Board of Education discusses new school
April 21, 2022
The Lewis County Board of Education met in a regular called session on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at 6:00 p.m. at the Lewis County Board of Education Board Meeting located at 206 South Court Street. All board members were present: Chair Glenda Atkinson, Vice-Chair Johnny Clayton, Derek Cotham, Cassie Couch, Paula Dyer, Blake Farr, Lindsey Himes, and Jack Holt. Phyllis Townsend joined the meeting via Facetime due to medical issues.
The invocation was given by Hayden Bass. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Mr. Farr.
During public input, Cody Mitchell, City of Hohenwald council member, asked to speak to the board. Mr. Mitchell stated that he was coming before the board to discuss the proposed sales tax being placed on the ballot and the City of Hohenwald to share their quarter cent local option sales tax if passed. He stated that he does not have a problem with the City of Hohenwald sharing their portion of the sales tax increase with the school system. He stated that the board needed to be cautious because of the inflation and higher cost of living being imposed on people at this time. He stated that if the board did proceed to seek the quarter cent sales tax increase that they would have to really sell this to the public. He also stated that he realized that it may have been previously discussed, but that he had not heard the board discuss the state proposed funding for the schools.
The board recognized the following high school students for recently attending the SCOPE conference on March 16, 2022 at Belmont College in Nashville: Zoie Clark, Layla Graves, Andalyn Himes and Allison Lovett.
Upon motion by Mr. Farr and seconded by Mr. Cotham, the Consent Agenda was approved which included the minutes of the March 8, 2022 meeting, the adopted agenda, and the approved 3rd quarter warrants. These were vendor and payroll warrants for the General Purpose Fund of $3,325,890.99 and the Federal Projects Fund of $673,771.40. This made the warrant total $3,999,662.33.
Transferred Deborah Lewers, substitute teacher, to Paraprofessional at the LCHS CDC classroom effective March 2, 2022.
Employed Derek Rang as a teacher and head football coach at the High School effective March 10, 2022.
Approved leave of absence for Judy Worrell effective April 29, 2022, through May 21, 2022.
Accepted the resignation of Chris Rhinehart, bus lot mechanic, effective March 31, 2022.
Teachers recommended to advance to professional license were as follows: Ciara Bowen, Christie Bunch, Kassi Holloway and Bethaney Keltner.
Director Pace called on Sasha Powers, Coordinated School Health director, to give a covid/ELC grant update. Mrs. Powers informed board members that she was glad to report that the Lewis County Schools did not have any active covid cases at this time and have not had any for the past four weeks. Mrs. Powers further explained that the ELC grant has been extended and this will allow the school to continue to employ the additional two nurses through the 2022-2023 school year. She stated that we will have to keep dollars available for covid testing.
Mrs. Himes requested to move item (a), budget amendments, under new business to the end of the agenda until the board was presented the information about item (b) approval of a mini GMP for site prep for the new school. Mr. Pace informed the board that they could move item (a) under new business to the end of the agenda. Mr. Pace reminded the board members that the USDA loan was contingent on moving a minimum of $10 million dollars into the building funds and that the board has already contracted for one million dollars in architect fees, and this must be paid.
Mr. Clayton made a motion to move item (a), budget amendments, to the end of the agenda and was seconded by Mrs. Dyer. Motion approved unanimously.
b) Approval of a mini GMP (Guarantee Maximum Price) for site prep for the new school.
Prior to the vote on item (b) under new business, Chair Atkinson asked Mr. Trull to explain to the board what they would be voting on under this item. Mr. Trull explained to board members that Ron Bargatze and Steve Hewlett of Hewlett/Spencer, LLC were present and would be giving greater details of the mini GMP resolution. Mr. Trull further explained that the resolution was written up by Rick Warren, Hewlett Spencer, LLC attorney and Jack Heath, Lewis County Board of Education attorney, so the verbiage on the resolution was on the up and up and legal.
He stated that the $6,249,223.00 will be used for the sitework cost and will not affect the GMP of $29,387,544.00. Mr. Trull asked Mr. Bargatze to explain in further details the resolution of the mini GMP to the board.
