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School employees voice concerns

1. Employees at the Hart County Transportation Department are voicing their concerns regarding how the Board of Education is choosing to spend funds, stressing that needs should come before wants. Photo by Mary Beth Sallee.

Mary Beth Sallee

Managing Editor

Hart Co. News-Herald

 

Last week, the Hart County News-Herald was contacted by an employee of the Hart County School System regarding her concerns of how the Hart County Board of Education may be choosing to appropriate funds.

The employee, who requested to remain anonymous, stated that it had been made known that the Board was looking at the possibility of having turf installed at the current football field. The employee’s opinion, however, is that money would be best spent elsewhere, such as to improve bus transportation and provide much needed facility updates at the bus garage.

When discussing the cost of potential turf, the employee described it as being “a lot of money.”

“The bus garage is getting the short end of the stick,” the employee said. “They were told, and I say they meaning the bus garage in general, that the turf football field would benefit the school body more than it would the bus garage having reliable transportation or having a reliable bus garage to repair said transportation in.”

“The bus garage and transportation department is always getting the short end of the stick,” the employee continued. “…The bus garage is considered low men on the totem pole.”

Such concerns are felt by other employees in the district as well.

Tim Sexton has been employed as a bus driver with Hart County Schools for 17 years. Although he is a supporter of all students and is proud of this year’s football team and their accomplishments, Sexton believes money should be spent elsewhere other than turf.

“We can’t be putting money into frivolous things that will benefit a handful rather than things we need for the safety of hundreds of students,” Sexton said. “…As I’m in transportation, I see needs there more than other places, but I’m sure there are a lot of things we need rather then artificial turf.”

Sexton said that his bus and many others are aged.

“My bus is over 17-years-old, got almost 300,000 miles on it, and we have more buses that are almost as bad,” he shared. “As far as breaking down, our mechanics do an amazing job with what they have to work with of keeping them running.”

It is Sexton’s opinion that the need also goes beyond new buses. He believes there is also a need for better pay for bus drivers within the district.

“As of right now, we have no sub drivers at all,” Sexton said. “…Our super and other staff are having to work in transportation due to driver shortage.”

For Sexton, the ball is in the Board members’ court on how to best spend funds that benefit all.

Sexton stated, “As I’ve said before, we have a great superintendent and transportation director, but their hands are tied when our Board, which should have students needs first, do not.”

The Hart County News-Herald contacted Superintendent Nathan Smith with questions regarding this topic. On behalf of Mr. Smith, Assistant Superintendent Bo Chenoweth responded.

According to Chenoweth, the money spent on the upkeep of all athletic fields primarily comes from the school system’s general fund. However, some funds are used from the athletic department budget at the high school, which may include paint to line the fields for football games, soccer games, baseball games, and softball games.

“There are many factors that come into play regarding the upkeep of all athletic fields which makes it difficult to break it down to a specific cost for annual upkeep to just one playing field,” Chenoweth said. “The school system works diligently to maintain safe and aesthetically pleasing playing fields.”

Chenoweth also shared that at this time, the Board is not under contract with any company for the installation of turf. Rather, the administration has been tasked with exploring potential turf options and costs.

According to Chenoweth, the administration’s architectural firm, Sherman, Carter, Barnhart, estimates an initial cost of $1.8 million for installing turf on the current football field.

“In consultation with turf manufacturers and installation companies, the life expectancy on average is between 11 and 16 years of durability,” Chenoweth said. “We do know that after the turf reaches its life expectancy, the carpet (playing surface) will have to be replaced at an approximate cost of half the installation cost. Inflation could make this replacement cost increase over time.”

In response to concerns being made by others that the money could be best spent elsewhere, Chenoweth explained that state law dictates how certain funds are used and what they can be spent on. The Board of Education approves an annual budget which includes monies designated to purchase new buses, make repairs, and so forth.

“The possible expenditure of money to install turf is different from the money available in the annual budget for bus transportation, bus maintenance, etc.,” Chenoweth said. “If turf is installed, it would be paid for through the school system’s bond potential following the advice of the district’s financial advisors, Compass Municipal Advisors. After the money is bonded, the district does bear responsibility for paying for the bonded money annually at a rate determined through the bonding process.”

“During this current administration, a financial spending plan (through the annual general fund budget) has been implemented to buy new buses on a rotation of buying one new bus during one school year and then buying two new buses the next school year,” Chenoweth added. “Our transportation department does an excellent job of keeping all school buses maintained and operating under all safety specifications…Like any vehicle, a bus can experience a need for unexpected repairs. Those are addressed quickly by our own transportation mechanics or outsourced if necessary…While we have enough drivers to run all our current routes, there is still a shortage in substitute bus drivers. This is a common problem throughout Kentucky and the United States.”

Chenoweth stated that the Board of Education decides what needs and/or projects to spend bonded money on according to the District Facility Plan (DFP) developed by a Local Planning Committee every four years. The school district’s new DFP was approved by the Board last summer.

“It is important to the Board of Education and my administration to be wise stewards of all finances while making decisions that are in the best interest of both students and staff members,” Chenoweth said. “With limited local revenue contributing to the overall school budget each year, our bonding potential does not grow very much from year to year. Through the guidance of the District Facility Plan, the Board of Education seeks to make improvements to the Hart County School system within our available means.”

