School board split over FFA's out-of-state trip aboard school bus

Friday, October 3, 2008

BERRYVILLE -- Future Farmers of America (FFA) club members at Berryville Schools will be traveling to their FFA national convention in Indiana in a yellow school bus even though past school board policy prohibited such travel.

That board policy was rescinded during a special school board meeting Monday to allow the trip to take place.

Opposing both the school bus trip and rescinding of policy were board members Shannon Hill and Sharon Ary, and board president Gordon Hale, who abstained from voting.

At issue is district and board vulnerability should a school bus be involved in an accident while traveling out of state.

Superintendent Dr. Randy Byrd raised the issue at the board's last meeting when the FFA request came to light.

He said the district and its board had "tort immunity" while transporting students in-state. However, tort immunity did not apply once a school bus crosses over the state line.

"As superintendent, I needed to point that out," he said of the district's and the board's vulnerability.

Hale said the board passed policy prohibiting school bus travel out-of-state after the Siloam Springs School District incurred deep debt because of such an accident several years ago.

"It will only take one out-of-state accident," commented Hill, who voted against both motions.

In favor was board member Jack Edens, who suggested the purchase of an insurance "rider" for out-of-state travel.

"That does not protect us with tort," responded Byrd.

"It's unrealistic to think activities would all be in-state," commented board member Vonda Bailey, who suggested they allow the Oct. 21 FFA trip to take place, as it has in past years, and to continue talks on travel options.

Byrd said Berryville FFA members had the option of traveling to the national convention with the Green Forest FFA club, which had chartered a bus for the trip, at a cost of $5,000, which could be split.

FFA advisor Larry Brooks rejected that option, saying the two clubs would have different schedules and accommodations, and they are rivals.

It was noted that several other school groups, such as band and choir, do charter private buses to transport them out-of-state using activity funds.

Voting to rescind board policy and allow the FFA trip were Edens, Bailey and Joe Ward. Board member Jack Newberry was absent.

In other business, the board approved a $14.5 million school budget for the year ahead, as presented by Dr. Byrd.

The board also rescinded, at Byrd's request, its previous vote to establish an additional elementary ESL teaching position to handle 32 new non-English speaking kindergarten students, and a special education paraprofessional position.

Byrd had asked for the two new slots at the last meeting, but now said the budget would not support them.

When questioned after the meeting, Byrd said the district was "very personnel heavy," and he may shift some staff around to accommodate needs.

Doug Harris gave the board an update on building project expenses.

He said the $2.2 million that remains in contingency and furniture/fixtures funds "is enough to do what we need to do for the buildings."

He also noted that there are "un-obligated funds" that can pay for some unbudgeted projects. Those would include intermediate school fencing, landscaping, elementary physical education bleachers, highway signage, and repair of the East Campus parking area in front of the gym.

The parking area repair work could be expensive, Harris cautioned, depending on what needs to be done.

Approved by the board was: the installation of Tempo Sound speakers in the Multi-Purpose building for $9,500 and Intermediate Cafetorium for $6,250; the purchase of 30 computer for $30,195 for an Intermediate School Computer Lab to be used for math, literacy and remediation; the purchase of 20 Elmo camera setups for middle and high school for $39,000; and the Fine Arts equipment list as presented by band and choir directors, with the understanding that the list could be modified as long as the cost didn't increase.

Also during the meeting, the board's previous locker purchase vote was rescinded, at Byrd's request, after he explained that the lockers for the Multi-Purpose building were not what the coaches wanted.

Maternity leave for Eryn Killingsworth, a third grade teacher, was approved, and Judy Verity was added to the substitute list.

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