Mr. Bargatze informed the board members that they are looking at the beginning of the school year August 2023 and that time was of the essence. He explained the reason of the early release package that was presented in the resolution is so that the site work can begin. Early release package #2 includes building concrete, structural and miscellaneous steel.
The final building package will include the remainder of the GMP (Guarantee Maximum Price) funds. He stated that the GMP would not exceed the $29,387,544.00 that was agreed upon.
Mr. Bargatze stated that his company had always come under the GMP on projects that they have built. Chair Atkinson asked if the $6,249,223.00 comes out of the GMP. Mr. Bargatze stated that this is part of the GMP.
Mr. Pace asked Mr. Bargatze if he thought it was possible to have the new high school built by August of 2023. Mr. Bargatze explained that the new high school is similar to the Burns Middle School that was built by them and that it was built in 13 months.
Mr. Bargatze stated that they have never been late on any building project. Mr. Pace asked Mr. Bargatze to explain to the board exactly what the sitework included. Mr. Hewlett stated that he would be glad to explain this information. He stated that this would be mass grading and a lot of the utilities must go in before you start pouring concrete. The initial footings and foundations will come in after that. He further explained that by this time they will have the completed construction drawings.
Mr. Hewlett stated that they cannot complete the contract with contractors until the board approves the early release package. He stated that all of this has been reviewed by our attorney.
Mr. Hewlett stated that they needed to get the architect to come in and present the final schematics of the school to the board and walk them through the school.
Mr. Hewlett reminded board members that Mr. Pace and Mr. Trull have both been involved in the design of the school. Mr. Pace stated that both the chair and vice-chair have been invited to all and set in on some of the meetings.
Mrs. Himes asked had the county government secured the loan for the construction of the new high school. Mr. Pace explained that there must be $10 million dollars moved to our budget to allow us to take the next step.
Mr. Pace asked Mr. Trull to go into a little more detail regarding the USDA loan. Mr. Trull explained that the USDA side of the loan is 100% complete. There will be a meeting next week to go over the county’s side of the loan and they will have to go ahead and approve it.
Mr. Bargatze stated that the USDA loan has been one of the most regulated loans that they have ever worked with, and they have been great to work with and have approved all the drawings. Mr. Hewlett stated that the USDA really wants to be able to finance the new high school.
Mr. Bargatze stated that he would be in contact with the architect tomorrow and would get the drawings prepared that they have requested. Mr. Bargatze explained that there must be a Fire Marshal review done. Mr. Pace stated that the board has not received a detailed colored schematic yet.
Mr. Hewlett explained that there would be about three months of the mass grading and during this time the color, brick color, wall colors, etc. would be done during this time. Mr. Pace stated that he wanted to make sure that the board would be involved in the decision of how the school will look.
Mr. Bargatze stated that there would be a board member session to discuss all of this. Mr. Clayton asked that with the increase of the cost of construction that we will not get halfway through the construction and then they come back and ask for more money. Mr. Hewlett explained that the documents will guarantee that, and it will lock them out of coming back to ask for more money and the board will have a 100% performance bond on the total amount.
At this time, Mrs. Townsend asked if any local contractors would be able to work on the construction. Mr. Hewlett stated that they would work some of the local contractors and that it would be publicized. Mr. Bargatze stated that there will be a pre-construction meeting and that the local contractors will be invited to attend this meeting. Mr. Hewlett stated that they would be using the local Chamber of Commerce to help them communicate with the local qualified contractors.
Mr. Farr asked that if item (b) was approved if that means that this would be the start of breaking the ground. He asked other members if he was the only member that feels uncomfortable about going ahead with the project before the new director of schools is appointed. He stated that he wanted the new school, but he did not want to put this on the new director right away.
Mr. Pace assured the board that the new director of schools would not be coming in completely blind with this project because he has included Mr. Trull in the project from the beginning so that he would be able to help the new director of schools. Mr. Pace assured the board that the funding plan was in place, and it would take some irresponsible decision by someone to not follow through with the funding.
