During the Nov. 9 meeting of the White County School Board, the elected members were joined by two new members based on a policy that was passed earlier in the 2023/24 school year.
“I would like to recognize Joy McGill and Max Simmons, student school board representatives,” the board’s chairman Bob Young announced. “We are excited to have you on board and are looking forward to your input.”
Earlier this school year, it was decided to bring on board two members of the White County High School student body to serve as Student Board Members and give a student’s point of view when asked. While neither McGill nor Simmons, or their successors in the future, will be voting members of the school board, having student representation and being able to ask someone who the policies and procedures passed at these meetings directly affect is something the board thought would help strengthen their decision making.
McGill, who is active in the school’s Bible Club, a member of the Warrior Marching Band drumline, and a member of HOSA, is a junior at White County High School and will serve for two years. Simmons is a senior, so this will be his only year on the school board. He is a very active part of Warrior Media and tennis programs at the high school. He is also a part of the Move to Stand group that is working to promote anti-bullying in White County elementary schools.
During the meeting, two items - other than the consent agenda - were voted on and approved by the board. The first of those was to allow the Cassville Fire Department to use property that belongs to the school board and is adjacent to Cassville Elementary School. The volunteer fire department requested use of the property for a helipad to be used when emergencies in that portion of the county require air transportation for patients.
“Technically, their fire hall is on school board property; they would just be using more of our space that we are not utilizing,” Kurt Dronebarger, director of schools, explained. “I recommend that this be allowed.”
After determining that the property had already been checked and that the space was deemed safe for use as a helipad, that there would be no danger of damaging water or sewer lines, and that the fire department agreed to be responsible for the upkeep of the property – something that the school board said they had trouble staying on top of at times – a unanimous decision was made to grant the request.
The other decision that was made was to grant the White County FFA permission to begin making travel accommodations for the State Convention that will take place in Gatlinburg, in March 2024. The group was requesting permission to travel in March but to begin making hotel accommodations now as they anticipate between 2,000 and 3,000 people will attend the convention and rooms will be difficult to secure the longer they wait. Again, the request was approved anonymously.
During the district update portion of the meeting, Dronebarger informed the board that White County was the recipient of a technology grant in the amount of $368,000 that will be used to provide interactive panels in all classrooms across the district.
“We received a grant award of nearly $500,000 for safety projects,” Dronebarger said about a second grant and said that, among other things, the money would be used to provide an interior lock system for all schools.
Along the lines of school security, it was also announced that a second School Resource Officer would begin at the high school the following week with a contract that extends through May. While the school board is not responsible for the salaries of the current SROs, they will be responsible for the full salary, including benefits, for this new position that was created.
“At this point now, this role is being filled with a male officer; our goal is to, at some point, find a female officer that can serve in that role,” Dronebarger told the board members. “But right now we are thankful to have another officer.”
During the public comments period of the meeting, two parents of White County students addressed the board on opposite issues.
Josh Hancock spoke about an incident at a school in which he felt his wife was lied to about the personnel in the building. He claimed that there was an employee who he felt was unfit to be around children and that he was upset on two fronts: first that the school board had not vetted the person properly and second that he felt his family was not given the truth.
“There should be more transparency, not less. Trust is only as good as its foundation. Today that crumbled,” Hancock said, and then told the board what changes he felt necessary. “I would like to see a better policy for vetting. I would like to see administration to be held accountable when they lie to parents.”
Lisa Cooper, who stated that she is a member of the BonDeCroft community and has always felt like there was a nurturing community feeling at the elementary school there, spoke to the board about concerns she had with the school’s new visitor policy.
“This is not about showing my driver license,” she said, clarifying that her complaint was about the policies of how many visitors were going to be allowed and what they were allowed to bring in.
Cooper said that before Halloween, parents received a note stating that only one parent per child would be allowed at parties, that siblings could not be present, and that cell phones would not be allowed in order to prevent students from being photographed.
“Do we not say that we want families to come in and be involved?” she said. “I have rights to my child. My husband has rights to our child. They don’t pause. If we want to be with our daughter, we have that right. Are we dangerous? If we were dangerous, why would you be letting us in?
Cooper continued, “You want us to sign in at events as part of an involvement grant. You want us to fundraise for you. But you don’t want us here. This is concerning to me. I want to know where (this new policy) came from and why it’s allowed.”
Dronebarger asked to address the comments and said that he had had a lengthy conversation with Hancock prior to the meeting and that his complaint is something that they are taking very seriously and looking into. He also said that as a parent, he understood Cooper’s complaint but, at the same time, as a director he understood the principal’s position of it being difficult to monitor all of the visitors.
“I appreciate them both for coming and speaking tonight,” he said, referring to both Hancock and Cooper. “One’s comment is that we are being too safe and one not safe enough. We are in a difficult situation, and we will be looking forward to more conversations with them.”
Before the meeting adjourned, Young announced that the decision on whether to renew Dronebarger’s contract would be the first item of business on the December agenda. This announcement prompted board member Dewayne Howard to say that several of his constituents had questions about why the board was considering an early renewal for the director’s contract given that it is business usually addressed in April.
“For both parties, if we do it now, both sides would have time to move forward,” Young explained, saying that regardless of what decision the board agreed on – whether to renew or not – there were business benefits to completing the decision early. “If we renew, we can move forward with district planning knowing how our director will be for the next four years, or, if we choose not to renew, we can go through the process to fill that position prior to the end of the year and have them in place for the next school year.”
Young also said that it would give Dronebarger time to determine his next career move should the board decide to not renew his contract.
Young said that to his knowledge Dronebarger did not have any other job offers so it was not a matter of competing with another district. He also said that there was nothing in any policy that says the contract renewal, or hiring of a director, had to be done at a certain date and that he felt this was just timing from a business standpoint.
There will be time for public comment before the board begins their discussion on whether to renew Dronebarger’s contract at the Dec. 14 meeting. However, constituents must use the districts website to register ahead of the meeting to be given time to speak.
A full video of the School Board’s meeting can be found at www.whitecoschools.net.
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