By Stephen Smoot
Concerned parents came to the Pendleton County Board of Education meeting last week to request that the board continue to explore running an activity bus to help student athletes in the area get to practices in Franklin, among other business.
The meeting opened with a prayer by board president J. D. Wilkins, who said, “We ask You bless us tonight with wisdom and discretion.”
Vanessa Harper and Amanda Simmons spoke during the public comment period. The board explained that sunshine laws prevent the board from commenting in a decisive fashion about items brought to its attention during public comments.
Harper opened with “we appreciate that you’ve posted that activity bus driver position” for over a year. She added that “we do thank you and I know they have a similar problem in Brandywine.”
No one has yet applied for the position.
Harper proposed possible solutions, such as using current buses or finding a public school employee “willing to run them over.” She added that “I understand there’s insurance that has to be carried.”
The parents indicated that picking children up was much less of a problem than getting them to Franklin. Harper said that long term, she supported moving sixth grade from North Fork to Pendleton County Middle/High School.
Teresa Heavner replied that “they’re having problems finding vehicles” while J. P. Mowery related that “we could take a look at some other avenue” to meet the needs of affected students and parents.
Harper and Simmons then told the board that they appreciated the time spent discussing the issue.
Mowery then briefed the board on workman’s compensation costs and benefits from various providers. First, he related that “the work ethic of our employees is very good. Safety is very good.” This has translated into relatively low premiums for workman’s compensation insurance in recent years.
Mowery explained that the school system earned an EMOD of .63 for 2018 and 19, which improved to .59 for the 2022 and 23 school year.
EMOD stands for Experience Modification Rating and is based on workman’s compensation claims. The industry average is 1.00 with higher numbers reflecting a negative direction and lower a positive. Mowery explained that “this is as low as you can go.”
Several companies submitted bids. Though Travelers’ Insurance submitted a higher bid than some, the perquisites and resources available at that price made it the best value at $20,598.
Mowery also reviewed expenditures from the COPS school safety grant. Brandywine Elementary School will receive new security cameras at a cost of more than $62,000. North Fork Elementary also received security camera equipment, but at a reduced price of $40,273 because they had current and usable devices. Mowery said the middle/high school was “already taken care of,” while the bus garage received more than $16,000 worth of equipment.
Franklin Elementary School’s security cameras dated back to the construction of the school eight years ago and, like Brandywine, needed a full new suite of equipment, costing just over $60,000. The board expects that installation will take between six and eight months. Pendleton County Schools must pay the up front cost; then every penny is reimbursed by the federal government.
Board members then discussed the option of purchasing a 2016 F-450 utility truck that uses a V-10 propane engine. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “propane has a narrow flammability range, and its tanks are 20 times more puncture-resistant than gasoline tanks.” They must also endure the same crash safety test regime as gasoline powered vehicles.
Sonny O’Neil, board member, shared that “this is going to be the future — propane.”
Next, the board reviewed the year’s attendance, seeing that enrollment dipped by nine students from 2021-22 to 2022-23. The middle/high school had 383 students, Franklin Elementary, 284, Brandywine Elementary, 102, and North Fork, 98. All except Franklin reported slight losses over the previous year.
The board also accepted the retirement of Doug Simmons. O’Neil wished to add the acceptance came with “great regret . . . for everything Doug’s done for us.”