Wednesday, February 12, 2014

School Board hears Trane update

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Webster County School Board heard from representatives of Harshaw Trane on Monday night.
On September 4, 2012 school board officials entered into a twenty year contract with the Lexington based Trane for a performance-based guaranteed energy savings project. The contract included many energy and maintenance saving technologies and techniques and guaranteed an annual savings of $108,023. 
The guaranteed savings program was designed to allow Webster County Schools to defer a large amount of the project’s cost by generating savings from the operating budget and use those savings to pay for the agreed upon improvements. The total cost of the project was $2.9 million, $98,000 of which was bonded.
“When we started this process two years ago the main focus was updating Sebree Elem HVAC,” said Ernie Tacogue, K-12 Market Leader for Trane. “We had to find enough energy savings so that over time it would pay for the HVAC.”
Among the problem areas he said they noted in there initial assessment were Sebree’s HVAC which had been installed primarily in 1986, control issues in other schools, outdated lighting technologies and excessive water consumption.
The new systems installed by Trane include a web based control system, accessible by facilities manager Dennis Parrish and the school’s Trane representative based in the Lexington office. 
“You can control your HVAC from one central location,” said Tacogue. “If you can manage that, you can manage 60% of your energy savings.”
The system also allows the operator to monitor the usage of electricity and gas in real time. Tacogue said that this would allow them to identify peak usage times and adjust things like the HVAC to bring down the utility cost.
Tacogue said it was a bit like continually “fine tuning” each facility.
Another bonus, he told the board, was that the system constantly monitors the temperature of all of the districts refrigerators and freezers. If they raise to an unsafe level it automatically notifies Parrish and Trane.
“We will meet on a quarterly basis and show you where you are,” said Curt Barrett,  Webster County’s Trane representative. 

School Board talks safety, school lunch price

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Following a special called meeting to meet with representatives of Harshaw Trane on Monday, the Webster County School Board held their regular scheduled meeting.
Webster County Safety Director Mark Spainhoward addressed board members with an update to the school’s safety program. He also told the board that Sebree and Dixon Elementary Schools had recently completed safety assessments, and presented them with a list of safety recommendations for both schools.
Among the biggest concerns were the entrances to the schools. All of the district’s schools require visitors to be buzzed into the facility by the office staff, but once they are buzzed through the security door there is nothing forcing the visitor to meet with office staff.
“Right now once you get though the door you can go anywhere,” said Spainhoward. “At the high school it would mean putting up a second set of doors. What we want to accomplish is having a way for our visitors to come in and have to talk to the secretary. We want our schools to be welcoming, but this is an added sense of security.”
He told the board that there was Safe Schools money available for the project, but the project would require a BG-1 (permit) to be filed with the state.
Spainhoward said that he has already filed a request to have a safety assessment done on the high school and adjoining middle school next school year.
At the last board meeting food service director Shane Bosaw presented a request to increase the price of school meals. He told the board that the FDA is requiring schools to begin raising meal prices to match the $2.65 that it currently pays for free and reduced lunches. Currently Webster County students pay $1.90 for their lunches.
Board members had several questions about food services’ finances, which Bosaw answered Monday night.
According to Bosaw’s report, the district is currently losing an average of $6,622 per month, up from $5,426 last year. The average monthly income has also dropped from $113,281 to $99,018.
Board members were interested in what difference a price increase would make. A $0.10 increase would generate an estimated $8,082 per school year, while an increase of $0.35 would raise revenue by $28,287.
“We can take all of this into consideration and discuss it at a future meeting,” said board chairman Jeff Pettit. “I think we will probably come to our next meeting ready to discuss it and vote on it.”
In other business, board members heard from Kim Saalwaechter, Supervisor of Assessment & Accountability for Webster County Schools.
“Across the board I am very pleased with fall to winter MAPs results,” Saalwaechter reported. “Usually we see a big dip. We had some classes that stayed the same, but over all, our k-8 in content areas in MAPs saw improvement from fall to winter.”
Saalwaechter said that 5th period at the high school is set aside for ACT prep, but weather over the last month has taken a toll on that program. High school students are scheduled to take the ACT on March 4, 2014, but district officials are working to get that rescheduled.
“They are surveying the districts and looking at the possibility of moving that testing window back because of all the weather events we have had,” she said.
Despite the improvement in the MAPs area, assistant superintendent Alan Lossner is not satisfied.
“Superintendent Galloway, Kim and I had a long discussion,” Lossner said. “One of the things we talked about is that we as a district for several years have been successful at state assessment. This year we tanked. I think one of the reason we have seen a decline is that we have become too complacent. We are prepared to reevaluate our whole way of looking at curriculum and instruction so that we can become a much higher performing district. We are going to look at our whole way of teaching kids and how we hold people accountable.”
“I hope that this board has made it clear that education is our main priority,” said Pettit. “We have got to keep the focus on what you spoke about...our curriculum, our test scores. While we might not agree with what ever system we are placed in, it is our job to make sure that our children are successful in whatever that system is.”
“It is easy for us to make excuses,” said Saalwaechter.  “We can’t make excuses any more.”
Finally, Superintendent Pete Galloway told the board that if students do not miss any more days, the final day of school (for students) will be May 30.

