State laws change Purdy school policies

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Scholarships, payment for meals, prompt debate

Keeping up with changes in state laws, the Purdy school board approved and discussed policy changes recommended by the Missouri Consultants for Education (MCE), prompting discussions on several topics infrequently considered by board members.

Superintendent Stephen Chancellor said looking at policies several months after the legislature concludes its session gives the district an opportunity to see how other districts respond to changes imposed by the Missouri General Assembly.

Several points warranted no discussion. State law mandates students say the Pledge of Allegiance daily. Beginning this year, ninth graders must take a civics test, which is still under development. A new law states students must be taught CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, as well as a suicide awareness program. Four-day school weeks are officially allowed.

Chancellor noted up until now, the district had no policy on administrative leave. A new policy describes it as paid time-off and outlining due process for review, a strategy the district followed but now has in writing.

Another new policy provided a system for tracking inventory. Another outlined a gifted program, which the district has not had but could now start. Chancellor said gifted instruction would likely continue as it has, provided through individual teachers on specific subject matter.

New policies included the option of doing a design build as an alternative to bidding architectural services and individual subcontractors. The formula, used by Monett, allows selection of a general contractor, who handles all the specifics and hires providers for specific services. Chancellor said the new policy does not bind the district to one approach. The policy offered directions for taking bids and how to evaluate a construction manager.

All these policies received immediate approval. Several others Chancellor left for board members to reconsider at their meeting on Oct. 23.

One of these would set a number of days allowed for a student field trip without specific board approval.

Another, in fitting with requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, outlined limiting debts for school meals and how to inform parents. The board was asked to set a dollar limit in the policy before taking specific action. Board secretary Anna Marie Erwin stressed the point was to guarantee all students were treated equally.

“We draw a hard line that kids are going to eat,” Chancellor said. “Everyone has a hot meal. We’re not going to give a student peanut butter [if behind on a bill]. The USDA is requiring we do this. Any time we talk to a parent, we need to talk about lunch balance, behavior, things that are in the student data folder.”

If a parent was neglecting a student by not providing money for meals, Chancellor said he would have no qualms about putting that parent on the spot. He still considered that a high consequence and one he preferred to avoid.

“It’s got to be pretty dire to do that,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has ever been hot-lined for a lunch bill. The biggest problems is for the money not making it from the parent to here.”

Another policy proposed offering scholarships for students to take classes to earn college credits. Students can graduate with up to 27 college credits by taking advanced placement classes. Chancellor suggested that before offering scholarships, the board should complete its criteria for early graduation and consider adopting a cum laude system.

Two drivers for pursuing college credit, he explained, were securing college scholarships and the class rank competition. Colleges today are less inclined to look at college rank, and instead look at cum laude achievement, which ranks the top 10 percent and then the next 15 percent.

“A scholarship for dual credit is killing the high school experience,” Chancellor said. “There’s something to be said for high school being high school, for being a kid.”

That renewed a discussion among board members over the potential of students pursuing advanced placement classes in an effort to buy their way to a top class ranking. High School Principal Derek Banwart suggested the district should not pay for a student to take online classes, especially with qualified teachers present who can provide instruction. Board President Randy Henderson reported he had heard “hard backlash” on the cum laude concept, and if used, it needed to be phased in a year at a time beginning with the eighth grade class.

“I’m afraid we’re getting to the position where we’re giving consolation ribbons,” Henderson said. “If you take the goal out, kids won’t strive to reach it.”

Board members also received a 15-page policy on healthy eating habits and another on how to provide additional benefits non-certified employees with hourly wages. Discussions about overtime and comp time began before the Trump Administration dropped rules made late in the Obama Administration. Chancellor said the board needed to revisit the issue now that it wasn’t mandated.

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