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JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met in regular session on Sept. 8 at the Central Support Services Annex and all board members were present.

The meeting was live streamed and is also available to view. To watch the meeting click HERE. 

Ashe County High School Athletic Director David Koontz and Ashe County Middle School Athletic Director Mitchell Mash presented their updated coaching lists to the board.

Koontz says they plan to resume conditioning to prepare for the season, with the same guidelines they utilized this summer in place.

According to Koontz, the starting date for Volleyball and Cross Country seasons is Nov. 4.

In the event that sports are unable to occur, Cox said if the season does not take place and coaches completed prep work the school system would like to pay them on a prorated basis. They plan to come up with compensation that honors any pre-work versus the actual season itself.

Mash said the middle school plans to follow what the high school does as far as sports seasons.

The board unanimously voted in favor to approve the coaching lists as presented for both ACHS and ACMS.

Director of Food Service Martha Turner and Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox discussed a reduction in staff and labor hours for the Child Nutrition Program.

Cox shared some statistics concerning the number of meals served to students this August versus last August.

According to Cox, in August 2019, the school system was serving an average of 14.44 meals per labor hour. The National recommendation is about a minimum 15 meals per labor hour. This August, the school system is serving approximately 3.2 meals per labor hour on average.

In 2019, school lunches were bringing in about $9,815 per week and breakfasts were $6,630.

This year, the district as a whole, is bringing in about $2,712 for lunches and $1,832 for breakfasts.

Cox said the majority of the school system’s costs for the Child Nutrition program are for labor and the average monthly operating balance is approximately $185,000.

Turner said COVID-19 has completely changed Child Nutrition and costs have increased significantly due to safety guidelines presented by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In an effort to increase profits at the schools, Turner said they started reintroducing their supplemental sales the week before in a smaller format at Ashe County Middle School.

Cox said the Child Nutrition program continues to lose about $4,900 on Wednesdays when there are no students in the buildings. On the days that students are present in the buildings, they are losing about $3,626 per day.

“This equates to over $77,000 per month and that is something that we just cannot sustain,” Cox said.

In order to determine the reduction of 16 staff members as fairly as possible, Cox and her team compiled a rubric.

The rubric takes four main components into consideration with the inclusion of aspects such as job performance, degrees and licenses along with the employee’s potential to contribute, seniority in the same or related positions in the district and other criteria determined to be relevant by the Superintendent.

The primary evaluation used was a point system based on whether employees are unsatisfactory, need improvement, meet expectations or exceed expectations. The second aspect was based on positions necessary for the success of the school nutrition program. This included head cooks, cashiers, meal prep, bakers and servers and dishroom staff. Another potential that was included were Servsafe certifications and the K-12 Culinary Academy, which contribute directly to the school nutrition program.

According to Cox, each employee could have 11 points total under the “potential to contribute” section.

Other criterias included attendance and written corrective action over the past three years.

Cox and her team shared the information and rubrics with school principals and child nutrition workers for them to understand the system that is being implemented.

According to Cox, if the school system is able to return under Plan A in the future and are operational on Wednesdays they can look into increasing hours for Child Nutrition employees and bring back some of the staff.

Board members voiced that it is a difficult decision that they do not like making, but they were pleased with how objective and fair the approach being taken was.

“I just want folks to know this is really difficult, that we don’t want to not have our people on board, that we try to do everything that we can,” board member Dianne Eldreth said. “There’s just no way we can maintain this loss.”

The board unanimously approved the Child Nutrition reduction plan as presented by Cox and Turner.

Director of Student Services Jamie Little provided an update for the 2020-21 after school program.

Little and Cox recently sent out a survey to families asking what they needed and which days, ages of their children and how much they would be able to afford for after school care.

Little said County Manager Adam Stumb is continuing to seek a facility for them to be able to utilize.

According to Little, the school system is planning to hold interviews for positions in the upcoming weeks.

One challenge Little said they have faced is trying to facilitate operating the program on Wednesdays at full capacity, since all students are remote that day. Currently they are planning to provide services on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and working to keep the numbers low enough to comply with state guidelines for COVID-19.

Those qualified to assist in the operation of this program who are interested in applying for a position can access the application by visiting the school system’s Facebook page @ Ashe County Public Schools. The application can also be accessed by clicking HERE. 

Applications will be accepted until Friday, Sept. 18.

Prior to adjourning, Cox provided some positive updates. Ashe County Early College graduation will be held May 27, 2021, which is the day before ACHS graduation. This will be the first graduating class from AEC and all 15 students are on schedule to graduate with their Associate’s Degree two weeks prior to graduating from high school.

She also met with Melody Rector from Shoes for Kids, which provides properly fitting, seasonal footwear for children in Ashe County.

“We are very appreciative of them and their partnerships that provide that to our children,” Cox said. ”They do a great job and I just wanted to say publicly that we truly appreciate them.”

Director of Technology Amy Walker shared some information about the community Wi-Fi hotspots.

This was a project involving SkyLine Telephone, Blue Ridge Energy as well as the county IT department.

Currently locations include both Creston fire departments, Glendale Springs, Warrensville, Fleetwood, both New River locations, Pond Mountain and Lansing. According to Walker, some of the fire department locations internet connectivity were unable to support this project.

They were also able to add hotspots to several of the mobile home communities utilizing Blue Ridge Energy’s electric poles. Currently there are hotspot locations at Hwy 16, Dogget Road, Friendship Church Road, Buffalo Meadows development, Radio Hill, Helen Blevins and are continuing to work on the Blevins Express community.

“I just appreciate everyone, it’s been a wonderful partnership and I think we all appreciate working together to try to help our families and our students be more successful connectivity-wise,” Walker said.

Cox also mentioned that breakfast and lunch will continue to be offered free of charge to all students that attend school in the district until December.

The next regular meeting of the Board of Education will be Oct. 5 at the Central Support Services Administrative Annex.

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