The Forrest City School Board received its annual superintendent's report to the public from deputy superintendent Zrano Bowles during a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday night. During the meeting, board members also agreed to move the 2018 school board election to May.
Bowles read the address in place of Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Hardrick, who could not be in attendance for the meeting. In his address, Bowles gave the board updates on areas of progress throughout the district.
According to Bowles, the district's enrollment includes approximately 2,300 students, making it the second largest district in the co-op. He told board members that all teachers are accredited and strategies are being developed and employed in areas where students need improvement. The district, he said, was also taking a special interest in improving the practice of quality reading and writing among students.
"The Forrest City School District is implementing strategies to address areas of improvement, and therefore has experienced significant individual student growth," Bowles read. "Over 62 percent of our students experienced average to high growth on the ACT Aspire, with 90 percent experiencing some level of growth.
"In order to provide coherency in the pursuit to meet goals and increase overall student performance, we have district-wide improvement strategies," he added. "Educators in the district have been made aware of these new strategies, with an emphasis on reading and writing. They will continue to implement these strategies in their classrooms on a daily basis."
Bowles told board members that the district would also be placing emphasis on professional development among the staff, as well as developing a strong culture of involvement with students' families.
Estimated revenues for the 2017-18 school year to reach $25 million, with an estimated operating expenditures at approximately $22 million, which includes salaries and maintenance, according to Bowles. A two-year, $2.4 million grant received in 2014 was also extended for an additional $1 million, Bowles said. That additional $1 million is to be spent over the course of two years, he said.
According to Bowles, funding allocated for the district's alternative learning environment program, or ALE, increased by $86,610 from the previous year, up to $245,953.
Those funds, he said, are used for staff professional development and materials and supplies.
A district's funding allocation for free school lunches, through the National School Lunch Act, decreased from the previous year, according to Bowles. The decrease in funding came as a result of a decrease in overall district enrollment, he said. The total allocation is approximately $1.9 million, a decrease of roughly $227,016 from the previous year.
Also during the address, Bowles updated board members on work completed throughout the district in regards to capital improvements, including the new roof at Central Elementary School, the wall panelling in the industrial art building and Title 1 trailer and various improvements at Sam Smith Stadium.
According to Bowles, the district hopes to replace the roof at Forrest City High School, renovate the HVAC system at Forrest City Junior High and completely renovate the high school's industrial art building in the near future.
Also during Thursday night's meeting, Bowles recommended that board members set the school election day for 2018 in May. According to board president Joey Astin, the district could choose between holding the election in May or November. Astin supported Bowles' recommendation and suggested to the board that other districts in the state would also likely choose May.
Board member Annie Norman told fellow members that voters would likely be too distracted with the midterm elections next year to give proper consideration to a school election.
"I look at the fact that, if it's in November, people might be too busy worrying about the Democrats and Republicans," said Norman. "Initially, I thought November might be a good idea, because of graduations in May. But people may be more apt to care about what we going on in May."
Board member Larry Devasier told fellow board members that a November election would bring a much greater number of voters, given that turn out in school elections is substantially lower than that of general elections.
Board member Miles Kimble made the motion to accept the recommendation and hold the school election in May, coinciding with next year's primary election. The motion carried with Devasier casting the lone no vote.
During Thursday night's meeting, board members also agreed to award district employees with a one-time 1.25 percent bonus for the holiday season. Bowles made the recommendation, at the request of the district's personnel policy committee. Board member Evette Boyd made the motion to accept the recommendation and it carried unanimously.
According to Astin, the bonuses were factored into the district's annual budget.
Before adjourning, the board voted to expel two ALE students for the remainder of the fall semester for an incident that occurred at the high school. According to district attorney Brad Beavers, the parents of both children waived their right to a student hearing and the board voted unanimously for expulsion. The students will be allowed to return in the spring, at which time they may participate in credit recovery for their time lost, according to Bowles.