Parents: Agriculture barn facility not safe for students

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By SHELLY WILKISON

It was standing room only at Monday’s school board meeting as parents attended to express their concerns about the conditions of the agriculture barn facility on the campus of Liberty Hill Junior High.

About a dozen parents of high school and junior high agriculture students asked the Board to consider funding improvements to the facility, which they say are needed for the safety of the students. Three parents and one student addressed the Board during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Trustees are unable to respond to the comments they hear during this portion of the meeting. Superintendent Rob Hart said Tuesday that he could not respond to questions from The Independent regarding the parents’ concerns because the points were raised as public comments.

“We have 200 signatures on a petition (asking you) to improve the facility,” said David Roebuck. “From a safety standpoint, this creates a liability for the district.”

Roebuck said last year he broke his arm at the facility. He said he waited as others left the barn, then turned off the lights. As he walked in the dark toward his vehicle, he fell and broke his arm.

“Liberty Hill is the leader in Williamson County, but our facilities don’t reflect what a great (agriculture) program we have,” he added. “We’re asking for funds to be set aside for facility improvements.”

Chelsea Weems, a senior at Liberty Hill High School, said the building is a safety hazard.

“I’m asking on behalf of the student body to help the kids with improvements to the barn,” she said.

As one of the top 10 FFA Scholars, Miss Weems wanted to make improvements to the ag barn as part of her community project. However, she quickly realized the undertaking was too much for a student.

“I was sad to realize that I couldn’t do it,” she said, adding that the program has been a positive influence on her life.

Shaun Bunting, who is leading the effort to encourage the district to improve the barn, said after the meeting that the FFA parents plan to submit the signed petitions to the Board at the January 2015 meeting.

He said parents first brought their safety concerns to the administration last school year, and some progress has been made with regard to lighting in one portion of the facility. However, there is still a long way to go before the facility can be considered safe.

“They took care of some immediate things in the pig barns, but in the sheep and goat pens there are no lights,” he said.

Bunting said that last year he brought his child’s lamb home because he did not think it was safe for his wife and daughter to be at the barn after dark. When darkness arrives before the end of the work day during winter, having appropriate lighting becomes especially important.

He said Miss Weems observed “kids piled up in a pen smoking weed. A lot of people hang out there and it’s not safe.”

“We would like to see the ag facility brought up to par with the other (new) facilities (in the school district),” Bunting said.

He estimated there are 225 students in the FFA program in high school and junior high, and believed the number of participants would be higher if families had a means to keep animals at home. Currently, he said the pens are full at the ag barn — 60 pig pens and five sheep and goat pens. Bunting said students without resources to keep animals are being turned away from the program.

Patrick Jennings told trustees that in the past when repairs were needed at the barn, parents just took care of things themselves.

“We just spent money out of our pockets. Parents paid to fix things,” he said.

Looking back, he said their willingness to help might have actually done the program a disservice now that things are in dire need of attention.

Bunting said while his children were playing tennis, parents were never asked to supply nets for the courts or pay for upkeep on facilities.

However, he said he recently observed one parent attempting to make electrical repairs at the barn — something that should be done by licensed electricians who work for or on behalf of the school district.

Parents said in addition to the lack of lighting, many electrical outlets do not work. Jennings added that one student was shocked recently when he attempted to unplug a fan.

Additionally, water is delivered to the barn through PVC or plastic piping. In the winter, it isn’t uncommon for pipes to freeze.

They also said the roof leaks in the tack room and the driveway from the back of the junior high to the facility is riddled with major potholes.

Bunting said it could take from $30,000 to $50,000 to make the facility safe.

“This is not going to be a sprint, but a marathon,” he said referring to the effort to get the district to make improvements or build a new ag facility. He said parents will be attending every board meeting to remind administrators and elected officials of the facility needs.

In other business Monday, the Board unanimously approved the 2013-2014 financial audit conducted by Singleton, Clark & Company. After reviewing the district’s financial records, a representative of the firm gave the Board a positive report of the district’s bookkeeping.

He did suggest, however, that the district should increase the amount it maintains in its Fund Balance so that three months of expenses could be met in an emergency. The audit report showed a balance of $3.3 million, which he said represents 1.7 months of expenditures.

Also Monday, Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun presented a report on the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR). While not complete, Mrs. Braun said she wanted trustees to see test scores showing the district had remained consistent with last year’s results at a time when larger neighboring districts had dropped and state and federal passing standards had dropped. In February 2015, the administration will present a more comprehensive report to the Board that will include performance objectives at the various grade levels.

At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Hart and school trustees recognized Jan Tredemeyer for her 40 years of service to public education, 32 of which were in the LHISD. She retires this month as principal of Liberty Hill Elementary School.

Following a 45-minute executive session, the Board approved the employment of Julia Engelmann as counselor at the high school.

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