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Jackson R-2 School Board members sworn in; Thompson reelected president

Jackson R-2 School Board Secretary Sara Cook, left, swears in, from left, Christine Warren, Brandon Pylate and Gregory Farrow to the board on April 6. Photo by Jay Forness

The Jackson R-2 School Board officially accepted the election results from the April 4 municipal election during its regular meeting on April 6. The meeting was held early due to the district’s spring break.

The election results included the failure of the tax-increase propositions I and N, as well as the election of three positions on the board. New school board members Christine Warren and Brandon Pylate, as well as recently reelected board vice president Gregory Farrow, were sworn in to the board.

Brian Thompson was reelected as board president in a 6-1 vote, with Kristen Lewis voting against the appointment. Lewis nominated Farrow for board president, but Farrow declined the nomination due to the extra time needed for the president position.

Lewis said later in the meeting that she was deeply disappointed with comments that Brian Thompson made on Facebook around the election, which led to her voting against his reelection as board president.

Lewis said Thompson mischaracterized one of the candidates for the board before the election. “It’s one thing to champion for the people that you want, but it’s another thing to cut down another candidate,” she said. “I thought that was unprofessional and that’s why I could not vote for him as president of our board.”

Lewis added that she was also disappointed with how Thompson responded after the propositions failed. “There are a lot of people in this community who are also suffering due to high inflation, and just because they didn’t have the funds to pay our teachers raises or to pay more in personal property tax, doesn’t mean they don’t support our school,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she was also bothered by posts the next day from teachers who mimicked the words posted by Thompson. “You are supposed to set an example and that was a poor example,” Lewis said to Thompson.

Thompson responded that his posts were not made in his official capacity as board president and that those comments were not made during a meeting. “That was my first amendment right,” he said. “I do have a right to speak about my opinion just like anybody else.”

He said that if Lewis had a problem with his posts, it should have been addressed personally with him. “This is not a school board issue,” Thompson said. “This is a problem you have with me.”

All other positions were unanimously appointed, including Farrow as vice president, Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy as board treasurer, Superintendent Secretary Sara Cook as board secretary and Lewis as the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) delegate.

In other action

• The board approved an employee benefit package for the upcoming school year, offering the same policy with United Healthcare as this school year. The cost for the district will be $598 per employee, up 4.5% from this year’s $572 per employee.

“Some districts I have talked to have seen 10-12% increases,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “We were really healthy as a group through October this past year, which helped our consortium get a good rate.”

Employees will be able to upgrade their plan or add family members to the plan at their own cost, or choose a lower-cost plan that includes a health savings account contribution by the district.

The base plan includes $3,000 in-network and $9,000 non-network deductibles. The plan also includes an 20% in-network co-insurance and 50% non-network co-insurance, $20 copay for tier-one prescriptions, $40 copay for in-network primary care office visits, $70 copay for in-network specialist office visits and $75 copay for in-network urgent care visits.

Smith said he met with teachers on the salary welfare and insurance committees, health insurance benefits were seen as a priority. “We have one pot, but this is what we wanted to focus on currently,” he said. “As we develop the budget, we will look at other benefit measures and salaries later on.”

• The board approved a $435,533 bid from Swift Roofing, Inc. to replace roofing at West Lane Elementary School. Swift Roofing was the lowest of three bids received by the district.

Assistant Superintendent Keenan Kinder said this project won’t replace the whole roof of the building, as the roofs above newer additions do not need to be replaced and the district has repaired part of the roof using district staff. Kinder said the district’s maintenance staff repaired the roof above the main gym and cafeteria area last summer.

“Over time, we have saved a lot of money, but the rest of it is a flat roof that still needs to be replaced,” Kinder said. “To the best of our knowledge, it’s the original roof from 1971.”

Kinder said there are places on the roof that are nearing “imminent failure,” where the roof won’t repel water at all. He said the district had plans to also replace at least one other roof this summer if Proposition N passed.

“West Lane is the cheapest roof that we have to be fixed,” Kinder said, adding that the district has received estimates to replace roofs at South Elementary School, Jackson Middle School and Jackson Junior High School.

The roof replacement at West Lane is expected to be done before school starts in the fall.

• The board approved a $81,459 bid from HD Media Systems to replace the fire alarm system in the old “C” building at Jackson High School. Kinder said the fire alarm didn’t pass inspection earlier this school year.

“Currently, when students are present in the ‘C’ building, we are on fire watch,” Kinder said. “If a staff member walked through the hall and saw a fire, they have to yell ‘fire’ and call 911.”

Kinder said the district waited to approve the replacement until after the election because if Proposition I and N passed, the fire alarm replacement could have been incorporated into the cost of the addition at the high school.

