis, these are our best guesstimates for the bond proposal amounts."

He said the final proposal calling for an election to decide on the total overall bond issuance won't be presented until the August school board meeting.  The election would then be set for Oct. 8, he said.

While the final total has not been decided as to how much the district will ask voters to approve for the bond, Merchant said that 3 main "areas of need" have been identified.  These areas are technology, transportation and a combination of addressing overcrowding and security issues.



TECHNOLOGY NEEDS

The technology portion involves both implementing a 1-to-1 initiative that would provide each student with his/her own electronic computing device and addressing the district's connectivity issues by replacing aging servers.

Merchant said the recommendation for the 1-to-1 initiative is to purchase 3,000 iPads for the district, which at the current price of $458 each would mean a total cost of $1.374 million.

"The suggestion is for Apple iPads primarily because of the commitment Apple has to education," Merchant said, noting this commitment can be seen through the variety of educational applications and software that Apple offers.

As for the connectivity issues, the superintendent said the recommendation is for a bond issue of $300,000 a year for the next 5 years so that the district can start replacing equipment on a yearly basis.

"We want to get into a good spending habit of budgeting each year for replacements as opposed to waiting for a big lump sum and boom, we're 10 years down the road and everything needs to be replaced at once," Merchant said.

So together the 1-to-1 initiative and the 5-year equipment replacement plan bring the total technology portion of the bond proposal to around $2.874 million.



TRANSPORTATION NEEDS

Under the transportation portion of the bond issue, Merchant said the district is looking at updating the fleet "all the way through."

However, he said the recommendation is to address vehicle replacement "in the same manner" as the committee proposes to address server replacement.

"We need to get into the habit of replacing vehicles on a yearly basis," he said.

Merchant said that is why the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) has proposed another 5-year issue at a rate of $380,000 a year so that the district will be able to purchase 1 Boomer activity bus, 2-3 traditional route buses, and 1-2 smaller activity vehicles, such as Suburbans or minivans each year.

This would mean a total proposal of $1.8 million in bond money for transportation improvements.



ADDRESSING OVERCROWDING AND SECURITY

Unlike technology and transportation, Merchant said, as of yet, no total number has been proposed for the recommended changes to address overcrowding and security concerns throughout the district.

The reason, he said, is that determining how to address these matters is more complex.

For example, Merchant said that at the middle school, the need for additional classrooms combined with aging facilities means the planning committee had to decide whether to recommend remodeling or building new, which each come with different costs.

Remodeling costs are estimated to be around $75 to $100 per square foot, he said, while the cost of building new currently costs between $140 to $165 per square foot.

Merchant said the committee is currently recommending a combination of remodeling the older parts of the south campus into administrative areas and building a new central portion to connect the north and south campuses, which would add new classrooms.  Also connecting the campuses to create one larger, but enclosed facility, will help improve security at the school because students would no longer have to walk outside to move between campuses.

But without knowing how much can and should be remodeled and what will need to be built new, Merchant said it is difficult to know the total cost.

But with over 109,000 square feet of space at the middle school, he said "we're talking a lot of money very quickly."

To help work out the final amounts, Merchant said the planning committee has 3 subcommittees, one for each of the areas of need, which will be meeting this summer with experts and advisors to help "as we get into the final details of what we want to propose."

For the overcrowding and security subcommittee, this means meeting with architects to discuss the building proposals and determine the best options and what they could cost.

In addition to renovations at the middle school, Merchant said the planning committee is recommending to address overcrowding at the Early Childhood Center (ECC) by moving the 1st grade out of the facility and back into the elementary schools.

"But we have to have somewhere to move them," he said.

So the committee is recommending adding 5 new classrooms and additional restroom facilities at each of the 3 elementary sites, at an estimated cost of $4.5 million, he said.

And in other security measures, the committee is looking at proposing the restructuring of school lots, installation of camera systems and double buzzer systems for the entry doors at the schools, Merchant said.



BOARD MEMBERS INVITED TO JOIN SUBCOMMITTEES

No action was taken in regards to Merchant's update on the preliminary bond recommendations.  However, he did invite the school board members to join in the LRPC's subcommittees as they met this summer to work out the final numbers for the bond proposal.

