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Opp Board of Education picks up tab for cut ADECA program

"We have a moral obligation to finish what we started."

That was what Dr. Timothy Lull, superintendent of Opp City Schools had to say to the Opp Board of Education Tuesday night. Lull was referring to the recent loss of an ADECA grant that funded the school's Middle College High School (MCHS) program. MCHS made it possible for the high school to send students at risk of dropping out onto a higher education in a vocational capacity, earning a two-year college degree at MacArthur Technical College (before it became LBWCC-MacArthur campus.)

According to Lull there are still six or seven students in the program, three with only a semester left before graduating and three or four more

only two semesters away. Lull said he had appealed to Speaker Seth Hammett to intercede on the students' behalf with ADECA, but Hammett's appeals failed.

Lull said he thought ADECA should have phased the program out slowly, not enrolling new students, but at least seeing the ones already in the program through graduation. He then asked the board to allow the school system to pay the costs required to allow the remaining students to complete their studies and earn their two-year degree.

"It is my recommendation

that we use local money until we get funding," he said.

Despite proration - or perhaps, because of it - the Opp City Schools system now has more local funding than anticipated. Drastic budget cuts, lay-offs and schedule re-structuring were made this summer to bring the school's budget in alignment with the cuts requested by the governor's office, but the recent infusion of one-time monies have restored some of that funding. Also, the reorganization of teaching units, with federally-funded teaching units being added and local teaching units being dismissed, has given the board some additional funds.

Lull told the board that besides tuition costs, he would like to see them pay a $4,000 stipend to an employee at MacArthur who would serve as a counselor for the students, helping them chose courses and offering support when needed.

The previous grant paid for a full time person to perform these, and other duties. He anticipated the tuition and supplies costs being less this year, since some students enrolled in the program have moved away, and because they would be enrolling no new students, no new supplies would be needed for the more expensive classes, such as welding.

The cost last year for the program was approximately $100,000, but the estimate Lull provided for next year was $36,488, which included the $4,000 stipend.

"We're trying to get scholarships," said Lull. "These are poverty kids, a lot of them don't make the grades for academic scholarships."

The recent addition of money from the state has also allowed the board to rehire several employees, including Randy Crowley, who filed a formal objection to his dismissal earlier this summer. Crowley, who was one of several school employees statewide to receive back pay for overtime after an investigation audit was called, claimed his dismissal had not been due to a slashed budget, but to retaliation. After the board was called into executive session Tuesday evening, it was announced that Crowley would be reinstated to his custodial/HVAC position. An additional custodian/maintenance worker was also rehired, James Rhodes, who will help out at the elementary school as well as the high school, and will perform other maintenance duties as well. Shanna Boothe was hired to teach kindergarten at South Highlands Elementary School; and Ronnie Dewayne Mosely was approved as a science teacher for Opp Middle School an emergency hire for James D. Driver, who was granted a one-year leave of absence to attend divinity school.

In other board business, bids were approved for Sara Lee Bakery, bread;

LST Cybertime, laptop computers for the Race Track program;

City Dairy for milk and juice; and Dairy Fresh for ice cream. The board chose to accept an "escalator bid" on the milk products, since, according to Lull,

that option saved the schools almost $2,000 last year. The cost of the milk goes up or down, reflecting market prices, and, according to Lull, continued to go down last year.

The bid on the laptops was a re-submission, when drastically low bids the first time around alerted Lull to the fact that the bid had been misworded, and companies were bidding on one laptop, not the 32 needed by the program. The funds for the purchase are from a $450,000 grant that will be spread over three years.