School Board considers need for additional revenue to achieve goals

Bob Foos

Future goals and how to raise money to attain them were topics of discussion Tuesday by the Webb City R-7 Board of Education.

Superintendent Tony Rossetti asked the board if the main goals as he sees them are reasonable, and if so, he asked them to consider ways to raise the necessary revenue to achieve them.

Among his goals, which the board agreed with, are to:

• Maintain a reserve balance of approximately $8.4 million.

• Reserve at least $500,000 for emergency expenses.

• Keep the district’s teacher pay higher than any surrounding district. Right now, the starting pay for teachers is $44,500, but Rossetti said other districts are catching up. In fact, he said the starting pay in Arkansas is $50,000. He’s proposing a starting pay increase to $48,000.

The district’s policy is to raise the salary of non-certified employees at an equal percentage when teacher salaries go up. That helps reduce staff turnover caused by taking higher paying jobs elsewhere.

Rossetti estimated the cost to raise salaries would require at least $3.5 million.

One thing that would help is an increase in enrollment, which would bring in more state money. Enrollment, however, has leveled off the last two years.

After receiving favorable comments, Rossetti said he will return with a detailed presentation.

For the present time, the board voted to keep the property tax levy the same as it is now: $3.43 per $100 assessed valuation, with $2.75 of that for operations and $0.68 for debt service.

Middle schoolers can wear shorts

The major headline to come out of the August board meeting is probably that middle school students can now wear shorts.

Rossetti said he was making the recommendation because fifth and sixth graders are still transitioning from elementary school. Also, since the pandemic, there are more activities outdoors.

The student handbook regarding shorts in the middle school will be the same as it is for the lower grades, where shorts are allowed from April 1 to Halloween.

A new item in the student handbook prohibits the delivery of lunch by services such as Grubhub and Doordash. Parents can still deliver lunch. After-school deliveries are up to coaches.

Gifted program taking steps to identify more students

Alicia Zornes, the district’s gifted coordinator, informed the board about the program’s current status and plans she has to improve it.

She cited national studies that indicate the percentage of gifted students being served in the district is below average.

Sarah West is the gifted teacher for 38 students from third to sixth grade and 25 at the junior high. Stacy Stockton advises 63 high school students.

Zornes said a goal is to educate regular classroom teachers to better identify students for the program.

“We want to find all the kids (with gifted attributes) we can,” said Brenten Byrd, associate superintendent for instructional services.

Project to-do list getting shorter

Josh Flora, associate superintendent for business operations, reported that his list of facilities projects to finish is dwindling.

The main project has been the $9.2 million addition to the high school, which will be finished prior to the start of school on Monday, Aug. 21.

Principal Jeff Wilke reported that students coming in for registration are taking quite an interest in the new classrooms.

The contractor for the new tennis courts has tried a third time to apply a surface that satisfies the district. Meanwhile, the parking lot for the courts has been paved.

The adjacent practice field had been finished, but this summer the old football stadium lights and a fence have been installed.

Renovation of Cardinal Theater didn’t get started until school was out in May and won’t be done until later during the first semester.

The board affirmed two remaining project priorities: renovation of the bus barn and installation of double-entry doors at the four schools that haven’t been updated yet.

Four return under critical-need

The board approved contracts for six retirees returning to employment under the critical-need provision:

• Russell Ball as high school counselor and virtual teacher.

• Leanna Lankford, junior high communication arts teacher.

• Randall Hayes, high school math teacher.

• John Roderique, athletic director.

• Nancy Russow, bus driver.

• Larry Speer, bus driver.

Flora announced that the transportation department is now fully staffed with drivers.

It was noted that the state has increased the number of years a teacher can return as critical need from two to four.

In other action, the board:

• Approved contracts for:

– Ashlynn Mullere, occupational therapist.

– Tara Brigham (July meeting), junior high in-school suspension teacher.

– Caleb Patrick (July meeting), junior high career explorations teacher.

• Increased the mileage reimbursement from $0.40 to $0.50. Rossetti noted the rate hasn’t changed for 14 years.

• Clarified that the district’s branding policy, requiring use of the approved Cardinal logo in all communication and merchandise only applies to official district use or when the district is paying for the merchandise. At issue was a t-shirt purchased by the Harry S Truman Elementary Parent Teacher Organization that displays an unofficial Cardinal. That is permissible under the clarified policy.

• Recognized accomplishments of the Webb City Bass Club, which is a high school activity.