Bryant School Board votes to close Paron Elementary

Following a more than four-hour meeting of the Bryant School Board on Monday evening, board members unanimously approved a plan to cut approximately $3 million in spending from the 2015-16 budget.
Two significant pieces of the plan include closing Paron Elementary and moving high school students to a seven-period day.

Expecting a larger crowd, the meeting had been moved to Love Auditorium.

“Today has been the hardest day so far,” said Dr. Kimbrell, district superintendent, at the end of the meeting.

After a second proposed millage increase failed by only eight votes, the district is required by the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation to create a facilities plan that addresses various issues, including future growth.

“I just can’t tell you how hard it is,” board member Sandra Porter told the crowd. “It was a blow to lose by eight votes."

The board voted to shorten the list of projects the district would focus on and return approximately $18.5 million of state Partnership Funds. The district may reapply for the funds at a later time.

Also as part of that plan, the board voted to cut some items from the budget. The money that will be saved will be placed into a building fund in hopes of lowering the number of mills needed when the district presents another millage request to voters.
“It’s not a question of if we will (need a millage increase), but how we will do it,” said David Moore, board member.

“I feel strongly that we need to cut at least $3 million,” said member Rhonda Sanders.

By closing Paron Elementary, the district will save approximately $1 million during the first year, Kimbrell said.

About 75 students currently attend classes at Paron. These students will be moved to Salem Elementary School, which is located 21 miles away.

Many parents who spoke at the meeting voiced concerns about their children being on a bus for several hours a day.
Currently buses start picking up older students in Paron at 6:05 a.m. and the last student is dropped off at 5 p.m., said Tom Farmer, transportation director.
Jill Ross, who has a child in kindergarten at Paron Elementary, said she voted for the millage increase in fear that the district would close the school. She became emotional as she held a picture of her child for the board to see and talked through a hypothetical day if her child is moved to Salem Elementary.
“I pray you make the right decision for all the students of the Bryant district and not just the majority,” she said.

In the millage election, 26 Paron residents voted in favor of the increase and 151 voted against it.

Chasity Taylor has a child who attends Paron Elementary and a child who is a former Paron Elementary student. At the meeting, Taylor read a letter written by the daughter who previously attended school at Paron.
“It would be different it it affected you directly,” she read. “Think about the children in your lives.”

The teachers at Paron Elementary will be moved into other openings around the district, Kimbrell said.

Parents also spoke about the Head Start program. The meals provided by this program are prepared at the school, but the program is not part of the district, Kimbrell said.
By changing to a seven-period day for high school, the district will save approximately $1.2 million. With this scheduled change, fewer electives will be offered, he said.

Other cuts include reducing administration and school budgets by 10 percent, cutting emergency leave for all staff, implementing an energy plan, discontinuing out-of-state travel unless the trip is approved by the board, charging the Boys & Girls Club of Bryant for students’ transportation to the center, reducing the juvenile probation officer program, canceling a contract for plant maintenance at Hill Farm Elementary, using state money to pay paraprofessionals, not hiring two specialists to fill vacant positions and changing the assistant superintendent for human resources position.

Many board members were concerned about cutting all out-of-state travel because many of the trips are self-funded by the various organizations and because the savings is small and will affect many students.
Kimbrell said even his daughter, who is a member of the Bryant Engineering Team, is upset about the change and has not talked to him in three days.
“I want our students to see more than what’s within our borders,” Sanders said.
The board decided to review trips on a case-by-case basis for approval.

The board also voted not to accept students through school choice with the exception of siblings of students attending the district through an earlier transfer.
David Moore, a board member, told the board he did not approve of accepting students from outside of the district when the district is closing one of its elementary schools.
According to a new law, a school has the right to deny enrollment for students if the schools are at or above 90 percent capacity.
The district has received applications for 69 students to enter the district and 91 students are choosing to leave the district. The district cannot control whether students leave, Kimbrell said.