By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
Three action items on the Madison County School Board’s agenda Thursday, including how to meet a student’s special needs and the granting of a new title to a current employee, led to some heated exchanges.
The five-member board voted 4-1 on every action item in the agenda. But in the end, the board:
• Provided for federally mandated care for a student with serious health needs
• Ratified an agreement making the district eligible to receive grants in exchange for its continued efforts in energy efficiency, and
• Enabled the restoration of a historic home with connections to the Battle of Richmond.
Chief finance officer Debbie Frazier also delivered some good news about the 2012-13 budget’s ending balance. (See Saturday’s edition of the Richmond Register or visit www.richmondregister.com)
And new Superintendent Elmer Thomas and Chief Academic Officer David Gillium gave their first reports (see adjacent story).
Nurses for students with special-needs
The Individualized Education Program, commonly known as IEP, is mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law is intended to identify children with disabilities and create an individualized plan to meet the student’s educational needs.
Several students in the Madison County School district have IEPs, and certain accommodations must be made to stay within the confines of the law.
On Thursday, the board voted 4-1 to approve a contract with Nurses Registry Inc. to provide a specialized nurse for a student who has specific doctor’s orders. Board member Mary Renfro was the only dissenting vote.
Thomas said the contract has been approved every year.
Renfro asked why the 11 nurses that were approved to staff the schools couldn’t care for this one student.
“The professional nursing staff that we have right now is a general nursing staff that takes care of all the students. This student’s needs are so great, that by doctor's order, they must have someone with them because at any moment, they can have a life-threatening situation,” he replied. The nurse would stay with the student at all times.
Renfro asked why the student’s insurance would not pay for the special nurse.
Director of Special Education Debbie King said if the student was eligible for Medicaid, then Medicaid would pay for the services.
“But this particular student is not eligible for Medicaid,” King said, and the student’s health insurance will not cover the cost of the nurse.
Board chair Mona Isaacs called for a motion after a short discussion, but Renfro wanted to know if King had checked with other nursing companies.
King said she had checked with other nursing companies, but “this was the best offer we can get for this particular student.”
The nurses with this company also are already familiar with the student, she said.
Thomas said there have been other contracts with nursing companies in the past “because once the doctor puts it to orders – that you have to provide this for the student – then you have to provide this for the student.”
“This is what we get into with these unfunded mandates from Washington,” said board member John Lackey. “Maybe it’s valuable, but we need to be told, and the community too, how much it is costing.”
King said the cost was around $45,000 last year for this particular student.
“That’s one teacher job basically,” Renfro said. “We just had all of these extra nurses approved. To me, it seems like one of those nurses can provide those services.”
King reiterated that the student had “such intensive needs that they (school nurses) can’t meet her needs. She can’t safely attend school, based on doctor’s orders, without this nurse being with her.”
Lackey asked if other school districts are doing the same thing.
Yes, King said, “because that’s what we’re required to do, and that’s what we do for the kids.”
Renfro asked again why one of the school nurses couldn’t take care of the student.
Thomas reminded her that 11 was the same number of nurses in the district last year and that 11 nurses were approved to meet student needs. The team of 11 will staff high schools three times a week and alternate two times one week and three times the next at elementary and middle schools.
Renfro then asked if King could reach out to three or four nursing companies, instead of just two.
“We had trouble getting two to get back with us quite honestly,” said King, who conducts online searches and talks to other school districts and hospitals in search of these specialized nurses.
Board member Beth Brock, who is a nurse, said nurse agencies are pretty specialized and a home-health agency does not provide the service needed.
Lackey said the district needs to be proactive in finding ways to hire a nurse who can attend to more than one student.
“We try to think outside the box,” King assured him.
There is another student who will need a specialized nurse, she said, but she had difficulty getting a contract together for Thursday night and could not tell the board how much it will cost.
Isaacs read the recommended motion to approve the contract and every member voted “aye,” except for Renfro, who still had more questions.
Renfro asked why the district could not hire a licensed practice nurse instead of a registered nurse, which she said would be cheaper.
But according to the contract, whether the Nurse’s Registry sends an LPN or an RN, the nurse would cost the same, Isaacs pointed out.
“I’ll oppose this because I don’t believe that LPNs get the same as RNs,” Renfro said
Energy manager? ‘Fire him!’
The third action item on the agenda was the proposal to ratify an agreement between the board, Louisville-based energy company LGE-KU and the Kentucky School Board Association.
The motion passed 4-1 with Lackey as the only dissenting vote.
The district would stand to gain around $15,000 in grants if it entered into this agreement and continue its energy-efficiency efforts.
“We’re simply getting our hands in this pot of money,” said Chief Operations Officer Kevin Hub.
But Lackey pointed out the agreement states that the district is obligated to employ an energy manager. “I don’t know that we have to have an energy manager,” Lackey said.
“We have one of those Mr. Lackey,” Hub replied.
“Well let’s fire him. Why do we need him?” Lackey said. “Can we do without him?”
“The energy manager has about 16 other titles and that’s just the way we do things at Madison County Schools,” Hub said. “It’s not a new position. Thank you David Rorrer (the district’s electrician) for all the work you do, we’re giving you another title so we can get $15,000.”
Lackey said the contract says an “energy manager” should make $27,500 a year and that the benefits of the program do not outweigh the cost of an energy manager.
“Is that just a title that does things that are self-intuitive, like turn the lights off, turn the thermostat down – what does someone like this do that is worth $27,500?” Lackey asked.