Ms. Couch stated that all the major decisions have been made at this point other than the color schematics that was mentioned earlier and how that would affect the new director of schools. Mr. Pace stated that any director of schools that is going into any school will inherit some type of project that they will be responsible for. Mr. Pace further stated that he did not start the process for this project and that it began when Tim Webb was director of schools and he inherited it. Mr. Pace stated that he was afraid that if the project is put off again that it could possibly kill the project.
Mr. Clayton stated that the summertime would be the best time to begin the site grading. Mr. Clayton further stated that the board needed to keep in mind that a couple of months ago they hired the architect and owe him over a million dollars no. This will have to be paid whether the school is built or not.
Mr. Farr stated he really did not want to stop the project, but he just was afraid for the new director. Mrs. Dyer stated that she agreed with Mr. Farr and that she wanted to pump the brakes just a little bit until we get an idea about the new director.
Mr. Bartgatze stated that they have done so much work so far and that the project would be bonded, and a delay would be detrimental to this project. Mr. Bargatze explained that they have companies that they will be contracting with waiting to begin this project. He stated that you can not get a six month guarantee on this type of project.
Mr. Cotham expressed his concerns for the increase in cost of supplies going up. Mr. Hewlett explained that they have already contracted with Floyd and Floyd Company out of the Columbia to start the mass grading and that they are available to start soon. Mr. Hewlett explained that a pause now could cause a chain reaction with the contractors and would jeopardize the opening date of the new school.
Mr. Cotham asked Mr. Farr what he was afraid of moving forward. Mr. Farr stated that he was afraid for the new director and it just made him nervous.
Mr. Clayton stated that if whoever the board hires for the new director is not capable of taking over a project such as this, then they do not need to be appointed as the new director. Mr. Cotham stated that he was ready to move on with this project.
Ms. Couch stated that the board must have confidence in all of the other people that have been involved in the process of the project.
Chair Atkinson asked if we were positive that the Lewis County government was going to vote yes on the loan. Mr. Pace stated that there is never a positive on a vote. Mr. Pace further stated that he has had some of the commissioners to approach him about sponsoring the loan and he has met with them, and he feels confident, but he does not know of anything that is positive in this world.
Mr. Pace stated the board has done all of the leg work on this project and he does not know why they would not vote for it as this will cost them nothing and the school would be paying the loan. Mr. Clayton stated he did not see any reason why the county government would vote against this but there is no guarantee.
Mr. Pace informed the members that the county commissioners have already approved the letter of request from USDA several months ago. Mrs. Himes asked if this was a verbal agreement between the board and the Lewis County commissioners. Mr. Pace stated that this would be mandated, and legal documents created.
Mr. Pace further explained that this was not new ground for the school and Lewis County government. He stated that the two previous loans that the school paid on the intermediate school and the addition to the high school went through the county and it was the school’s responsibility to pay these loans.
Mr. Clayton explained to the board that the City of Hohenwald has given their portion of the sales tax to the schools in the past to pay loans and that they are to be commended.
Mr. Bargatze stated that they have worked with a lot of county commissioners in the past and that the Lewis County commissioners have been very cooperative. Mrs. Townsend informed the board that she has been on the school board for 20 years and this building of the new school has been the commentary the whole 20 years.
She stated that people are always asking why the board does not go ahead now and she said that she thinks it is time to proceed on with the project. Mr. Clayton asked Mrs. Townsend if that was a motion. She said that it was absolutely a motion from her to proceed on with the project.
Chair Atkinson stated that since she had a motion from Mrs. Townsend, she needed a second to the motion. Ms. Couch seconded the motion. Chair asked for a vote on the motion.
All board members, with the exception of Blake Farr, Paula Dyer, and Lindsey Himes, voted to approve item (b) under new business.
Upon motion by Mr. Farr and seconded by Mr. Clayton, item (c) under new business, was unanimously approved by the board.
(C.) Teacher Tenure: Kassi Holloway and Andrew Lawson.
Upon motion by Ms. Couch and seconded by Mr. Cotham, item (d) under new business, was unanimously approved by the board.
(D.) Proclamation to Lewis County Government Commission, asking the Commission to place on the August 4, 2022, General Election ballet a ¼ cent increase to the local option sales tax increase for the purpose of building a new high school.
