ES Superintendent Curtis Turner announces resignation, will take over fiscally distressed Mineral Springs School District
EUREKA SPRINGS -- It might not have been a surprise that Eureka Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner announced his resignation, effective the end of this fiscal year, at Thursday night's school board meeting.
It was revealed in April that Turner had applied for the superintendent's job at the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District and was on the short list of four candidates for the position.
That school district has been in fiscal distress since December 2012, so any candidate for the job would have to be approved by the Arkansas Department of Education.
Today, the ADE confirmed that Turner will take the help as Mineral Springs' new superintendent on July 1. State commissioner Tom Kimbrell dissolved the Mineral Springs School Board on Thursday, and the state has taken over operation of the school district. The district is being run by interim superintendent Bill Blackwood, who will continue in that position until Turner can take the helm.
Turner first joined the Eureka Springs School District as the interim superintendent in the middle of the 2011-12 school year, when Wayne Carr announced his resignation during the Christmas break. Turner was then retained for the 2012-13 year after the board hired an executive search firm to generate candidates for the position.
Turner has worked as a superintendent since 1986, serving a total of five years in Delight, Ark., one year in Glenwood, six years in Clinton and four years in Murfreesboro. He has worked with the ADE on schools that are in fiscal distress and has a strong background in finance and Arkansas law.
Under his leadership, Eureka Springs completed construction of its new high school and successfully challenged the ADE over retaining local school funding generated by tax millage.
Turner said he couldn't say enough good things about the school district, faculty, staff and students.
He said his personal circumstances had changed over the last few days and he made his decision suddenly.
Larson said he regrets Turner moving on and feels "shock and a big disappointment because he's been great in the leadership role."
"It was a very difficult decision," Turner said.
In other matters, the school board discussed a compromise on its recently approved policy not to allow any public comment at meetings. Board member Jason Morris suggested those who wish to speak submit a request a week ahead of time with specifics on their topic and be allowed to speak if a member of the board sponsors them. They would not be allowed to speak about any personnel issues.
Having a sponsor might relieve liability from the full board and put it on the sponsor if a speaker did violate the rules, said Morris.
"It's not that we don't want the public's input," said member Karen Gros. "Just the idea that the public would just come up as a routine to an open mic because that puts us in a situation where we're not allowed to respond." She added that if they know ahead of time what people want to talk about, they would be able to have information available and have a "fuller discussion."
She said without that, if a member of the public says their piece at a school board meeting, "that's what gets printed (in the newspaper), and there may be another side to the story." Knowing the content ahead of time could ensure "the whole picture could be (presented)."
Board president Al Larson said he wasn't sure he was "crazy about the sponsor concept."
He said if the discussion starts drifting away from the topic and the speaker is saying inappropriate things, "the meeting just needs to be shut down."
"If we have the opportunity to actually have dialogue, I am all in favor of it," he said, adding that the board has isolated themselves, and it would be positive to open up communication with the public. As far as the Arkansas School Board Association lawyer advising against public comment, he said it is the job of lawyers to say no.
Board members agreed to put public comment back on the agenda, but to require members of the public to request of the superintendent time to speak at least the Friday before the week of the school board meeting and to specify what they will discuss. Whether they are put on the agenda would be up to the discretion of the superintendent and/or board president.
The board did not take a vote but agreed to resume public comment under these conditions, and will update the school handbooks when revisions are discussed.
21st Century program director Gary Andrews updated the board on where the program is at financially. He said it is in its fourth of a five-year grant cycle from the No Child Left Behind Act. Funding for the program was designed to diminish by 10 percent each year. Next year it will be at 50 percent of its initial $150,000.
Most school districts run the program through the school year only, while Eureka Springs has run the program through the summer, at no cost to participant families, he said.
"This year we will try to carry over $25,000 for the summer program," he said. "A lot of the schools don't do that because it costs."
He said he will ask families to contribute $5 per week per family, regardless of how many children they have in the program.
The good news, he said, is that he will be going to Little Rock next week to hear about the future of the program.
"They are proposing $150,000 for three years and $120,000 for two years, instead of decreasing the amount."
He's not sure whether Eureka Springs can continue in the program because of its small student population. He said they will rewrite the whole grant in February to apply for another cycle of funding.
He said in the past there have been a couple fund-raisers to help the summer program continue, but people can donate for those families who can't afford even $5 a day. People interested in helping out should contact the school district.
The program provides academic and creative classes, as well as breakfast, lunch and snacks and runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week.
In other business the board:
* Heard the principals report on end-of-year activities. High school principal Kathryn Lavender said the high school went through a mock lockdown drill that no one knew about ahead of time except herself, and that it went "really well," and many students took responsibility who had no teachers present to remind them what to do.
* Approved the financial report.
* Approved the ACSIP plan changes, as reported by Lavender. She said NSLA funding for purchased services and materials and supplies remains the same, but moneys have been redistributed within the program for different needs.
* Approved retaining First Security Beardsley Finance for another three-year contract to handle its fiscal matters.
* Approved a resolution to participate in the school choice program, which is separate from the school transfer program. Parents who live in the school district but wish to choose a school in another district for their children have until June 1 to fill out forms for the request. Students who transfer under school choice are ineligible for athletics and cheerleading for one year.
* Approved the transfer of a student to Berryville from Eureka Springs under the transfer program.
* Returned from executive session to accept the resignations of Michelle Allred, high school paraprofessional, and Dawn Horton, elementary school pre-kindergarten. It also approved the hire of Barbara Tenan as the new food service director, Patrick Todd as the technology coordinator, Paula Chaney as the computer technician, Katrina Pumphrey as a high school aide, Carrie Gay as a kindergarten teacher and Kristen Jewell and Roxy Mitchell as elementary teachers.