Forecast looks sunny for school district’s electric bill

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Berryville School District is on track to begin using solar power on campus at the beginning of the year.

The district board heard an update on the solar array project, a 25-year agreement with North Little Rock-based Today’s Power Inc., from a company representative during the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 15.

“It looks like we’re on schedule to start pulling power from the sun in January,” district superintendent Owen Powell said last week. “That’s pretty exciting news.”

Owen Powell

The solar project, approved by the district board by a unanimous vote in February after an exhaustive process, is expected to eventually provide up to 80 percent of the district’s electricity and reduce the cost of electric power for the district to $0.065 per kilowatt hour.

All told, the addition of solar power could save the district more than $2 million in energy costs over the course of the initial contract.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the project — which includes more than 3,000 solar panels utilizing single-axis tracking technology with a capacity of one megawatt located on the western side of the school’s campus — was held in June and construction began soon after.

At the time, Powell said the decision was an effort by the board to be “good stewards” of district resources and called it “a long time coming.”

“Investing in utility-scale solar is the most cost-effective way to benefit all who work and learn in Berryville schools, while also investing in a green, clean, renewable source of generation right here in our own community,” Powell said in a June statement.

The board also approved new zone boundaries for the district reflecting data from the 202 Census. According to Powell, the redrawn zones don’t represent any major changes.

“We did have to move a few lines, but there wasn’t any drastic changes in the school district zones,” Powell said. “We didn’t have any of our board members that got moved out of their zones or anything.”

Powell said the minor changes reflected more good news for the district. Since all its board members stayed put, there won’t be any need for a special election, for which the district would have footed the bill.

“Those things are pretty expensive,” Powell said. “Most people probably don’t realize it, but to have those elections, they’re pretty costly.”

In other business, the board also heard an update from James Knight, an instructor at Berryville-based Connect 4.

Connect 4 — or C4 — offers junior and senior students from the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts the opportunity to pursue a technical education during the school day.

The program is housed in the Carroll County Career Center, formerly the Berryville Readiness Center, and offers instruction in a number of disciplines with an eye toward industrial maintenance, machining, welding, robotics and electrical work, providing students with a cross-curricular background in different trades.

“He kind of gave us some numbers — attendance, enrollment and everything,” Powell said. “He talked about the projects they have going on and the college credits they can get.”

Students who sign up for C4 can earn up to 24 hours of college credit in addition to earning a number of technical certifications.

C4’s enrollment for this school year numbers 68 students — 10 from Eureka Springs High School, 26 from Berryville and 32 from Green Forest — representing a significant increase over 2020-2021, when 53 students were enrolled. According to Knight, the program has a job placement rate of 62.5 percent.

In the spring, C4 recognized 12 students from the three county school districts who had been placed with local companies ranging from Tyson Foods, Nighthawk Custom and Ducommun to Campco, Nomad Piping & Fabrication and Silver Dollar City.

The board approved several fundraiser requests, including the sale of cookie kits, candy bars, “Jeans on Wednesday” passes, T-shirt ads and surprise kits, in addition to the Winter Pageant, a donkey basketball game and a fishing tournament.

A pair of out-of-state travel requests were also approved, with third-grade classes headed to Wonder Works in Branson, along with a Krispy Kreme pick-up run to Branson by the school’s FBLA officers.

In regard to personnel matters, the board accepted the resignations of Henry Adams, a high school and middle school support staff member, paraprofessional and bus driver, cafeteria staff member Melanie Jobe and special education teacher Kristina Savage.

The board voted to hire Amy Dorl, Linda Johnson and Star Benefield to the cafeteria staff and Adriana Romero Diaz as a kindergarten teacher beginning in January.

In addition, the board voted to approve the hiring of Micaela Chaney to fill the district’s newly created contact tracer position, which was approved by the board during October’s meeting. Chaney will also serve as an assistant nurse.

Other personnel moves include the transfer of Jacklyn Morrell on the cafeteria staff and the transfer of Darlene Morrow from alternative learning teacher to special education teacher.

The board’s next meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 13, at the district administration office, a change from the typical schedule. The board’s regular meeting date would have been Dec. 20, which falls during the school’s holiday break.

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