Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Open Letter to the Patrons and Supporters of the Helena-West Helena School District

Dear Patrons and Supporters of the Helena-West Helena School District: 
For several months, many of you have contacted me with immense concern about the future of several of the district’s school buildings, particularly West Side, Beechcrest, and Woodruff.  I want you to know that I, along with a majority of our board members, have approached this issue with the utmost concern and with a mindset to act in accordance with what is in the best interests of the Helena-West Helena School District and its students.  I am writing this open letter to our patrons and supporters so that they can be fully informed as this state-imposed process concerning the buildings progresses. 

First, let me begin with some of the legalities related to this issue.  Contrary to what some people lobbying for the charter school have contended, the district does not have to sell any property.  The statutes that would force a sale for nonuse only apply to school districts that consolidated under the ACT 60 legislation that was passed in the wake of the Lakeview case.  Helena-West Helena has not been involved in any consolidation under the provisions of that law.  Consequently, it does not apply to our buildings and we have a legal opinion from the widely-respected school attorney Brad Beavers on this matter. 
  
However, if the district were to decide to sell a building, then the charter school would have a right of first refusal to purchase the buildings at fair market value, which Mr. Beavers told our Board should be determined by an appraisal.  I asked the state-appointed Superintendent, Mr. John Hoy, if we planned to get appraisals on the buildings so that we would have some guidance when making our recommendations concerning any bids.  He informed me that there were no plans to get appraisals at this time.   

Second, let’s summarize where the situation is as of today.  The state-appointed Superintendent, whose previous job was with the Arkansas Department of Education, began advertising for bids on all of the aforementioned district properties.  This is happening over the objection of the local board, which has a majority opposed to selling most of the district’s property.  The only property that we are on record as considering for sale is West Side and that consideration was to possibly sell to the West Side Community Hub, a nonprofit organization that would be working with our students in addition to their other programming. 

This group began working with our previous Superintendent, Suzann McCommon, who, while state-appointed, has lived in our community for over 40 years and who began her career in the Helena-West Helena School District.  She rose to the position of Special Education Director in the Helena-West Helena School District before becoming the founding director of the Great Rivers Education Cooperative.  In the three years she served us as the district's top executive, I always believed she put HWHSD first and stood her ground on our behalf when dealing with Little Rock.   

She and the West Side Community Hub worked together on a plan.  The West Side group has a detailed plan for use of the building and a sustainability plan for maintaining the structure.  The district had a right of first refusal if the group ever wanted to sell the building and no competing school was going to be allowed in the building as a condition of the low-cost sale.  It was a win-win for the district and the group.  They got the building and we received programming for our kids. 

This move was stopped at the Arkansas Department of Education.  Shortly after Ms. McCommon’s return to Great Rivers, Mr. Hoy received a letter from Scott Shirey, KIPP's leader, asking to see the buildings, including West Side.  Mr. Hoy asked for permission to show the buildings.  We said no because we were not interested in selling any of the other properties, which meant there was no need to show them to the director of a competing school.   

At a later meeting, Mr. Hoy asked for permission to put the buildings on the market.  His recommendation never received a second.  After that meeting, he went to Little Rock and either received permission or an order from Tony Wood, the Commissioner of Education, to put the buildings on the market, which is where we stand today.  The buildings, which were constructed and paid for by the Helena-West Helena School District, are being put up for the equivalent of  a fire sale in a bad real estate market with the consent of two people- the Commissioner of Education, who is likely going to be gone in January when the State of Arkansas gets a new Governor,  and the ADE- appointed Superintendent.
 
Third, there needs to be a discussion of why a majority of the local board opposed putting the buildings on the market.  The school district does not have a complete long-term facilities plan and there are possible uses that had been discussed for some of the buildings.  Even some members of the West Side group had discussed options where the district maintained ownership and allowed them to use the building for various programming.  Two options have been briefly discussed over the past year for Beechcrest.  One was the possibility of moving the administration offices to that location since that would more centrally locate the top administrators.  Also, the office building where they currently are housed would be easier to sell than a school building because it is smaller with a more diverse set of possibilities for use.  Another option for Beechcrest property that had even been briefly mentioned by the state-appointed Superintendent in his first 100 days was reopening the campus for the lower elementary grades since we are near capacity at the primary school. 

As you can see, the board wanted time to complete the development of a long-term facilities plan with the consultation of the district’s architect and the new Superintendent before simply unloading the property.  I think that would have been prudent. 

