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Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas)


Clearing Barwise Middle School's second-floor gym of weights lined along the walls has been weighing on the minds of parents.

"The current situation is dangerous for the students," said Andrea Russell, a Barwise Parent Teacher Organization representative who addressed the Wichita Falls ISD board of trustees Monday during its meeting at the Education Center. She spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, a few minutes before the trustees rejected all three $200,000-plus bids it had received to build the weight room.

The intention, said Superintendent Michael Kuhrt, is to bid the job out again in hopes of getting a few bids closer to the $130,000 estimate it was expecting — an estimate given to the district the last time it looked into the project three or four years ago.

It's at the second-floor gym, where students delve into basketball drills, volleyball drills and the like, that weight benches, weight racks and other equipment are kept.

With athletic activities going on in that second-floor gym, parents say splitting the space between the weights and other physical education activities isn't ideal, and they are hoping the district will fulfill its promise to build a new weight room.

The promise was made when Barwise merged with Zundelowitz Junior High School two years ago. Superintendent Michael Kuhrt confirmed that parents were promised a weight room when he spoke to trustees at a special session June 6.

Before its merger with Barwise, Zundy had its own weight room that touted new equipment.

"Thousands of dollars was raised by parents, boosters, students and others to purchase top-notch equipment for this weight room. When the schools merged, the administration was told a weight room would be built at Barwise to house this new equipment. However, since the merger, it has been sitting unused and in storage.

"It is my understanding that the Barwise coaches and administrators have been told the same thing for the last 3 1/2 to four years - that to maintain equality among the middle schools, a weight room would be built for Barwise, however, this has not happened."

Of the three middle schools, Barwise is the only one without a dedicated weight room. McNiel touts its own, while Kirby's weight room is in a portable building.

The trustees at Monday night's meeting rejected all three weight room bids, the lowest of which was almost $206,000 from Cunningham Clark Construction. The other two bids were for a little more than $208,500 from Wendeborn Construction and a little more than $217,000 from Santa Rosa Construction.

Trustee Elizabeth Yeager noted at an earlier special session of the board that the lowest bid was almost 60 percent more than the district's $130,000 estimate.

Board president Dale Harvey said, "I'm very disappointed we haven't seen this through in a more timely manner. I'm equally disappointed with the bids. ... I'm shocked at these amounts."

Harvey added that one of the bidding companies even submitted its own name as a reference, "which is curious to me."

Trustee Bill Franklin said, "There has to be a weight room put at Barwie." But he added that accepting the $200,000-plus bids would not be a fiscally responsible move for him to make as a representative of the taxpayers.

Trustee Bob Payton said, "The public comments were spot-on. We've kicked this down the road for far too long," saying that a $200,000 weight room would be the "Taj Mahal of weight rooms."

He added, "I'm not kicking the administration at all. ... There are other things we have been focused on. ... You don't have to visit that gym more than once to realize we have an issue."

Although the board discussed perhaps converting a portable into a weight room, Kuhrt said now, "Our plan is to go and rebid this. ... I had different local vendors approach us. ... They said they didn't know why it was that high, either."

The vendors indicated they did not bid on the weight room work because they had conflicts at the time.

Kuhrt said if the district does not get a better bid, it will move on and find another option.

Also at the meeting, the school board approved accepting a three-year software license agreement for Skyward effective Sept. 1, 2017, through Aug. 31, 2020. Skyward is the district's school management software and student information system and is what parents use, for example, to view their children's grades.

The agreement between Skyward and the Texas Education Agency will end. The arrangement had provided the Wichita Falls ISD with an opportunity to select Skyward at a discounted rate. Now that the agreement is expiring, the district needs to complete a new software agreement.

In 2016-17, the cost to the district for Skyward was almost $150,000. With the new three-year agreement, the cost will be $93,000, which is a savings compared to a one-year agreement proposal for a little more than $107,000.

The district also is saving money by hosting its own servers.

Kuhrt added that switching management systems would be a major undertaking.

Trustee Adam Groves said he realizes it's a bear to change management systems and wondered what kind of feedback the district had received from teachers. He said, as a parent, he has seen cases of grades not being posted by teachers in a timely manner.

Kuhrt said the late posting of grades is a teacher-principal issue rather than a Skyward issue.

"We frown upon grades not being entered timely," he said.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the consent agenda, which included:

Awarding a bid for basic life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance to Lincoln National for .045 cents for basic life and .020 cents for AD&D per $1,000.

Reviewing the employee resignations/retirements, as well as accepting the minutes for the May 9 and May 15 meetings.

Accepting the year-to-date financial and investment reports as of April 30.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.

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June 21, 2017


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