“If LGE tomorrow offers us the opportunity to call me the ‘director of umbrellas’ and they will pay us $27,000, my new title will be ‘Director of Operations and Umbrellas’ and Madison County Schools will get $27,000 – that’s exactly what this is,” Hub replied. “The day before we got the grant and the day after we got the grant, David Rorrer didn’t cost us a nickel more …There has been no salary increases because of this program.”
Lackey said the agreement is an eight-page document “that, to me, doesn’t have any real purpose other than maybe getting a little money for the state, and I’m assuming they want something in return.”
Thomas said Rorrer looks for opportunities to save money as he is completing his regular electrical duties, “which makes him the energy manager.”
“If we do not enter into this agreement with LGE and KSBA, we are still going to try to be experts at energy efficiency,” Hub said. “We’re just not going to have a $15,000 gift.”
Lackey noted that the district won an award last year for being energy efficient.
“We are that good,” Hub replied. “So let’s not consider, again please, firing David Rorrer.”
Lackey was still not convinced.
“I have to believe that LGE is getting something back for their $15,000 that I don’t see here. I just have to wonder why they would come in and ask us to do something we are already doing … there’s bound to be something else beyond surface,” Lackey said.
Thomas speculated that LGE might have some regulations it has to meet through this program.
“And I know that David Rorrer actually enjoys saving energy,” Thomas said.
Isaacs said this is probably similar to the practice of utilities companies giving out energy-saving light bulbs or thermostats – “we all need to be better stewards of our utilities.”
Tax dollars probably paid for those light bulbs and thermostats, Lackey said. “I guess that’s exactly what’s going on here too.”
“Well if our taxes paid for it, then we’ll get our $15,000 back,” Isaacs said.
Mount Pleasant property
The Madison Central High School lecture hall, filled to its usual half capacity, had a few visitors from the city of Richmond who talked about acquiring 0.14 acres of the Mount Pleasant property owned by the board near Madison Middle School.
City Manager Jimmy Howard first brought his request to the board in June. The home and 0.29 acres of property are owned by the city while an adjacent 0.14 acre is owned by the board.
Howard was accompanied by Mayor Jim Barnes, Dr. Fred Brammell, who will provide the financial backing for the restoration, and Joe Pierson, a representative of the Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation.
The home, built in 1831, has ties to the Battle of Richmond and was used during the Civil War as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers, Brammell told the board in June. More than 4,000 Union prisoners who were held behind the fence that then surrounded the courthouse received their prisoner-of-war paroles in the yard of the Mount Pleasant property.
The home’s woodwork, doors and floors are basically the same as they were in 1831, Brammell said.
The property switched hands several times, but in 1977, the owner donated the home and 0.43 acres to the Madison County Historical Society.
In 1998, the society sold the house and land to the school board for $80,000, according to the deed,.
The board kept the property until 2007, and then sold it to the city of Richmond for $75,000, retaining the 0.14 acres as a paved parking lot for the middle school’s emergency bus fleet.
The city agreed to sell its share of the property to KTHP for $1 and asked the board to do the same. In exchange, the city would foot the bill for moving the bus fleet and their electrical outlets to the school’s lower parking lot ($7,000) and also pay for additional fencing to keep students away from the home.
The board’s 0.14 acres was appraised at $10,500, so after the electric work and fencing, the city and the board should come out about even, Howard said.
Located on the crest of the hill between Madison Middle and Water Street, the home has been target of vandals in the past, Howard said.
Bottom line, Brammell was not interested in restoring the property unless the board agreed to hand it over, he said.
In June, board members said they would take a month to think it over and visit the property, but it was nearly two months before the proposal appeared on the agenda.
Brock said she drove up to the property this week and wanted to know if there will be enough room in Madison Middle’s lower lot to accommodate the buses.
Madison Middle Principal Steve Evans said the lot is empty during the school day and with the way the buses will be lined up, it will not affect pickups or drop-offs.
But before Isaacs would read the proposed motion, she sought a few assurances from the city.
“I just wanted to make sure that everybody understood that there were some neighborly issues that we needed to be aware of while working on this property so close to the school,” Isaacs said.
Workers need to be aware of bus traffic, said Isaacs, because the entrance to the Mount Pleasant property is near where buses leave the school.
There also is a “window of time” between mid-April and the first week of May during which students are taking state tests, she said.
“That’s a period of time we are very cautious about what kind of distractions we have for our students. It would not be an attractive thing for us to have people jack-hammering in the parking lot next door to a school during state testing.”
After Isaacs read the motion to deed the 0.14 acres to the city in exchange for the $10,500 or more in improvements to the property, Renfro said she would like to have more time to go see the property.
“I’ve not had an opportunity to do that because we’ve been doing all of the superintendent stuff. I drove up to it, but I never found it and I was running late. I would like to just see what we’re talking about,” Renfro said.
Isaacs reviewed maps of the area Thursday night with Renfro, after which Renfro asked “is there any reason to rush this?”
Isaacs said there was work that needed to be done prior to winter. “If we wait until September, that window is closed significantly,” she said.
Renfro asked if everyone else on the board had viewed the property. Board member Becky Coyle said she had not, but after talking to Brock, who had already visited the property, Coyle realized the property was “much smaller than I was thinking
Coyle said she had always wondered why the district kept the dilapidated property, except for a place to park the buses.
“It really is an attractive nuisance for our students … Once it’s restored, it’s going to be a beautiful part of Richmond and downtown” and a place where students can learn some history about Richmond, Isaacs said.
Lackey said he had been up to the property on several occasions, but not recently.
“So there are three on the board who have not seen it then,” Renfro pointed out.
However, Lackey made a motion to transfer the property, and the proposal passed 4-1 with Renfro the only dissenting vote.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.