By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
The Madison County School Board voted 5-0 on Thursday to adopt a policy that would change the compulsory high school attendance age from 16 to 18 effective in the 2015-16 school year.
The board did not have a chance to fully discuss the policy prior to Thursday’s meeting and had pulled it from a motion that would adopt all of the annual board policy updates.
Board member Becky Coyle asked to hold off on adopting the policy so the board could gauge community sentiment on the decision.
Later in the meeting, however, board chair Mona Isaacs remembered that the deadline for a $10,000 dropout prevention grant was Monday, and that the board would have to vote on the policy that night to qualify. She called for a vote, and the policy was adopted after a short discussion.
Following passage of Senate Bill 97 this year, the Kentucky Board of Education asked local districts to raise the compulsory attendance age and offered a monetary incentive.
According to a provision of the law, after 55 percent of districts have adopted the policy (96 out of 173), the remaining districts will have to sign on within four years. So in April, the KDE offered a $10,000 grant for drop-out prevention to the first 55 school districts that adopted the policy. It later changed the number of grants to 96 during its “Blitz to 96” campaign.
Board member John Lackey said he was “prepared to go either way” on adopting the policy, but would be “happy to pick up $10,000” if the grants were still available.
He said many people he has talked to oppose the compulsory age increase because “if they (students) don’t want to learn, let them go.” People also are worried about the cost of keeping students in school and making special accommodations for them, Lackey said.
Interim superintendent Randy Neeley said the biggest concern with keeping children in school who do not want to be there is the cost, but with the district having fewer than five dropouts last year, that would not be a problem.
Lackey agreed that as long as the number of dropouts remains low, the board could fund special provisions for those students.
In 2011-12, the district had only six dropouts, down from 51 the year before. However, the number of dropouts had numbered in the 80s during previous years.
June 25 was the first day local boards could adopt the new standard, and 58 districts voted to implement the policy within the first 48 hours; 75 districts adopted the policy in the first week, according to a July 10 press release from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office.
In that release, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said there were no more planning grants available from the KDE, but he encouraged all districts to pass the policy this year.
But, through conversations with Gov. Beshear’s office, Neeley said he had the impression more funding would be made available to any district that passed the new policy by the July 15 deadline.
Other policy updates adopted include a state-mandated change to external booster programs that are not a part of school activity funds. Those programs must now procure liability insurance.
Chief financial officer Debbie Frazier said the advantage of being an external booster program is the flexibility with how their money is spent. Internal booster programs must have expenditures approved through the district.
Something as small as buying plates and cups for a fundraiser could be quite “cumbersome” if the funds were coming from an internal activity fund, Frazier said.
She said the new policy could deter external booster programs from continuing or it may push them into merging with internal programs. Internal boosters are covered under the district’s insurance as long as the board approves each expenditure and activity, she said.
The board also changed the wording of a policy that provided guidelines for determining a superintendent’s salary. Lackey said he preferred the use of “may” instead of “shall.”
Another state-mandated policy change affected the entrance age of preschool students.
Beginning in 2017, preschools must accept children “at risk of educational failure” who turn age 4 by Aug. 1, instead of the current policy of Oct. 1. As in the past, all other preschool positions are filled as they become available.
Food service supervisor Emily Agee announced the price of school lunch would increase by 10 cents for paying students to $2.25 and staff/adults to $3.25.
She said the price increase is a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that requires districts to gradually implement healthy food changes to school menus.
The goal is to eventually increase the price to a maximum of $2.59 (or $3.59) over the next few years, she said. If the board did not comply with the school lunch price change, the district would not receive reimbursement from the United States Department of Agriculture for school lunches.
The price of reduced breakfast and lunch remains the same, 30 cents and 40 cents respectively. Agee said this price has been the same in the 21 years she has worked for the district.
The district’s new human resources director Dustin Brumbaugh announced that there would be no changes to employees’ dental plans, only revisions that would ensure it would remain a tax-exempt fringe benefit.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.