Another important consideration for us was KIPP’s right of first refusal.  We have seen with the growing political pressure to move on these buildings since the arrival of Mr. Hoy and with KIPP’s own letters of interest, presentations on this subject to a legislative committee, and with their alleged lobbying in the highest halls of state government, that this appears to be an effort to ram through the transfer of a building to them while we do not have local control and before the elections where a new Governor might pick a different Commissioner at the Arkansas Department of Education. 

With that in mind, I think it is important to note that as the board appointed to provide a voice to the local district’s patrons, it is our primary responsibility to consider the best interests of the school district and our students.  These schools are located in neighborhoods where we have stronger enrollment.  If KIPP were to get a building and increase their seating capacity and have a campus on the western side of the city, then we would have to be concerned about a loss of enrollment because of the charter school putting an operation within walking distance of those families, which have stuck with the district through the closure of these schools and the consolidation of previous elementary schools on the Miller campus.   

Let’s assume for a moment a conservative loss of enrollment of just 30 kids.  That represents over $210000 per year and those kids would be in school for 13 years.  That is $2.73 million.  The number would likely rise for a few years.  In short, if the charter school gets a building then it is a decision that will be negatively impacting the school district after I am dead and gone and one that will have cost us millions of dollars.  That’s not in the best interests of our school district or the students we serve.  I cannot in good conscience support anything that would hurt our district and wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I ever voted for something that would betray the interests of our schools and the students we are entrusted to educate. 
In closing, I do not believe that a decision of this magnitude should be made by one man in Little Rock and implemented by one man who works for him who does not answer to the community.  This is a decision that should be delayed until local control is returned and the various opinions amongst our local community can be heard. 

KIPP is trying to kick us while we are down and use a state takeover to obtain a building for pennies when they have the support of fat cats who could build them their own buildings.  They get money from large donors who don't give the public schools a dime.  To try and use our misfortune to take a building in these circumstances isn’t morally right even if it is legally allowed.     

This entire exercise is just another example that, while KIPP's supporters say this is about competition, it is really about the destruction of public education because you cannot have a competition when the two sides play by different rules.  KIPP can hire people that HWHSD can't to be teachers.  KIPP can fire people without due process while HWHSD must follow the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.  KIPP can hire a person with only a Bachelors degree to be the equivalent of a Superintendent while HWHSD must have someone certified with the equivalent of a Masters plus 30 hours.  KIPP can kick out students for virtually no reason with minimal due process.  HWHSD has to follow lots of state laws that are waived for KIPP in this area.  KIPP can cap enrollment to limit expenditures.  HWHSD cannot and must add staff regardless of cost even if it is just one student over the limit for a teacher to have in a day.  As you can see, this isn't a level playing field and now KIPP is wanting to get a building that belongs to HWHSD when HWHSD couldn't get the state to give them one of theirs if we needed or wanted it.  We would have to build if we needed space.  KIPP should have to do the same. 

I take seriously my responsibility to represent the Helena-West Helena School District, our students, and our patrons.  I taught at Central High School. My late Grandmother worked many years for the Helena-West Helena School District.  I have two grandchildren who live with me enrolled in our schools.  I love the district, and as long as I am breathing I will not betray our district regardless of how much political pressure is brought to bear.  Our kids deserve the best and what they are seeing with this matter is that there are a lot of powerful people who aren’t considering what’s best for them and their schools and are considering the desires of the rich and the powerful who are seeking to dismantle public education in the name of choice and competition.  I encourage you to contact the Superintendent, the Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, and our state legislators- Representative Chris Richey and Senator Keith Ingram and express your thoughts on this matter. 
 
Sincerely, 
Andrew Bagley 
President, HWHSD Advisory School Board

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bagley Reelected School Board President

School Board President Andrew Bagley
At their regular board meeting Monday night, the Helena-West Helena School District Board reelected Andrew Bagley as its President with out opposition.  Doug Friedlander was reelected Vice-President and Marvin Jarrett was elected Secretary.

After the meeting, Bagley said he was humbled by the confidence his colleagues showed in his continued leadership of the school board.  He said, "I have been honored to serve in this position and look forward to continuing our work on behalf of HWHSD and its children during the coming year.  We have accomplished many things and are focused on making sure that the district continues to move forward as we prepare for the eventual return of local control."

