Members of the Jenkins Independent Board of Education joined Superintendent Mike Genton this week in proclaiming that the school system will not “just fade away,” which is what they say the state Department of Education hopes will happen.
The comments by Genton and the board members came in response to the superintendent’s report on the lack of a response from state education officials on the district’s request for approval of plans for renovations to the two remaining school campuses, at Burdine Elementary and at Jenkins Middle High School.
“I don’t think KDE wants us to spend a lot on facilities,” Genton told the board. “They would like it if we just fade away.”
Genton said it appears the Department of Education hopes the Jenkins system will agree to be absorbed into the larger Letcher County school system, and his response was met with universal statements of affirmation for the Jenkins system by board members. Longtime board members Eileen Sanders and Brenda DePriest, both retired Jenkins educators, also said, “We won’t fade away.”
Enrollment in the Jenkins district was last reported at 410 in grades kindergarten through 12. That statistic was reported in January by Director of Pupil Personnel Rondall Baker. The attendance rate for the current year stood at 92.08 as of April. At the time, Baker said the attendance rate was the lowest it had been since the 2013-14 school year and attributed the increase in absences to influenza.
Both Jenkins and the Letcher County system have seen losses in enrollment that accompanied an overall decline in population in Letcher County during the latest and continuing collapse of the coal industry.
The state Department of Education has not forced the closure of a Letcher County high school since the summer of 1968, when it forced the Letcher County
Board of Education to close Kingdom Come High School, which had just less than 100 students in graces 9 through 12 at that time.
Genton’s comment came during the June meeting of the Jenkins school board. The facilities upgrade he referred to concerns improvements on both the Jenkins and Burdine campuses. Genton presented the board members with a schedule that calls for the completion of a schematic design by the July 27 board meeting and submission of the design and specifications to the Education Department by September 11.
Genton said he hopes the state would allow the local board to advertise for bids by September 25 so the documents can be opened on October 1. The plan calls for a vote on a contractor at the board’s October 22 meeting. Genton said that safeguards for students during construction would be at the top of the list.
In other business, the board tabled discussion about hiring a school resource officer to be provided by the Jenkins Police Department. Genton said the resource officer would be a sworn police officer stationed regularly at the schools during school hours, with the exception of a major emergency in town. The cost to the school would be $37,498 per year. Mayor Todd Depriest was unable to attend the meeting, resulting in Genton postponing discussion until board members have more information. He said he hopes Depriest or Police Chief Josh Richardson can attend the board’s July meeting.
The board also voted unanimously this week to renew its contract with the Kentucky River Health District to provide nursing services to the schools. The new agreement calls for a $25,000 payment instead of the $15,000 fee from last year. District Finance Offi- cer Candala Gibson said the increase has been factored into the 2018-19 budget. The board also voted to continue its contract with Letcher County school system for physical and occupational therapy services.
Finance Officer Gibson reported that the district’s general fund stood at $949,140 as of the end of May.
The board also tabled a request from Jenkins High School football coach Matt Chandler to have the team’s helmets reconditioned. Genton said the helmets need the reconditioning, but postponed any board action on the matter until Chandler is available to attend a meeting and presented a purchase order. Board members generally agreed they will vote help offset the cost once the purchase order is presented. Genton said the reconditioned helmets will carry a stamp that attests to their safety.
In other business, Board Member Sanders suggested bringing all the district coaches and its athletic director in to meet with the auditors when they are on campus to go over the “red book,” a compilation of fi- nancial regulations for Kentucky high school athletics.
The board also voted to schedule Superintendent Genton’s annual evaluation after the July board meeting.