By John Balch
Superintendent Brad Sullivan returned to work last Tuesday after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and conducted the October meeting of the South Pike County School Board.
Sullivan said prior to the meeting that he and his wife, Jill, were exposed to the coronavirus during a bereavement retreat they regularly host for families who have lost children. Sullivan said his wife, who was not infected, was “still in COVID jail” or quarantine at the time of last week’s meeting, which was held in the close quarters of the superintendent’s office.
Three board members – president Steve Conly, vice president Trent Cox and Jeramy Humphry – opted not to wear masks or face coverings for the meeting. Sullivan initially had his mask on for the meeting but removed it when he started the meeting from the head of the table. Conly’s wife and district bookkeeper, Genyne, was also present for the meeting and opted not to wear a mask. Board member Scott Maroon was absent from the meeting.
According to the school’s COVID-19 guidelines, all students 7-12 and staff will be expected to wear a face covering when social distancing of six feet is not possible.
The district’s COVID-19 point of contact Tanya Wilcher said Monday that since school started the district has had only two staff members and Sullivan infected and no students.
During the meeting, the board voted to accept the bid of Henry Ward Shavings to purchase the old Hudson Foods processing plant in the amount of $35,777.77. Ward’s bid was accepted over a $20,750 bid submitted by Farmer’s Tree Service.
The 35,000-square foot building and five acres were gifted to the school district in 2013 by Murfreesboro graduate David Thomasson, who used to run his business out of the building until it was relocated to Little Rock. Thomasson purchased the building and property from the city of Murfreesboro in 2001 for approximately $35,000. The city still owns portions of the property around the building.
When Thomasson made the donation, he stipulated the back taxes be paid by the school. The back taxes totaled $757.41 in 2013 with an annual amount of approximately $677. The former Rattler also requested the building be called the “75 Building” in honor of his class.
The building has sat unused since it was given to the district.
In other business last week, Sullivan reported the district has experienced an enrollment growth this school year. The district ended last year with 693 total students and now have 714 enrolled.
The breakdown includes: Murfreesboro Elementary School, 311 with 41 virtual students; Delight Elementary, 82 with 10 virtual students; and Murfreesboro High School, 321 with 15 virtual students. Sullivan said the growth will result in more growth money for the district.
In more good news for the district, Sullivan reported that the district has hit the threshold of 70 percent for maximum funding for free and reduced lunch for students.
Sullivan also announced that the Arkansas Department of Education has approved another waiver for all the state’s students in PK-12th grades to eat free at school for the remainder of the school year. Virtual learners can also pick up meals if they choose and breakfast is served each day from 7:45-8:15 a.m. and lunch from 10:30-1:00.
For more information about the free meals, call (870) 285-2189 ext 408.
Sullivan also reported that work on the high school and elementary buildings, as well as work on the band hall are progressing.
Sullivan also took time to acknowledge the work being done by the district staff in light of the pandemic. He said a teachers’ traditional hours do not apply anymore and it was time for the district to look at “how we can support our teachers more.” There was discussion about bringing in more substitute teachers to give teachers a couple hours a week to prepare lesson plans but no action was taken.
In personnel matters, the board approved the addition of Wilcher on the salary schedule to reflect the $35 per hour she makes as the district’s point of contact. The board also approved the employment of Heather Eckert as custodian.