Bagley added, "We have seen the district restored to financial stability over the past three years.  We have seen the technology capacity of the district upgraded substantially and we have seen several facility improvements.  There have been some test score gains, and I am proud of the work we have done.  I am hopeful that we can finish the requirements imposed by the state due to the fiscal distress designation within the remaining 20 months that the state could choose to keep control under the fiscal distress law.  I am hopeful that our community is ready for a return to local control."

In other business, the district approved reports from the campuses, the Superintendent, and concerning the budget for the upcoming year.  The board also heard a presentation from retired Principal Earnest Simpson regarding the future of the Westside campus.  The board is on record as supporting working with the Westside Community Hub, a nonprofit organization, on preserving the building and allowing the group to house its programs there and is working to overcome legal hurdles to make that possible.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

HWH Booster Club Golf Tournament To Be Held September 27-28


For Immediate Release

For More Information contact Bud Oberle at 870-572-1995 or Andrew Bagley at 870-995-6067

Re:  Annual Booster Club Golf Tournament To Be Held September 27-28

HELENA-WEST HELENA- The annual Helena-West Helena Booster Club Two-Person Scramble will be held September 27-28 at the Helena-West Helena Municipal Golf Course.

Andrew Bagley, Booster Club Secretary, said that Bud Oberle, a Booster Club member and owner of The Video Store, will serve as the tournament director.  He said, "Bud has been a huge help to the Booster Club for many years and has been an invaluable volunteer since this tournament's inception several years ago.  Bud makes sure that the tournament is done professionally and makes sure the golfers enjoy the event, which is why it is one of the largest tournaments held at the municipal golf course every year."

Oberle added, "I graduate from Central and am glad to be able to give back to the school, which is why we put on this tournament.  We want to raise money to continue to upgrade Cougar Athletics.  I just want to thank the sponsors and players for helping us to support Central and to make this tournament a success."

Those interested in playing in the tournament can sign up at the Helena-West Helena Municipal Golf Course.  The entry fee is $120 per team and mulligans are $10 per day.  Call the golf course at 870-572-1490 to reserve a cart.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

KCLT- FM and the HWH Booster Club Partner Again to Broadcast Cougar Football; Bagley Begins 10th season as Voice of the Cougars


Bagley and Etherly in the booth

For the third consecutive season, the HWH Booster Club and the Delta Force 3 Radio Network will partner to bring the broadcast of Cougar Football and Basketball to the airwaves and online.


School Board President and Booster Club Secretary Andrew Bagley, who will be the Voice of the Cougars for the 10th consecutive season, will be rejoined in the broadcast booth by Attorney Don Etherly, who served as a color analyst on the Cougar Broadcast a few years ago.  Bagley said, "Many of our listeners have been clamoring for Mr. Etherly's return to the broadcast.  Don is very knowledgeable about the game and brings a steady, informed analysis to the broadcast.  He is also a joy to work with in the booth."


Bagley continued, "It is an honor to be able to celebrate a decade of Cougar broadcasts this season, which will be Coach Smith's 9th year at the helm.  We have seen the program develop and improve substantially over that time.  There have been six playoff berths, a conference championship that was the first in 60 years, and a state finals appearance during the Russell Smith era.  We have seen the equipment upgraded and this year we are finally seeing some upgrades to Cad Polk Stadium with the bleacher seating renovation.  I have enjoyed the past ten years and hope Coach Smith, Delta Force 3, the HWH Booster Club, and I will get to be around for at least ten more and see the program reach even greater heights.  Friday nights should be all about the Cougars in Helena-West Helena either with your presence at the game or via listening to the broadcast."


Bagley also thanked the management and staff of Delta Force 3 for their work with the Booster Club to make sure there was a network home for Cougar Football and Basketball.  He said, "The partnership between the Booster Club and Delta Force 3 has been very beneficial for both sides and has raised the profile of Cougar Athletics.  During that time, we have expanded into coverage of basketball in addition to football on KCLT-FM 104.9 and our games can now be heard on smartphones via the Radio Loyalty app in addition to via a computer on www.force3radio.com.  We are the only school in the Tri-County area that can be heard worldwide, and we appreciate Raymond Simes and the rest of the Delta Force 3 management and staff for their vision and their support of the Helena-West Helena School District through this partnership."


The Cougars open the season at Cad Polk Stadium on Friday against the #2 Dollarway Cardinals.  Kickoff is set for 7:00.  The pregame show will start approximately 15 minutes prior to kickoff on KCLT.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Cougars Open Season with Top 3 Foe at Home


Unlike some other nearby schools, no one can accuse the Helena-West Helena Central Cougars of having a soft nonconference schedule.  When kickoff arrives on Friday, the Cougars will be hosting the Dollarway Cardinals, who are ranked in the Top 3 of Class 4A in three separate polls.