Upon motion by Mr. Clayton and seconded by Ms. Couch, item (e) under new business, was unanimously approved by the board.
(E.) Proclamation to Hohenwald City Mayor and Council, asking the city mayor and council to agree to give the Lewis County Board of Education their share of the quarter cent local option sales tax if passed.
Item (F.) - Discuss staff bonuses
Blake Farr stated that he had asked that the discussion of the staff bonuses be placed on the agenda tonight. He stated that he had two teachers ask him if there had been any further discussion about the staff bonuses since the last time it was discussed earlier in the year and if the bonuses would come out of the covid money.
Mr. Farr stated that he would love to see the bonus be awarded out of the covid money because the staff deserves the bonus. Ms. Couch agreed that it was a great idea, but she felt that the board needs to wait until the next budget because she did not like the ideas of the budget being amended.
Mrs. Himes asked would the board have to do an amendment for the money that is budgeted for salaries to give a bonus which is budgeted for salaries. Mr. Pace explained that the board could not do that. He asked where the money would come from if the board wanted to move funds to pay for a bonus.
Mr. Cotham asked how much money they wanted to give for bonuses.
Mrs. Dyer stated that she had gone back to the January 11, 2022, meeting and she had calculated everything that looked to her like in salaries or salaries related and it was a nice chunk. Ms. Dyer explained that this was ESSER money that was in the budget for salaries. She asked if the ESSER money for salaries and salaries related was already in the budget should that money not be in the general funds for salaries.
Mr. Pace explained that they used some of the ESSER money to build up the funds to go toward building the high school. He further explained that some of the money was used for salaries for existing personnel that we have and that would free up some money to go toward the construction of the new high school.
Mrs. Dyer told Mr. Pace that he has been telling the board that the $700,000 payment will be there in the budget to go toward the new school without the ESSER funds.
Mr. Pace further explained that part of the projections he is counting on the money that will fall into the fund balance to help fund the new school.
Mrs. Himes stated that at the January 2022 meeting they approved to use ESSR money to pay for salaries. She stated that this totaled about four million dollars and that it would not be realistic to ask for four million dollars for bonuses. She further stated that she was hoping that at the end of the budget year that would be available.
Mr. Pace asked Penelope Tharp to see if she could explain what she was talking about. Mrs. Tharp asked if that was when the ESSR 3 was approved. Mr. Pace stated that it was the new money.
Ms. McKissack explained that a lot of the salaries funds, they must keep 20% of the four million dollars to use for summer school, tutoring and instructional materials. Mrs. Dyer stated that the number she came up with that would be used for salaries was almost 1.3 million dollars.
Mr. Pace stated that its not to say you can’t move money for bonuses, he just wants to know where it can be taken from because these funds are already budgeted for specific items in the budget.
He stated that $600,000 has just been spent for technology and that came from ESSR money. Mr. Pace further stated that they have until 2024 to spend the ESSR money and maybe if there is anything available, that it might be moved over into bonuses. He stated that if the board wanted to move money that was already budgeted, that would be their decision.
Mr. Pace stated that if they wanted to, they could cut the air conditioning for the high school gym that came to an estimated amount of a half million dollars and that is not doable. He suggested to Mrs. Dyer that she come into the central office and meet with Mrs. Tharp and go over these numbers about which she is talking so she could better understand the process.
Mrs. Tharp asked to speak. She explained to the board that with the ESSR 3 funds they had to be put somewhere in the budget and that we have until 2024 to spend that money. She further explained that the money from CARES 1 and 2 grant is being spent now and the plan is to hold off on the ESSR 3 money until this other grant money is spent.
Ms. Couch said that she understood about trying to get the money for bonuses, but she thought the board needed to come up with an estimated amount and present this amount to the board, but not until the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Pace explained that once you use the ESSR funds on approved projects, then this frees up local dollars that can flow over in the capital funds. Mr. Pace further explained that if the board continues to save 1.2 million dollars per year, then the new school funding would be solid.