Fiscal Court hears from resident on FEMA flood maps (Sebree and Clay Maps attached)

Lyon County rejects FEMA maps
by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Monday’s Fiscal Court meeting was almost entirely about flooding, or rather the new flood maps that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) is asking counties to adopt. Every seat in the meeting room was filled as residents packed in to voice their opinions.
Judge Executive Jim Townsend was in Washington D.C. The court appointed magistrate Tony Felker of Providence to preside over the meeting.
FEMA Flood Map of Clay (click to enlarge)
At their last meeting, magistrates voted unanimously for the first reading of an ordinance that would adopt the FEMA maps, despite the fact that everyone agreed the maps were incorrect.
“We all know the maps are wrong,” said Magistrate Tony Felker. “We are not going to accept these until they are right. At the last meeting we voted to accept this pending corrections.”
Word that the county was looking to accept the faulty maps was enough to get Webster County residents stirred up. While adopting the new maps could result in residents who live in flood plains to get a lowered insurance rate, it also forces some residents with little to no actual chance of being flooded to purchase the expensive insurance.
Many of the visitors who were present questioned the decision to vote on the maps before they were corrected, but according to county officials it would seem that FEMA is not leaving them any other choice.
“If we don’t accept them and we have a big flood in Webster County, we aren’t going to be protected by FEMA,” Felker said.  “We wont get any FEMA assistance for our roads or our residents.”
“The Kentucky Division of Water has recommended passing the maps but going back and amending them when they are updated,” said County Attorney Clint Prow.
He added that the county technically had until the end of the year to adopt the new maps, but as accepting the maps would have a baring on the public’s insurance rates, something needed to be done as soon as possible.
Several residents said that their insurance companies are already charging higher premiums even though the maps have not been adopted and are according to the court “wrong.”
According to Sebree area magistrate Jerry “Poogie” Brown, in his district there are places listed as being in a flood zone that have not flooded since the flood of 1937.
He also added that a lot of work has been done since 1937 to reduce the odds of a major flood along the Green River.
“The fiscal court has no control over the insurance,” magistrate Tony Felker told the visitors. “But we can work with our congressmen, and I think it would benefit all of you to call your congressman as well.”
Eventually the magistrates voted to wait until Judge Executive Townsend had returned from Washington before deciding whether to approve or reject the FEMA maps.
WC Not Alone
Webster County is not the only county having to deal with these maps. After  initially accepting the maps that they had been offered, Lyon County voted to reject the FEMA maps and withdraw from the program.
FEMA Flood Map of Sebree (click to enlarge)
“I haven’t found any county yet that is happy with these maps,” said Wade White, the Lyon County Judge Executive.
White said that he was initially in favor of adopting the FEMA maps because doing so would help some residents get cheaper flood insurance. But his opinion quickly changed.
“After we decided to join this program, people started getting letters telling them that they had to buy flood insurance up on Lake Barkley,” said White. “FEMA mapped in 70 to 80 homes that are higher than the dam.”
White said that upon seeing what they were dealing with, he went to Washington D.C. to get local congressmen and senators involved. At that point FEMA refused to change the maps.
Not long after that the Fiscal Court voted to withdraw from the program.
“If we were part of that, we felt that we were giving the maps validity,” White explained.
He said that more than thirty Lyon County residents have had their property surveyed and gotten FEMA to overturn the decision. That process costs about $500 and takes 90 days.
White says that since, Lyon and Trigg County have gotten FEMA to agree to redraw their maps.
Webster County’s magistrates will discuss the issue again on Monday, February 27, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. in Dixon.

Kentucky House passes minimum wage increase

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Last week Kentucky law makers passed House Bill 1, a bill that could see the state mandated minimum wage raise by almost three dollars over the next three years.  The final vote came in at 54-44. with representatives Susan Westrom of Lexington and Jim Gooch  of Providence not voting.
Now that the bill has passed the House, it will head to the state senate for consideration.
“I’m encouraged and happy to see my colleagues in the House, both Democrat and Republican, reaffirm that we are committed to the idea that folks who work to earn a living ought to make a living wage,” Stumbo said. “While this increase, less than a dollar an hour staggered over three years, might not sound like a lot to some, I truly believe it will have an enormous impact on the working men and women who are doing everything they can to keep their families going on minimum wage.  We have asked them to stretch their dollars to the breaking point and I think what we have done today is the right thing.”
Stumbo signaled he would move to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage shortly before the start of the 2014 Legislative Session.  Stumbo opted to make raising the state’s minimum wage his top legislative priority after reading a testimonial in his hometown newspaper which spelled out how a full-time employee working 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year would only make $15,080 before paying their first dime of taxes.
Under House Bill 1, Kentucky’s minimum wage would raise from $7.25, where it has stood since 2007, to $8.20 on July 1, 2014. It would raise again each year until the minimum wage is $10.10 in July of 2016. This will help the estimated 400,000 working Kentuckians who make at or below minimum wage. Additionally House Bill 1 will go a long way in securing the financial security of Kentucky’s children. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, 1 in 4 Kentucky children live in a home where at least 1 parent earns the minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage will have an immense effect on the working women in Kentucky trying to raise a family,” said Stumbo. “Bureau of Labor statistics show that a minimum wage worker in Kentucky is more than likely to be a woman, over the age of 25 who has at least one child. That’s who needs this legislation; that’s who deserves this legislation and who have waited long enough for a boost in minimum wage. I’m happy to have my colleagues in the House play a part in offering hard working Kentuckians a chance to get ahead – I hope our friends in the Senate follow suit.”
Kentucky’s minimum wage has been at $7.25 per hour since 2009. In 2007 and 2008 the rate was increased by $0.70 per hour from $5.15. That wage went all the way back to 1998 when the state raised the minimum wage from $4.25.