The responses from the anonymous employee, bus driver Tim Sexton, and Assistant Superintendent Bo Chenoweth were all received prior to last week’s Hart County Board of Education meeting held on February 15.

2. The bus garage, located behind the high school, was built in the 1960s. During a recent board meeting, bus garage employee Vickie Puckett stated, “The last few years has been really of an issue with leaks, animal infestations, birds, mice…Mechanics do a great job, but the building doesn’t have the correct ventilation…Our health is worth a lot to us. Is your health important to you at the Hart County Board of Education?”

During the public comments portion of that specific meeting, Tim Sexton, along with Greg Ard and Vickie Puckett, addressed the Board with their continued concerns.

Ard has worked in the school system’s Transportation Department for 15 years, serving as the Director of Transportation for the past 6 years

In Ard’s address to the Board, he stated that Hart County bus drivers haul approximately 1,300 students to and from school each day. As there are currently 2,360 students enrolled within the school district, that equates to 55% of the student population being bussed each day.

“During my time there (in the Transportation Department), I’ve seen various upgrades to facilities in the school district with exception of the Transportation Department garage,” Ard said. “I know there are some that think that there are only four people employed at the bus garage, but in reality, there’s 40 of us. All 40 individuals are responsible for the safety and well-being of those 55% of students, and yet we are some of the most unappreciated and, most of the time, last thought of as being a part of the school system – that is, until sports trips and field trips come around.”

Ard explained that the bus garage was built in the 1960s and “has seen bare minimum upgrades and repairs in its lifetime.”

“Due to the location of offices in the upper section of the building and lack of ventilation, sometimes the smells and fumes can be quickly overpowering,” Ard shared. “When it rains, we have around 13 different roof leaks depending on the amount of rain. There’s flooding in the first bay.”

The concern, Ard stated, is that the Board is considering turf to be placed on the football field which would yield an expense of $1.8 million dollars.

“After adding up the numbers that come in direct contact with the football field of sports and band, it’s approximately 200 students. That figures to 8% of the student body enrollment that play or participate on that field,” Ard said. “…For the life of me, I don’t understand how that money is well-spent on 8% of the students when the Transportation Department deals with 55% of the students, and we must use buckets to catch rainwater. We have a fleet of 38 buses, of which 24 are out of appreciation. I applaud Mr. Smith and Mr. Russell for working diligently during my six years to purchase two buses each year. This has helped, but because of negligence shown to the Transportation Department over the years, it’s a hard hole to get out of. My department is not perfect but is in no way deserving of the disrespect they get from the Board…Pushing the Transportation Department further down the list in years out is appalling. $1.8 million dollars for 8% is a slap in the face for our department who serves 55% of the students. The Board can and should do better.”

Vickie Puckett also addressed the Board at last week’s meeting. She has been employed in the Hart County School System for 27 years, with 21 of those years at the bus garage.

Puckett described her coworkers at the bus garage as being the “best of the best” and a “dedicated group of individuals.” But the work conditions, Puckett said, are of great concern.

“What other facility in the Hart County School District was built in the 60s that has had no upgrades to the building that was initiated by the Board of Education?” Puckett asked. “The last few years has been really of an issue with leaks, animal infestations, birds, mice. Maintenance has boarded up the roof with spray foam to keep the birds out. They work hard, but (there are) fumes and smoke from the buses while they work on them…Mechanics do a great job, but the building doesn’t have the correct ventilation. They do all they can, but it really is pretty bad. There’s times that I have to leave the building upstairs due to fumes and smoke. Our health is worth a lot to us. Is your health important to you at the Hart County Board of Education?”

Puckett said choices must be made between wants and needs.

“We’re pretty easy to get along with until they tell us that we just keep doing what we’re doing while the School Board wants to spend a large sum of money on projects that is a want, not a need,” Puckett shared. “Football has been played on the field since I was in high school. Turf doesn’t make the team. That’s not gonna change. I was raised you take care of the needs before the wants…so I’m asking the school board to do the right thing.”

Tim Sexton again shared his thoughts during the Board meeting as well.

“Greg (Ard) and our mechanics do a great job – as good as they can – keeping things fixed up and on the road. But, folks, we can do better,” Sexton said. “I haul a special group of kids. They’re special to me…And I would hate to know that I’m on a bus some cold morning, and we get broke down out there and the mechanics are out on a route because we don’t have enough drivers or subs, and I have to wait out in the cold for someone to get back to the garage and bring me a bus. Ladies and gentlemen, we can do better than this. We had a great football team. Everybody is proud of football. I am. But folks, we need buses, and we need drivers.”

Due to specific rules and regulations, Board members did not respond to the public comments during the meeting.

Any questions or concerns regarding the Hart County School System and/or Board of Education decisions should be addressed to Central Office at 270-524-2631. It should also be noted that the public is welcome to attend Board of Education meetings. Anyone wishing to publicly address the Board must arrive to the meeting early and sign-in on the public comments sheet in order to be allowed time to speak during that portion of the meeting. A schedule of upcoming Board meetings is included in this edition of the newspaper. The Board meeting schedule, policies, agenda, minutes, and Board member emails can also be found on the Hart County Schools website at www.hart.kyschools.us/board.

“We can’t be putting money into frivolous things that will benefit a handful rather than things we need for the safety of hundreds of students.” Tim Sexton, Bus Driver

“I was raised you take care of the needs before the wants…so I’m asking the school board to do the right thing.” Vickie Puckett, Bus Garage Employee

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