Rod Reese praises Blackwell Board of Education and Shawn Haskins
February 18 the Board of Education hired Shawn Haskins, Blackwell Senior Class of 1988, to fill the vacant Superintendent of Schools position. After reviewing fifteen applications, two candidates were interviewed and Mr. Haskins was offered the position. Mr. Haskins has served the district for the last three years in the role of High School Principal. He came to Blackwell after serving twenty-two years as High School and Middle School Principal at Rush Springs.
I want to commend the Board on their selection. In my time filling in as the interim Superintendent I have had the opportunity to establish many valued relationships in the school and community. I’ve been able to observe Mr. Haskins leading his staff and meeting the needs of the high school students and teachers providing resources for achieving their identified goals. He is honest and fair and treats people with respect regardless of their position, social status or certification. He cares about the students and wants them to experience success. I also know him to be a tireless worker arriving early and working late. Mr. Haskins began his career as a band instructor and avidly appreciates and advocates for the fine arts. I have the greatest confidence in Mr. Haskin’s ability to lead the district in the role of Superintendent as he has as Principal.
One of the challenges that the district faces is funding needed capital improvements. The district made a huge investment in roofing district-wide last year, but the high school roof project was a temporary solution that will have to be readdressed within a few years. The heating and air-conditioning systems will be an ongoing drain as units fail and are replaced. The high school and middle school are in need of remodeling to modernize the facilities and equip them for delivery of instruction with today’s technology. The football stadium is in need of stadium lighting, handicap accessibility, bathrooms and concessions. Locker rooms and bathrooms and flooring at the high school and middle school are in need of upgrades.
The district is increasing its broadband internet capability to accommodate the one to one initiative where each student in the district is able to participate in google classrooms through a high speed internet connection with individual chromebooks. Our broadband internet connection is achieved through funding by the federal e-rate program . The program funds internet and internal connections including cabling and wireless access at an eighty percent discount. It does not however fund endpoint appliances which include desktop computers, laptops or chromebooks. Currently over ninety percent of the desktop computers in the district are operating on the outdated Windows 7 system which causes them to be very unreliable. We are working on replacing the computers that cannot be upgraded to Windows 10 operating system and upgrading the computers that can be upgraded. Hopefully we can find funding to be able to implement a five year cycle to replace computers and chromebooks.
The only way to fund capital improvements is through bond issues, grants and the building fund. The district currently has a sinking fund of 21.79 mil. At our current net assessed value we will stay above 20 mil for two more years before it drops to 19 in 2023 and zero in 2024.
Ideally a district the size of Blackwell would need to maintain a sinking fund levy of 30 mil. to avoid over obligating the property owners in the district and fund the necessary capital improvements.
Our current net assessed value is $43,079,725. Blackwell Wind property makes up $10,300,000 or about 25% of the total net assessed value. We are fortunate that Blackwell Wind has not protested their taxes like other wind companies in the State who want to pay on about 40% of the assessed value of their property. While the increased value of the wind farm has been a great benefit to schools who have them in their districts, the concern over the possibility of tax protests makes it difficult to plan for capital improvements. When a tax protest takes place the tax revenue that is protested is placed in an escrow account until the protest is settled. Meanwhile repayment of bonds is impossible. The Oklahoma legislature is working on a fair way to tax wind property. Until the issue is resolved school districts are at the mercy of the wind companies.
Hopefully school districts will soon regain their confidence in having a reliable source of tax revenue to fund capital improvements. All of that said there will be important decisions to be made in the next two years about how to move forward making improvements based on the assessment of capital improvements needs. I hope the patrons of the school district give Superintendent Haskins and the Board of Education the support needed to move the district forward to provide the very best possible learning environment for the children of Blackwell Public Schools.
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