The Helena-West Helena School Board took the first step to improve the district’s seriously tarnished image during a special meeting Wednesday afternoon. The session was called specifically to approve the “Statement of Assurances” for the district’s Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan but several other matters also were addressed.

 

The Helena-West Helena School Board took the first step to improve the district’s seriously tarnished image during a special meeting Wednesday afternoon. The session was called specifically to approve the “Statement of Assurances” for the district’s Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan but several other matters also were addressed.
School Board President Rev. Jarvis Smith introduced a proposed policy that would allow no mileage or hotel accommodation expenses for school board members participating in workshops and or travel-related activities within the state. Smith’s plan would still allow reimbursement from the district for registration fees and hotel accommodations lasting more than one day.
“We must do what we can to work through this fiscal distress issue,” said Smith. “We must show leadership in these fiscally tough times.”
Board member Constance Jarrett suggested modifying the policy to not permit reimbursement for meals and hotel accommodations unless the trip lasted more than three days.
The board unanimously approved the revised proposal.
The district’s recent reduction in force was rescinded and three employees – Dr. Joyce Cottoms, programs director; Dr. Ardelia Echols, federal programs director; and Cathy Price – will be reinstated perhaps as early as next week.  The district adopted a Reduction in Force policy (RIF) back in August. At that time, Superintendent Willie Williams cited the loss of students and in turn the loss of state revenue as the reason for making cuts in what critics had called a “top heavy” administration.
Jim Banks, an attorney for the Arkansas Education Association representing the three “RIFed” employees, and school board attorney Larry Jackson had met and determined that no board action was necessary to rescind the RIF action.
“The employees requested a hearing but it never took place,” stated Banks.
Williams said that he would send out a letter reinstating the employees no later than Monday.
The employees never missed a paycheck during the RIF period.
By a vote of 4-2, the school board approved the district’s ACSIP. The state requires all Arkansas school districts to submit an ACSIP that details how the district plans to work to improve student achievement in the area of literacy and math as well as a number of other areas.
Newly elected board member Christopher Franklin declined to vote on the ACSIP at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Oct. 11, citing that had not had enough time to read and digest the material. The board tabled the approval for five days to give Franklin an opportunity to study the material.
Franklin and board member Rayne Gordon voted “No” on the district’s ACSIP.
Before the meeting adjourned, the board briefly discussed American Recovery and Investment Act (ARIA) or “stimulus funds” the district was in line to receive to help pay for several renovation projects. The district attempted to generate the funds for the projects by extending a bond revenue debt. Voters soundly defeated that proposal in the September school election.
No exact figure was given as to the amount of the stimulus funds.
“These funds have not been officially approved yet,” stressed Jarrett. “And this money can only be spent for specific things.”
“We will continue to seek additional funds to keep this district afloat,” said Smith.