By LINDA HICKS

SPECIAL TO THE LOG CABIN

Members of the Vilonia Board of Education said no commitments regarding other school projects will be made until a budget for the building of the new Intermediate School is in their hands. Yet that didn’t keep the board from listening to proposals and expressing its desires during the meeting that lasted more than three hours.

Three East Lab students, Landon Castle, Jacob Goodson and Nathan Rappold, addressed the board providing three proposals and projected costs in regard to moving or revamping the baseball field and equipment at the high school. According to the students, the cost to relocate the baseball field would be about $258,500. Option 1: called for tearing down and constructing a new baseball/softball field house and concession stand costing about $305,200; Option 2: referenced constructing a baseball field house and concession stand at a cost of $196,700 and Option 3: called for bleachers and concession stand work at $162,000.

"We wanted you to see that we really do something in East rather than just sit there and play on computers," one of the students told the board.

Baseball Coach Brad Wallace and several parents were also in the audience and voiced a need for work at the baseball field. The dollar amounts provided by the students, Wallace said, might not be exact "but close." He talked about using volunteers to help with the moving and reusing some of the materials and seeding the field. The current conditions, Wallace said, at the baseball field are unfavorable for playing as well as hosting the fans.

"And, we have great fan support," Wallace said. The dugout, he said, is about 40-feet from the new saferoom at the high school and is being used for storage. The bleachers and concession stand, he said, need immediate attention. He asked the board to consider relocating the baseball field closer to the softball field. That would allow benefits for both programs, he added.

"We want to know the school’s future plans on this," Wallace said. "We want to know your thoughts. Are we just wishing too big?"

In response, several board members expressed their desires to see the field moved. "I would like to see it moved in the near future," said Jerry Roberts, board president. The proposal fell on the heels of other presentations that each ended with the board making no monetary commitments. Frank Mitchell, school superintendent, said he had not been aware of some of the issues with the baseball field such as the repair needs on the concession stand. The repairs, he said, can be remedied.

Architect Steve Elliott presented drawings, regarding a proposal for air conditioning and adding an expansion to the high school gymnasium. He said the expansion project would include a 410-seat student section and two bathrooms.

He also touched on some of the features in the design of the Intermediate School. It was said the budget figures should be ready for the Intermediate School within the next couple of weeks. Until then, board members voiced their opposition to making any commitments to any other projects.

A special meeting held in late December, the board approved a $1.2 million budget for the building of a saferoom at the Primary School even though the dollar amount turned out to be more than double their projected cost. Discussion continues regarding the length of a canopy, the HVAC system, and concrete panels, and a separate septic system. Board members are hoping to find a way to cut down on some of the costs. Researching the issue, it has been said that some of the proposed changes could result in a "wash" as far as cost and could result in extending the time of completion.

In other matters:

• The board approved a student transfer request, the renewal of the school board liability policy, a bread bid with Flowers Baking Company and entering into a three-year contract to expand bandwidth to the school.

• Discussed the student policy regarding bringing electronic devices to school. Principal Cathy Riggins of the Middle School, said she has had requests from students to bring their personal Kindles and E-readers to school. Under the current school policy, she said, it would be a violation. Mitchell voiced his opposition to changing the policy without having content controls in place. "I don’t want to support it if he can’t put some controls here," Mitchell said, referring to Bill Beavers, technology director. Should the policy be changed, Mitchell said, there would also have to be punishment provisions for those who bring inappropriate materials

Both, Andy Ashley, high school principal and Rick Kelley, junior high principal, voiced their concerns. Board members appeared to be divided on the issue as they weighed out the positives and negatives. A student bringing personal electronic devices to school is a "trend going through the state," Beavers said. However, he said, there are many considerations that must be addressed before he would favor the movement. He told the board he would "hammer out an implementation plan and strategy" for their consideration.

• Mitchell addressed the education rating system imposed on schools by the federal government. He referenced labels such as "achieving" and "needs improvement." Some he said are a disservice to teachers and students.

The Vilonia School District, he said, has not had any school on school improvement since the 2008 school year. Since 2006, only one school in the district has been on school improvement and that school came off of the list in 2008, he added.

"Vilonia was the only 5A or larger district to have no schools in school improvement in some of those years," he said. "The significance of comparison to larger schools is that small schools often do not have subgroups that have to be tested. These subgroups are often the source of the school improvement label."

The Vilonia Academy of Service and Technology housed at the Middle School and the Vilonia Academy of Technology housed at the Primary School have both achieved exemplary status and have been the toped ranked schools in their grade groupings, he added. In 2012, the Vilonia Academy of Technology was the only Vilonia School designated as "achieving."

"The real disservice of these rankings is to the teachers and students of the needs improvement schools," he explained. "It is difficult to understand how some schools scoring at a 50 percent or 60 percent proficiency level can be achieving while their scores, in the high 80 percent to 90 percent, are worth only needs improvement."

• Mitchell addressed safety concerns—increased security risks for students and staff versus parental and community involvement. More restrictions, he said, could be a result of added safety measures

In the event of a crisis situation, he said, the school district may be limited by privacy laws of the state and federal governments. Mass notifications, he said, without elaboration, could violate such laws and could lead to panic. Better preparation of students and staff to increase safety in crisis situations, he said, is priority objections in the district.