Hope Public School District to Begin Power Review

HOPE – Responses to a power usage and costs initiative by the Hope Public School District have been received from four potential providers, two of whom the HPS Board agreed by consensus at its Dec. 16 meeting to have Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart interview.

Dr. Hart will meet with representatives of Entegrity Energy Partners LLC, of Conway, and Clear Energy Solutions, of Fayetteville, and present a recommendation to the board how the district should undertake a solar energy power generation initiative incorporating an energy performance contract.

“We didn’t want to do just a solar project; but, to do a usage contract to help save money,” Hart said.

He said having both companies based in Arkansas will make working with either of them easier once the district determines how it wants to approach the use of solar energy.

“Hope Water and Light is aware of the project; and, they are now in compliance with the state law that says we can produce up to 300 megawatts of our own power,” Hart said.

He said the potential savings to the district might reach $80,000 – $100,000 annually by the fifth year after any conversion.

While Hart emphasized the district is not anxious to “get into the power generation business,” it is not bound by any contractual obligations at this point, he said.

Hart said space requirements for a solar array, while a limitation based upon current district property available, are not prohibitive.

“There are some options we can talk about,” he said.

Hart anticipates making a recommendation for board action at its January meeting.

Savings over time from energy costs is one factor with which the district must contend as it addresses a continuation of declining financial reserves, Hart said.

He said the Arkansas Department of Education has advised the district that it is watching HPSD reserve balances, which have fallen from $4.8 million in fiscal 2015 to $2.7 million in fiscal 2019. Hart said part of the reason for the decline stems from loss of student enrollment from 2,474 students in 2015 to 2,218 last year. Current enrollment stands at 2,258 students, he said.

“That is one of the main reasons,” he said. “I want to stress to the board, we are not in fiscal distress.”

Hart said the district has undertaken a number of projects in the past three years which have been necessary, but expensive, including a new parking lot at Clinton Primary School, bus fleet purchases, building safety initiatives, bus safety initiatives, and start-up funding of the Bobcat Clinic health center.

The district faces similar expensive projects currently which involve aging infrastructure such as roofing at the Garland campus and asbestos abatement in the cafeteria there. Hart said the state has twice declined to fund the roof replacement through facilities monies, and the cafeteria problem must be addressed.

“If we stay in that building, that is a project that has to be done,” Hart said. “We need to put on our radar screen what to do with that building in the long term.”

A simple “band-aid” patch of the former pre-school office building on the campus will cost about $7,800 without any assurance of use beyond the remainder of the current school year, according to Maurice Henry, facilities and transportation director for the district. A new roof will cost about $20,000 for a modular building that is 25 years old, he said.

Hart recommended the roof patch, but he said continued use of the Garland campus needs to be rethought by the board in light of the age of the main building.

“The dilemma is: What is the long-term solution with that building?” Hart posed.

He said combining the Hope Academy of Public Service student body with Yerger Middle School or Beryl Henry Elementary School, or both; or, some other grade configuration has to be considered, which would reduce busing costs and eliminate some $10,000 to $12,000 per year in utilities costs.

 Those sorts of considerations must be combined with how the district will address a continued reduction in force through attrition in both certified and classified employee services, he said.

“I’m going to recommend that we continue that process,” Hart said. “The district will have to make some of those decisions.”

He said the district is “overstaffed” in numerous areas such as secretarial, school resource officers, and nurses, as are other south Arkansas school districts.

“It is a south Arkansas issue across the board,” Hart said. “The last thing we want to do is cut programs or anything that will hurt learning.”

In other matters, the board:

–Adopted a resolution regarding certification waivers for college faculty who teach high school students.

–Approved the assignment of Cleytus Coulter as director of the Creative Action Team School.

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