No rotten apples this time around

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You never know who you’ll see at your local school board meeting.

I recently started attending Yukon’s school board meeting as your sideline reporter for the Yukon Progress, succeeding Mindy Ragan Wood who wanted to cover more Yukon Chamber of Commerce events.

That April meeting marked the first time in almost four years for me to be at a Yukon Public Schools’ Board of Education meeting. This Monday was the final YPS board meeting of the 2018-19 school year, which ends in two weeks.

It was great to talk to a few people who I hadn’t seen in a while!

Jim Fenrick, Yukon Public Schools’ chief financial officer, is looking just the same. Jim has done a great job overseeing the finances of this school district for decades. His wife Laurie enjoys retirement as Jim keeps punching the clock.

Jim still gets together regularly with some retired YPS legends, namely DeWayne Bunch, Terry Dean and Kent Mathers.

Another person I enjoyed seeing this week was Alicia Priest. Alicia and I attended college together eons ago at Oklahoma City University at the same time current YPS Assistant Superintendent Jason Brunk studied there.

(Back then I was an elementary education major before choosing a newspaper career).
For four years, Alicia has been president of the Oklahoma Education Association. She previously was a Yukon teacher and then president of Yukon’s teachers’ union, er “association.”

Current leadership of the Yukon Professional Educators Association has negotiated a significant raise for all Yukon’s certified, non-administrative personnel (also see “all YPS teachers”).

Alicia has long been a vocal proponent of higher pay for those “on the front lines” in our classrooms. No doubt you recall the April 2018 nine-day teacher walkout when she told CNN, “We have created a movement, and there’s no stopping us now.”

The $2,000 across-the-board raise approved this week brings YPS teachers in line with their counterparts in similar-sized metro districts. To me, a $40,500 starting base salary sounds enticing!

In recent years, YPS officials often found it difficult to fill positions because current teachers were reportedly leaving for higher-paying jobs and new recruits frequently had better offers elsewhere.

Many districts like Yukon approved emergency certifications just to ensure all classes were covered.

Now the playing field is even. No doubt all 13 current YPS teacher openings will be filled rapidly.

YPS board meetings are usually the first Monday of each month in the administration office, 600 Maple. Just recently, the start time was moved to 6 p.m. Any earlier and it may be difficult for employed school patrons to attend.

I remember spring 1991 when I started covering the meetings, which started at 7:30 p.m. and would often last several hours.

Back then, the YPS board met inside a trailer at 9th and Poplar that would later be converted into the Head Start office.

Darrell Hill was district superintendent and Gene Cranfill was assistant superintendent when enrollment was below 6,000.

One of the last events I covered at that old YPS administration office at 9th and Poplar was a press conference for then-new Yukon Millers’ football coach Mike Little.

Most monthly school board meetings are not well attended unless there is a controversial topic. The audience is comprised primarily of school administrators and employees. One teacher who was at Monday’s board meeting was Jeffrey Wootton, who took the oath Tuesday night as a new city council member.

Usually, the school board audience consists of a few patrons and newspaper reporters.
This Monday’s meeting was an exception because 20 YHS seniors were recognized for honors they received. Many of their parents were there, as well, to help celebrate their kids’ accomplishments.

Many will remember one resident who would always be at the school board meeting, frequently addressing board members during public discussion. Marvin Smith attended more than 100 consecutive YPS board meetings.

Marvin was good at challenging the status quo and questioning what he didn’t perceive was right. He was strong willed and not afraid of confrontation.

One time, he was mad at the school board so he brought a barrel of rotten apples to the meeting and said some school officials were just as rotten. Wow!

I was sitting a couple rows in front, ready to duck in case Marvin flung one of those foul apples at board member John Nail Jr.

Yukon’s school board has always had five members and met monthly. The district now has nearly 9,000 students and has grown such that a new school must be built.

It makes sense that the once-a-month meeting agendas are becoming elongated with tiny print. This week’s agenda was the longest I’ve ever seen, with nearly 50 business items alone (bless the person who invented the “consent docket”).