Mr. Clayton asked Mr. Pace what he has estimated the ¼ cent local option sales tax increase would be. Mr. Pace stated that he has estimated the amount to be about $350,000 per year. Mr. Clayton told the board that they need to be very cautious about approving bonuses right now. He stated that a couple of years ago when the ¼ cent option sales tax was voted on and was defeated, he said that he heard a lot of people say that they did not vote on the increase of the tax because the board had just given their employees a bonus of over $300,000+ and he does not want this to happen again.
Mrs. Himes stated that every time there is a mention of a bonus for the employees, something is brought up as to why it should not happen.
Mr. Clayton stated that he was not for the bonuses a couple of years ago and was made out to be against teachers. Mr. Pace stated that teachers received raises this year and to say that anyone is against teachers is not true. Mrs. Himes stated that there were some employees who did not get a raise the year following the last bonus.
Mr. Pace explained that the employees that were eligible for the step raise received about a 2% increase. Those who did not get the 2% increase was because the state did not send the money down for that. Mr. Pace told Mrs. Himes that if the board wants to give a bonus, then they need to try and find where the cuts would come from.
Mr. Cotham stated that he was concerned because the board on one hand is asking to be put on the ballot to increase local option sales tax by ¼ cent to help build the school and then on the other hand asking for bonuses and does not make any sense at all.
Mr. Cotham further stated that the general public looks at it like if you can give bonuses then you do not need this tax increase.
Mrs. Himes stated that the last time the tax was voted down, everyone said that the new school would not be built. She further stated that here we are now approving the go ahead to start the early release package and it has not hurt anything by not having the added expenses.
Mr. Pace stated that by losing the possibility of the increase in sales taxes it made the board to look at other measures to get funding for the school. Mr. Pace reminded Mrs. Himes that she was the one that encouraged the board to move forward to obtain other funding to proceed with the new school and directive to him to do so.
Mr. Pace also stated that he had people tell him that they did not vote the last time for the sales tax increase because the bonuses were given to the school staff.
He reminded the board members that the last time the bonus was approved, the board was told that there was 3.2 million dollars in the fund balance. Mr. Pace asked Mr. Farr if that was not correct because there was 2.2 million as he had reported. Mr. Farr agreed that he was told that there was 3.2 when there was indeed 2.2.
After the bonuses were issued, that brought the fund balance below 2 million. Mr. Pace reminded the board members that he is on his way out of his position as director of schools and he wants to leave the school financially stable.
Mr. Cotham stated that he would be for the bonus, but he wants to wait and see if the ¼ cent sales tax increase passes. Ms. Couch stated that she agreed with Mr. Cotham.
Mr. Pace stated that he thought the board needs to wait until the year after to give the big raise. He stated that this would be when the new funding begins and that there would be money available then. He said to continue giving a raise next year and that would depend on what the state sends down and that the school will have to absorb the cost of those that are not covered by what they allow.
Mrs. Himes stated that she had no further comments. Chair Atkinson ask Mrs. Dyer if she had further comments and she said that she did not have any comments.
More New Business
Chair Atkinson asked for a motion to pass item (a) under new business, budget amendments, which was moved to the last item under new business.
Under the General Purpose Budget Amendments for April, $10,000,000 would be moved from the Revenue Appropriations account “Assigned for Capital Outlay” to the Expenditure Appropriations account “Transfers to Other Funds.”
Under the Capital Projects Amendments for April, $10,000,000 would be taken from the “Transfers in” account in the Revenue Appropriations and moved to the following Expenditure Appropriations accounts: $1,115,781 to the “Architects” account; $142,500 to the “Engineering Services” account; and $8,741,719 to the “Building Construction” account.
Ms. Couch made a motion and was seconded by Mr. Holt, to approve item (a) under new business. Motion was unanimously approved.
Chair Atkinson read a thank you card from Becky Newbold for the sympathy that was extended to her and her family during the recent death of her mother, Byrne Dunn. Chair Atkinson informed members that the information was in their packet about the TSBA conference in Gatlinburg and for them to please fill out the information before they leave the meeting and give to Angie Leigh. Mr. Hewlett extended his thanks to the board for allowing them to begin on the new high school.
Upon motion by Mr. Farr and seconded by Mr. Cotham, the meeting adjourned at 7:15 p.m.