The Cardinals are #3 in both the Hooten's Arkansas Football and Fearless Friday Polls.  The Associated Press had Dollarway at #2.  The Cougars received four votes in the AP poll. 

Coach Russell Smith said he wanted the Cougars to have an early test.  "I believe that having tough games early prepares you for conference play.  We are trying to establish ourselves as one of the elite programs in our classification and region.  The only way you do that is to take on some of the best teams and win.  That's why we have a nonconference schedule that includes a top 5 Class 4A team and Forrest City, which is in a higher classification."

The Cougars battled Dollarway tough last year, trailing by only seven points most of the fourth quarter before falling 34-19.  Dollarway went on to win 10 games. 

Helena-West Helena has a squad filled with veteran leadership.  Nine starters return on offense and eight return on defense from a squad that had a winning season and returned to the playoffs as one of the state's smallest Class 5A schools last year. 

Smith said, "We have a lot of experience.  Our lineman are strong.  We have some speed at the skill positions.  If we continue to work hard and play smart, mistake-free football on  Friday nights, we will have a good season."

Dollarway returns six starters on offense and five on defense.  Smith said, "They have a lot of size and speed.  They are very talented at the skill positions.  We will have to play a great game to win."

Another addition this season is a major renovation to Cad Polk Stadium.  The school district, with a contribution from the Booster Club, is completing a much needed reconstruction of the bleacher seating.  Coach Smith said, "Our facilities have been neglected for far too long and we have gotten way behind our competition.  This will greatly enhance our stadium and I am hopeful that this is just the beginning as we seek to get on par with the rest of our competition."





Saturday, August 23, 2014

CHS Fans Donate to Grace Community Food Pantry

City Treasurer Patrick Roberson accepts CHS's donation to the food pantry from
School Board President Andrew Bagley and Asst. Principal Earnest Simpson, III
At the annual intrasquad game, Cougar Nation donated 349 cans of food and $54.50 to the Grace Community Food Pantry.  This is the second consecutive year that Cougar Fans have made a significant contribution to the work of the food pantry.


CHS Athletic Director Russell Smith said it is important for the school to participate in projects that help the community.  He said, "Many of the families that we serve probably utilize the service of the food pantry and it is important that we teach our students to help those in need.  Mr. Simpson and I sat down and felt like this was an excellent opportunity for Central High School and its supporters to engage our Cougar Family in helping others."


Earnest Simpson, CHS Assistant Principal, echoed those sentiments saying, "Central High School has some of the most generous people in this community.  We also serve some of the most at-risk families in our community who truly need help.  It seemed like a natural community service project for the school and our fans to focus on gathering a donation of food for the Grace Food Pantry at our annual intrasquad game."


City Treasurer Patrick Roberson, a volunteer for the food pantry said, "We are so appreciative of the support we received from Central High School and Cougar Fans this year.  It is a pleasure to work with Mr. Simpson, Coach Smith, and Andrew Bagley (School Board President) on this project.  Our community has some of the best people you can find and tonight's donation from Cougar Fans is just another example of that.  I wish the Cougars the best on the upcoming football season as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cougars Win 7-on-7 Championship For Second Straight Year


7 on 7 Champions
For the second consecutive year, the Helena-West Helena Central Cougars have captured the East Arkansas 7-on-7 football league title.

The Cougars, who are picked to finish 2nd in the 2-4A in the Hooten's Arkansas Football rankings, have been expected to rely more heavily on the running game this season.  Consequently, the passing-dominated 7-on-7 success is pleasant news.


Head Coach Russell Smith said, "I have been pleased with the improvements that we have seen over the summer.  Our guys have been working hard on the practice field and in the weight room.  We have had a chance to work with multiple quarterbacks during the 7-on-7 season.  Now we will have a short break before preseason practice starts in August."


The Cougars defeated West Memphis, Forrest City, Earle, Trumann, and East Poinsett County to win the title.  The teams faced off multiple times over the past few weeks. 


Keith Hays is projected to be the starting quarterback for the Cougars.


Helena-West Helena will open the regular season at Cad Polk Stadium on September 5 against the Dollarway Cardinals.  That kickoff is set for 7:00 pm.