Kinder said HD Media Systems is the only company in the area who sells Potter fire alarms, which is needed to connect with the fire alarm system throughout the high school. He added that some of the labor will be done by the district’s maintenance staff, which lowered the bid.

The work is expected to be completed this summer before school starts next year.

• The board approved a budget adjustment increasing expenditures by $585,148. Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy said some of the increase is due to budgeted items such as utilities being higher than expected due to inflation, as well as the district ordering supplies early due to supply chain issues.

The budget adjustment increased funding for natural gas, trash and water utilities, as well as the early purchase of textbooks and workbooks for elementary math and English language arts.

The budget adjustment also included $377,950 for the purchase of iPads, which are primarily used by kindergarten and first grade students. Lacy said this purchase will be completely covered by grant funding and the district will be reimbursed for the iPads next school year.

Lacy said these iPads should last four or five years, with the district not having to make another large purchase of iPads for the next several years. “We are getting at least four years of iPads for free,” Lacy said. “It’s a minimal expense of iPads once you buy that large cohort for kindergarten and first grade.”

Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell added that during the budgeting process for next school year, the district is planning on cutting some technology licenses to reduce costs.

• The board approved an evaluation of the counseling program throughout the district after counselors presented to the board.

The counselors spoke about the work they do and the recent survey results they found from students and parents at the elementary and secondary levels.

The counselors said mental health was a common concern for students across the district, in addition to stress management, self esteem issues, social skills and substance abuse.

“This really breaks my heart sometimes, because I’m realizing that these kids at all these different ages need help with their mental health,” Jackson Middle School Counselor Sydnei Henry said. “They understand what that word means, and they know that they need help.”

Henry said the need for mental health assistance has grown over her time as a counselor, including students who self harm and have suicidal ideation.

“There’s a mental health crisis society wide, so it’s not just with teens,” Junior High Counselor Sara Pylate added. “I know we would like to blame social media and I think that probably plays a part, but I also think its the level of stress and the level of expectation, especially social expectation, that they face.”

District-wide, the counseling department is working on increasing visibility and communication between counselors and families about how they can help. In addition, counselors have been working on going into classrooms more at the elementary level to provide resources to all students.

• The board approved an evaluation of the district’s food service program. The district served close to a million meals last school year – including breakfast, lunch and summer school meals. “We follow the guidelines set forth in the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, which all public schools follow,” Kinder said.

Kinder added that the district passed an audit of its kitchens by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as visits from local health inspectors.

• The board approved its Missouri School Boards’ Association membership and policy maintenance agreement with the organization. MSBA notifies the district if legislation passes that affects board policies. The organization also recommends other policy updates that the district can adopt and assists the board in changing policies due to local requests.

• Jennifer Boren spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting about her concerns about drug use at the high school.

“I know that there are high school students that are passing around drugs at school,” Boren said. “My request is for everybody to get together and somehow come up with a solution to try to combat the problem in the school.”

Boren said she spoke at the meeting to be a voice for students who are hurting mentally, adding that more needs to be done to help kids.

Kinder said during his safety update that the Jackson Police Department officers are at the schools every day and have brought in a drug dog into the secondary schools 18 times so far this year. He added that no drugs have been found during those searches.

“I’m not saying you aren’t right, but if you see something or know something – you need to tell somebody or report it,” Kinder said. “When the drug dog is here, he has not found anything.”

Smith added that the district drug tests students involved in extracurricular activities and have had discussions to increase funding for drug tests in next year’s budget to allow for more testing to be done.

• The board approved the continuation of a Missouri State High School Activities Association cooperative agreement with St. Paul Lutheran School, Immaculate Conception Catholic School and Nell Holcomb Junior High School to allow junior high students from these three schools to participate in Jackson sports not offered at their school.

Students from these three schools can participate in football, track and field, cross country and wrestling at Jackson Junior High School. Jackson does not provide transportation to Jackson facilities for practices and contests, and these students must meet both schools’ standards to participate in MSHSAA activities.

Athletic Director John Martin said only a handful of students take advantage of this cooperative agreement every year, with many of those students later attending Jackson High School.

• The board approved an extension of its contract with UKG Kronos, who provide time clocks for classified staff. The equipment support service contract totals $5,632 annually.

• Members of Jackson High School’s winter sports – including boy’s and girl’s basketball, the girls swimming team and the wrestling team – were recognized by the board for their performance other their seasons.

• Members of the Jackson Lego and robotics after school club Geek-a-Watts, made up of middle school and junior high students, presented to the board about their recent awards and future trip to a national competition this summer in Massachusetts.

The club will present its innovation project, a water battery that uses solar power to pump water and produce enough energy to light a light bulb for over 200 minutes. The club is currently fundraising for its trip through a golf ball drop on April 22 and selling custom night lights. More information can be found on the Jackson Middle School’s Facebook page.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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