The Commercial has requested statistics showing student enrollment declines but did not receive them before press time.

We are looking at approximately $3.1 or $3.2 million dollars as the target today that we must cut and save. As enrollment decreases, so shall that amount increase.   Pine Bluff Shool District Superintendent Michael Robinson  

At a meeting of the Pine Bluff School Board Tuesday night, the possibility of school closures came up, though specifics about what school or schools could be shuttered were not discussed.

PBSD Superintendent Michael Robinson also told the board that he is “renewing all certified employees under a comparable contract, which is based on the RIF (reduction in force) restructuring and re-alignment in accordance with the ADE (Arkansas Department of Education) staffing formula and the current licensure of certified staff.”At a meeting of the Pine Bluff School Board Tuesday night, the possibility of school closures came up, though specifics about what school or schools could be shuttered were not discussed.

He said that there will be some pay reductions with teaching staff and certified staff as a whole.

“These processes are never easy because you are always going to impact someone's life and someone's livelihood,” Robinson said. “I know first-hand from previous experiences what it feels like, what it is to go through it, and the anxiety, but it has to happen if we want to stay afloat and continue being PBSD.”

Additionally, Robinson said, “We are at a place where we're going to have to have a conversation around school closure. We are losing population that is not just unique to Pine Bluff. There are school districts within states across the nation that are experiencing the very same concerns and issues. We can work together to get through this process because I do believe that at some point Pine Bluff will rise again, and I do believe that when we rise again, we will be able to do the things that we really, desperately want to do for our employees.”

The Commercial has requested statistics showing student enrollment declines but did not receive them before press time.

Robinson went on to explain that based off projections, the district has other funding that they are projected to lose, which will impact the operating budget and the federal dollars.

He recommended to the board “that we non-renew all stipends with the exception of the athletic stipends, because we can't touch those, at this point in time. That is a part of the savings that we will incur as a result of that.”

He added that when looking at stipends, the district spent approximately $453,299.71 in the 2017-2018 school year on them. With the non-renew proposed, the district would be looking at saving $279,049.71, reducing the amount of stipends down to $174,250.

“We are looking at approximately $3.1 or $3.2 million dollars as the target today that we must cut and save,” Robinson said. “As enrollment decreases, so shall that amount increase.”

The superintendent stressed that these actions are “only Part A of this budgeting. We will come back again next month to complete this process. We will continue to look at where we can save in the district.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the non-renewal of all stipends as well as unanimously voting to approve the 2018-2019 Certified Salary Schedule and the first ever 2018-2019 Administrative Salary Schedule.

Robinson said that the fiscal department reviewed the salary schedule, which is now cleaner and provides exact information about what each employee is paid due to years of experience and qualifications.

In other news, the board discussed 2016-2017 audits by the Arkansas Legislature.

“We have three findings that we are correcting and working on now,” Robinson said. “However, we do have some work that we need to continue to do.”

The first item within the audit was the district's safety disaster plan, which has been an issue for a while.

“We will continue to work to get this taken care of,” Robinson said. “It is a lot of work that goes into it, but we will continue to do the work that needs to be done. The meetings have occurred, the trainings have occurred, but now we actually need to start getting the work done.”

Every school has a plan, but it is not the state-required plan.

Comments from the audit state that “There was no formally documented and approved Disaster Recovery Plan. This situation could cause the entity to be without computer processing for an extended period of time in the event of a disaster or major interruption and could have a severe impact on critical resources and affect essential services placing undue financial and personnel burdens on the resources of the entity. A similar finding was reported in the previous three audits.”

The second item within the audit were the minutes for the board meetings.

The audit states that “at the time of the audit, the district had not posted minutes of the regular and special meetings of the school's board of directors to their website since January 2016 in noncompliance with Arkansas Department of Education Rules Governing School District Requirements…”

Robinson said that the issue has been taken care of, and they will be connecting with other districts to see what their board meeting minutes look like as far as specificity.

The third item within the audit was regarding federal award findings and questioned costs, which has to do with making sure the internal control system within the district, including retention of verification documentation to ensure applicable transactions, are not conducted with vendors that are suspended or debarred by the Federal Government.

“We have to make sure that all vendors that we are using have been approved by the state and are on the state approved vendor list,” Robinson said. “When we are ordering, purchasing, or conducting any type of financial transaction with any type of vendor, make sure they are on the approved list.”

He said that there are some policies that need to be worked on and some systems and structures that will need to be put in place before the district returns for the 2018-2019 school year.

In other news, the board discussed terminating the current contract with their janitorial service, GCA Educational Services.

“We're about three months away from having them a year and I'm not satisfied with the service they're providing,” said board member Harold Jackson. “The students are complaining and the teachers are complaining about the services, and we don't even know if it's GCA now because from my understanding, they have sold the contract, but nobody has told us anything about who has the contract.”

According to a previous article in the Commercial, the service agreement says the contract began July 1, 2017, and shall end June 30, 2018. It was signed by Robinson on May 19, 2017, and by GCA Educational Services vice president of finance/chief financial officer Randy Twyman on May 18, 2017.

The district agreed to pay $1,130,369.04 to GCA in 12 monthly installments of $94,197.42, according to the contract. The district is saving about $600,000 through the contract with GCA Educational Services, Robinson and Dabner have said.

Jackson went on to say that “I motion that at this point we need to give GCA or whoever has the contract a notice that we no longer need their services as of June 30.”

Board member Henry Dabner expressed his concern about what the plan would be once GCA is terminated.

Jackson said that the plan is to go back and “hire our own janitorial service.”

The board voted 4-3 to send the letter and terminate the service.

Dabner said that the State Department of Education required the district to outsource their janitorial services and no one has informed the state of the decision.

“We need to talk to the state department to see where our finances are, because right now we are trying to save the school district.”

In other news, Stephaney Bennett, School Culture and Climate Specialist, stood before the board to present special education program updates and propose a contract for a psychological examiner.

“Our department was on four corrective action plans from the state at the beginning of the year,” Bennett said. “I am here to let you know that we have cleared the hurdle and are no longer on those plans.”

Bennett added that the district has partnered with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to grow their Aquaponics Department. UAPB will be donating equipment to the district to enhance the classroom learning and experience.

Bennett discussed her request to enter into a contract with Pine Bluff Psychological Associates, PA, who are the examiners that are used by all districts in the city.

She said that at the end of last year, the district had two psychological examiners on staff, and they reduced it to one which was a savings of approximately $80,000.

“We thought that we would be okay, but we are seeing that we are not,” Bennett said.

In order to stay in compliance with the state, students have to be tested every three years, and they are seeing that assistance is needed to ensure that the testing will be done in a timely manner.

Bennett proposed that the district contracts with the examiner, Kenneth Robinson, on an “as needed” basis when the current examiner needs extra help.

The board voted unanimously to approve the contract.