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Monday, September 30, 2019

September School Board Meeting Updates: eSports, Workplace Ethics, Johnson Project

Work continues on the Johnson Elementary School Project. (FTM file)

By Robin Gee

Fort Thomas Independent Schools District board members got down to business at the September meeting covering updates on the Johnson School project, creating a position for a coach for a new activity, learning about a new certificate in development and sharing concerns about school funding issues.

Here are some of the highlights

Johnson Elementary — Director of Operations Jerry Wissman gave a brief report on the Johnson School project. Things are moving along as planned, thanks to the good weather lately, he said. While there is not much to see for those who pass by, work is underway in laying the footers and foundation. In fact, he said, the construction crew is putting in an average of 50 yards of concrete a day. Plumbers have been on hand as well to prepare for their work.

Wissman received board approval for changes that include adding more natural light through light tubes and skylights in the building.

Credit card fees — Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jamee Flaherty shared a change in fees charged when using a credit card to make payments in the district. The district was charging flat rates based on the amount of money involved, but now will charge 2.75 percent for transactions when a physical credit card is provided and 3.5 percent plus 15 cents for transactions over the phone. The new schedule helps the school recover fees charged by the card companies.

Art fundraisers — Flaherty also presented a request by Moyer and Johnson elementary schools to hold two art-related fundraisers this year, known as Artome and Artsonia. The board granted permission to the schools for the events.

eSports — The board also approved hiring of an eSports coach. Two students approached the board in August to request that Fort Thomas schools participate in eSports. Approved by the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, eSports are popular with a wide variety of students who want to join a competitive program but who may not want or be able to be involved in traditional sports programs.

The eSport program has two seasons, winter and spring, culminating in a state competition. The program would be in place at Highlands High for the spring 2020 season.

Workplace Ethics Instruction — Assistant Superintendent for Learning Bill Bradford shared information on an Essential Workplace Ethics Instruction program and certificate. The requirement that all schools include the program passed the Kentucky legislature last year and implementation was set for this school year.

Bradford has been working with the 16 school districts in Northern Kentucky to collaborate on a program that will meet the state requirements. Districts also are required to work with the local Workforce Investment Board to ensure the program meets the needs of employers in the community.

"Every district should have in place a program that addresses essential workplace ethics," explained Bradford. "It can go beyond that, but the program must include adaptability, diligence, initiative, knowledge, reliability, remaining drug free and working well with others. Those are the core concepts that are written into law that all districts are required to have...Districts must also have an opportunity for students to earn a certificate acknowledging they have mastered the key attributes of these characteristics."

Bradford recently presented the districts’ program proposal to the Workforce Investment Board to receive approval and validation. He said the board was pleased with the result.

At Fort Thomas, "We are at a significant advantage. We have a head start with Portrait of a Graduate competencies." While not identical, concepts in the two programs complement each other, he said.

Also at Fort Thomas, counselors are already talking about the certificate portion of the program with students. In fact, students whose data indicates they have some of the requirements of the certificate met, will be encouraged to pursue it for their graduation portfolios.

Concern for school finances

The school board discussed and passed the district’s working budget. Superintendent Karen Cheser pointed out that cuts in funding at the state level have had a negative impact on the budget, and she hopes to build community support for changes that can help.

"Our percentage of SEEK funding has gone from 39 percent down to 34 percent of our budget over the last four years, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars less," she said.

"Another area that has been decreased is our Flexible Focus funds. Part of that was professional development, which was completely dropped, and text books. These now have to come out of general funds."

She illustrated how these reductions have had a major impact on district finances. "In 2008 we had $188 funding per student, now it’s at $98 per student, so that’s almost $100 less per student than it was 10 years ago."

School Board Chair Jeff Beach was frank about the impact going forward. "We haven’t talked about our financial issues in a long time. Twenty years ago, there were SEEK issues and there still are. The community needs to know the state is not really doing their job in this area. It affects us in a lot of areas around salaries and capabilities. Thank goodness we have a community that supports us the way it does, and we have a foundation that supports us the way it does — otherwise we would not be in great shape. And so, it is something we are going to be working on."

The board plans to speak with their senators and legislators to let them know this is a priority for the district.

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