Berry: District ‘in good shape’

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

When he departs Pawhuska in late June, Superintendent Landon Berry is expecting the school district to be in a relatively strong fiscal position.

That will be a source of pride for Berry, considering the budgetary nightmares many Oklahoma public schools are currently facing.

“We’re in good shape right now and we should be in good shape at the end of the (school) year,” the superintendent told the local Board of Education on Monday. “One thing I’m certain about: there are a lot of schools in worse shape than us.”

Dr. Berry arrived here nearly four years ago from the Haskell Public School District. Two months ago, he announced that he will be leaving the local district in June, when the current academic year concludes. His departure is due to family circumstances as he will be returning to his hometown of Porum to become superintendent of that school district.

On Thursday, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association is conducting a series of community forums to collect public input that will be used in the selection of a superintendent.

With approximately 2 1/2 months left in his local tenure, Berry told the board that the district should plan for even more drastic cuts in next year’s state aid. He estimated the total state-revenue reductions for the current school year would end up being between $130,000 and $380,000.

“It’s hard to predict what the future is going to be, but I think next year will be even worse,” Berry said.

Board President Jeff Bute said a revenue carryover from last year’s budget provided the district with “a reasonable cushion.”

“We’re fortunate to have had that,” the superintendent said. “But, I don’t see the economy turning around anytime soon.”

He pointed out that the district’s latest payout from the state’s gross production tax (on oil-and-gas drilling) was the lowest in at least four years and represented only a fraction of its previous levels.

Another item on Berry’s Monday report involved the valedictorians/salutatorians for the Class of 2016. Those honorees have been selected, but a formal announcement is planned later this week. The annual Val/Sal Dinner is to be held May 23 at Pawhuska Elks Lodge.

Board member Justin Sellers suggested that the district should adopt policies regulating use of school athletic fields and facilities by youth sports organizations and non-school teams. He added, however, that he was against anything that would restrict use of the facilities by the district’s youth.

“I don’t mean to imply that we should consider any kind of fees,” Sellers said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to help the kids participate in those kind of activities.”

Pawhuska native Jake Christensen was selected as the next head coach of the PHS Huskies basketball team. Christensen, who formerly coached at Shidler and Barnsdall, is the first new hire for the 2016-17 sports season.

School officials continued the district’s annual re-staffing process. Board members voted to re-employ Technology Director Danny Chronister. Re-employment of district’s certified and support staff will be on the agenda for the board’s May meeting.

A pair of resignations also were accepted. Kimrey Wilson was hired to fill the Pre-K assistant’s position of Randi Whitman, who resigned — effective this Friday.

Longtime school bus driver Orstell Grays is retiring at the end of the current school year. According to Transportation Superintendent Dean Hix, Grays’ retirement will leave the district with at least two bus driver spots to be filled for the Fall 2016 semester.

In February, board members voted to re-employ first-year Elementary School Principal Byron Cowan, as well as Indian Camp Principal Beverly Moore and Pawhuska High Principal Joe Sindelar through the 2016-17 academic year.

At that same meeting, the board accepted Sindelar’s resignations as the Huskies’ head football coach and co-athletic director. Sindelar, the PHS principal since 2012, assumed both of the athletic department positions last spring in the wake of four local head coaches (and the AD) resigning.

There reportedly have been several applicants for the football head-coaching position — which could be considered at next month’s board meeting. Sindelar, who was previously a championship-winning grid coach, has expressed an interest in continuing to help with the Pawhuska football program.

Another first-year local administrator, Lauri Shatswell, had her contract renewed last month as PHS assistant principal, co-athletic director and high school girls’ basketball coach. The district began advertising its vacant head football and boys’ basketball coaching positions in early March.

Christensen will be replacing another PHS grad, Chad Kills Crow, a former college coach who was selected to lead the boys’ basketball program last July. After being suspended by the superintendent midway through the season, Kills Crow resigned the position in February following several alcohol-related arrests.

Mark Frye — a longtime local football/basketball assistant (and the head track coach)— directed the Huskie team through the remainder of the campaign — with assistance from ex-Huskie star Jamison Cass and former PHS head coach Dale Christensen, who is the father of Pawhuska’s newly-hired head basketball coach.