"We're asking for a representative from this board or a couple of representatives to serve on the subcommittees for each of the 3 areas," he said.

The superintendent said the board members could contact him later about which subcommittee they might like to join.

The board then moved quickly onto their action items, which included approving the Middle School Handbook for 2013-2014.  While there were several minor changes to the handbook for the next school year, the board discussed only 2 of them.

Merchant discussed a change to the school's cell phone policy, which he said was necessary as the district moves toward the 1-to-1 initiative.  Now instead of having to lock cell phones in their lockers during school, he said the handbook states the students must follow the guidelines of a district technology usage agreement, which will outline when such devices may be used for learning purposes.

The board members then discussed a change in the school's dress code so that now only knee-length shorts are allowed.  Previously the handbook stated that shorts that hit the mid-thigh were allowed, but Principal Frank Harrington said it was changed because "the girls don't know what mid-thigh means."

Harrington said the school was having a lot of problems with girls wearing shorts that were too short, so the change was made to knee-length shorts so the dress code was easier to enforce.

"I'm for it," Board Member Don Dale said of the change.

And his fellow board members, who participated in a lengthy discussion of dress code issues and the possible consideration of uniforms a year ago, agreed, approving all the revisions to the middle school handbook for 2013-2014.

The board then approved the cash fund estimate of needs and request for appropriations for the 2013 Building Bonds Cash Fund.

"This is a simple formality saying we want our money," Merchant said.

The school board then met in an executive session for a little over an hour to discuss the reemployment of support staff as well as the hiring of 2 new ECC teachers, a child nutrition secretary, and 2 special education paraprofessionals.

After returning to open session, the board approved the superintendent's recommendations for the support staff reemployments and the new hires.



TEACHER CONCERNS

During the public forum portion of the meeting, kindergarten teacher LeeAnn Stone addressed the board with concerns over teacher staffing levels.

Stone said she was concerned about where the district found the money to fund the salary of a new administrative position, when teachers are having to deal with crowded classrooms.  She said she felt the money could have been put to better use in other areas in the district, especially if the district "use(d) the money to fill positions at the ECC."

"The number one concern at the Early Childhood Center is that we're understaffed," Stone said.

With over 700 students attending pre-kindergarten through 1st grades this past year, she said it has created some high student to teacher ratios.

"Pre-k has the biggest overload with 24 and 25 (students per class), while kindergarten and 1st grade are averaging 23," she said.

Classroom teachers aren't the only area that is understaffed at the school, Stone said.  She said that this year there were only 3 custodians for the facility; only one music teacher and one PE teacher for over 400 students; and the cafeteria had to rely on outside assistance from volunteers because it didn't have enough staff to meet the demand of feeding the 700-plus students each day.



SUPERINTENDENT SAYS DISTRICT COMMITTED TO ADDING MORE TEACHERS

It is not part of the school board's protocol to respond to comments that are made during the public forum part of their meetings. So Board President Linda Harrison told Stone that while the board would not immediately respond to her concern, "we'll study it."

However, after the meeting adjourned, Merchant spoke with the media.

The superintendent said the district administrators and school board have both made "a concerted effort" and "been extremely committed to adding teachers."

He said this effort has been seen in a variety of ways, including with the announcement that "districtwide we will have 10 more additional teaching spots next year."

However, he said the district still has to make sure it is getting the best people to fill those positions.  Unfortunately this means that at time some positions may remain unfilled.

"Throughout this entire year, we've had 2 open teaching positions at the ECC that we could not get quality candidates for," Merchant said.

But this is why the school board has looked at other measures to improve recruitment such as increases in teacher salaries.

Merchant said the board approved a $500 increase over the state level for the current school year and has approved "moving to $1,000 above the state next year."

And while the district continues to address the challenges of getting more teachers in to reduce class sizes, the superintendent said it still must address needs in other areas as well.

Merchant said the creation of the new District Deputy Superintendent of Technology position, which will be filled by Kyle Reynolds, is "crucial as we move into the 1-to-1 initiative."

"It's vital that we have someone in a key role that understands both technology and academics, and that is what Reynolds is supposed to do for us," Merchant said.

Although technically an administrative position, the superintendent said Reynolds' new role will have him working side by side with classroom teachers to help them "implement technology into the classroom and use technology as a teaching tool."