School district refinances bonds

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The Eureka Springs School Board passed a resolution Monday night to refinance existing bonds, and the exchange will save the district approximately $2.6 million over the next 20 years. The board had worked toward this goal since September, and the resolution was the final step in the process.

Dan Lovelady, a vice-president with FirstSecurity Beardsley Public Finance, attended the meeting to review provisions of the refinancing. The bond issue was kept just below $10 million, which Lovelady said would provide a more attractive interest rate. That amount did not completely cover the existing debt, but Lovelady explained the district would still come out ahead by using other funds to keep the re-issue below the $10 million threshold. “We wound up with a good product,” he said.

Elementary students having a rough go of it

The three school principals reported during the meeting, and although they all acknowledged the difficult circumstances, all three gave an upbeat description of the way students and staff have met the challenges. The number of virtual students has declined steadily since the start of the year. Elementary Principal Clare Lesieur said the count at the elementary school currently stands at 150 students in person and 31 virtual. She listed several factors for the gradual return of students to campus. Some students have trouble staying engaged online. Others have had technical issues, and kids want to be around other kids. Many students have successfully dealt with distance learning, and Lesieur credited “very involved parents” for that success story.

Lesieur said recent academic assessments have revealed the damage done by cutting the 2019-20 school year short. Many in the lower grades lost some of their literacy skills. “The pieces hadn’t quite come together for them yet,” the principal said. Many will need intensive intervention for literacy. Within all elementary grades, math scores have presented the biggest challenge. In third grade, math instruction time has increased to an hour per day, to allow teachers time for regular lessons and remediation.

Middle school students upping test scores

Middle School Principal Cindy Holt also acknowledged student setbacks because of the coronavirus restrictions, although older students show fewer reversals. Recent test scores were encouraging, and Holt said, “We’re continuing day by day to do the safe and smart things we need to do.” She was grateful for pleasant days when teachers could hold a class outside.

High school above state median

The high school has 39 distance-learning students out of a total of 188. The school year began with 60 distance students, and Gilmore said socialization has played a part in returning students to campus. Testing shows students above state averages in all areas, “but they still have some gaps from where they should be,” he said. The volleyball and cross-country seasons have ended, and basketball is under way. “We’re trying to make things as normal as possible,” Gilmore concluded.

In other business:

  • The board approved $1,000 Christmas bonuses for all staff.
  • Supt. Bryan Pruitt mentioned the possibility of dismissing students an hour early one day a week to give teachers more time to work directly with students online. The school will survey parents and evaluate their responses. The proposal would have to come back to the board for final approval. Board member Candace Spaulding asked if a half day would work even better, and Pruitt said the district has to balance the needs of on-campus students with a relatively small number of virtual students.
  • For several years, Jim Nelson of Nelsons downtown has established a tradition of offering $25 gift certificates to all staff members of the school district. “We want to continue giving to the hardworking teachers and staff,” he said. Nelson noted that the gift cards could double in value for those who wait until a special sale later in the year. Pruitt said the gift will have an initial value of $2,600 if all staff take advantage.

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