Need for bus drivers remains ‘critical’

Two retired drivers called back into service

The bus driver shortage remains “dire” for the Webb City R-7 School District, according to Kevin Cooper, assistant superintendent for business operations.

So much so that the School Board on Tuesday approved the rehiring of two retired bus drivers, Nancy Russow and Larry Speer, as critical need employees. The critical need provision allows retired employees to return to work while still drawing their full pension.

“We need them,” said Cooper. “We’re doing everything possible” to get more bus drivers.

Enrollment less than desirable

It was noted that the official enrollment count for the start of school is 4,461. That’s just 59 more students than were enrolled in 2020 (the last year not affected by the pandemic). It’s disappointing because state funding is based on average daily attendance, and modest increases in enrollment over the years have been counted on to bring in more state revenue. 

Superintendent Tony Rossetti said there’s still a potential for growth before the year ends.

Operating reserve balance grows

The district’s finances, though, are good. In the Annual Secretary of the Board Report to the state, the district started the fiscal year on July 1 with a $10,321,771 reserve balance in its operating fund – $302,004 more than it was at the start of last year.

“That’s the most reserve dollars you’ve ever had,” said Rossetti. 

It amounts to more than half of the 2021-22 fiscal year’s expenditures, $20,203,907.

The district also ended the fiscal year with a $12,455,211 balance in the capital improvements fund.

However, Rossetti said all but $755,000 of that amount is committed to pay for current projects. He recommended that the board members delay any other capital improvements they have in mind until later in the year because some of the balance may be needed for unexpected expenses that arise with the current projects.

One of the main current projects, renovation of the former veterans hall for use as the Special Services Center, is almost finished. In fact, board members were told that departments will be moving into that facility next week.

Meanwhile, construction of the addition to the high school has begun with demolition of the fencing around the old tennis courts. It is part of the $11 million bond issue that was approved in April.

High school addition grows from 4 to 6 classrooms

The board locked in the base bid of $8,640,547 during its August meeting and on Tuesday followed up by accepting the first alternate bid to construct six classrooms instead of four. The cost of the two additional rooms is $675,000.

Another project included in the bond issue is the new turf-surfaced practice field, which is already complete and in use.

There’s an acknowledged manufacturing flaw, though, that appears as thin lines of a darker shade of green. There’s not a problem with the field other than that. Cooper was authorized to negotiate further with the turf company before paying the $170,000 balance due.

Each building to be audited for safety

The board approved hiring outside experts to audit safety factors of each of the district’s 11 campuses.

Additionally, the firm being hired will meet with administrative staff and representatives of each building to go over the findings and rework the district’s crisis plan. The cost is $34,500.

Board members were told that a previously approved plan to monitor all exterior doors and install more security cameras will get underway as supplies arrive.

Also, Steve Tandy, owner of Tandy Security Enforcement Specialists, of Webb City, proposed options for his firm be hired to place armed security officers at each building or to have five officers roam between buildings. Cost estimates range from $342,000 to $769,500 for the school year. The board took no action on the proposal.

Half block of empty lots sold

The board accepted the sealed bid of $110,000 from Scott Roderique to purchase a half block of empty lots facing Main Street across from Webster Primary Center and the new American Legion and VFW Building.

Roderique says he intends to build houses on the property.

Two other proposals, in the amount of $80,000 and $100,000 were received.

Parent Engagement Night, Sept 28

Brenten Byrd, assistant superintendent for instructional services, reported on the effort to rewrite the district’s Continuous School Improvement Plan by November.

Part of that effort is a survey of parents, teachers and staff, the results of which will be discussed during the Parent Engagement Night, at 6 p.m. Sept. 28. in the Cardinal Dome Commons.

In other action, the board:

• Voted to improve the salary schedule for school nurses.

• Approved a plan to better tie teacher advancement across the salary schedule to further education or professional development that improves their teaching ability.

• Went over recent state legislation that will affect district policies. Among the changes is a prohibition against sexual depiction except in instructional settings. Another will allow anyone owning $200,000 of property in the district to send their children to the district tuition-free, regardless of residency.

• Accepted the retirement letter from Tina Isenmann, a special education teacher at Webster Primary Center, effective at the end of December.

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