State to increase funding to county schools

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee will see an increase in state aid for schools if the proposed state budget is signed as expected by Governor Rick Scott this month.

The Okeechobee School Board Tuesday learned that the bill for education has some other items that will impact our schools.

The proposed state budget will provide $38.5 million in state aid for Okeechobee schools. This is an increase of $1.17 million over 2016-2017. The board faces an increase in retirement costs of $100,000, energy and waste disposal increases of $85,000, the purchase of new instruction materials increase by $150,000, and additional therapy for students costs $150,000.

The education bill must be approved or rejected by Tuesday, June 27. One issue still to be resolved is a special fund for the Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee. The Washington County School Board currently operates the school. The state would eliminate the special fund, change what entity operates the school, and how it is funded. A decision must be made by Sunday, Oct. 1.

Superintendent Ken Kenworthy said Okeechobee might have to meet with Washington County to decide how to proceed.

The bill also eliminates several state assessments and end-of-course exams.

It would make it easier for teachers to be certified and gives $1,200 bonuses to highly effective teachers.

It also allows excused absences for students getting treatment for autism. It would also mandate 20 minutes of free play recess. It also guarantees the rights for students to pray at school.

Left to right Delaenam Akahoho, 11th grader, and Christopher Cobb, eighth grader, represented Okeechobee in the State Science and Engineering Fair this year.

Students recognized included State Science and Engineering Fair contestants Christopher Cobb, Abagail Holcomb, Delaenam Akahoho, Ayan Desai, Cady McGehee and Cristian Rios. These students competed in the regional fair in February and then the state fair. Miss McGehee competed in the International Science Fair in Los Angeles. She has gone to this fair for three years.

Florida Stem Scholars recognized included Mariah Casanova, Jennifer Ehrlich, Savannah Goggans, and Seairra Moore.

Dennis Williams, was honored for 35 years of service to the school system by Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy at Tuesday’s meeting. The head mechanic retires Tuesday, Aug. 1.

Employees honored upon their retirement included Director of Finance Joi Turbeville, teachers Mary McWaters and John Wright, data processor Bruce Quinlin, custodian Terry Turbeville and mechanic Dennis Williams. Ms. McWaters worked 33 years, Mr. Quinlin 25 years, and Mr. Williams 35 years for the district. Mrs. Turbeville worked 28 years for the school system.

The board endorsed a project for the class of 1968 to engrave names on paver bricks at the old high school sidewalk. They were the final class to graduate in the school. They hope to have the names installed in time for homecoming 2017.

Dixie Ball suggested the classes of 1966 and 1967 also join the project.

The district had $5,500 in unpaid student meals last year. The district provides free breakfast for all students. The board worked on a policy they think will do a better job of getting the debts paid back without harm or embarrassment to the student.

The board changed the time of the first public hearing on the proposed 2017-2018 budget for Thursday, July 27, at 5:01 p.m.

Superintendent Ken Kenworthy congratulated Finance Director Joi Turbeville upon her retirement at Tuesday’s Okeechobee School Board meeting.

They approved a $6,600 bid with Beautiful View to provide exterior lawn mowing at Osceola Middle School.

They also approved a $74,500 bid from Champion Coatings to paint the interior of Everglades Elementary School.

The board also approved a three-year contract with Charles Hood for $12,000 per year to mow the Okeechobee Freshman Campus.

The board appointed Dixie Ball as regular member and Jill Holcomb as Alternate Member on the Value Adjustment Board. Michael Sumner will continue to serve as regular citizen member and Anita Nunez as alternate member.

Superintendent Kenworthy said 360 students are enrolled in summer school this year. An Algebra 2 camp at OHS attracted 125 students. Some 20 students attend the Okeechobee Achievement Academy this summer for credit retrieval. And, 170 third graders in the district are at South Elementary School for additional reading instruction this summer.

The board also tweaked the code of student conduct with an emphasis on trying to reduce the number of days of out of school suspension for various violations. For example principals will have more discretion for first time offenses and kids who self-report possession of contraband could also receiver lighter punishments or no consequences.

The board also renewed the contract with the Conely & Conely, P.A for legal services.

There are currently 31 vacant positions in the school system that need to be filled this summer.

Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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