Guy-Perkins School District was officially removed from fiscal distress status by the Arkansas State Board of Education on July 13.
The district was originally placed on fiscal distress in June 2015.
On June 13, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Education sent a letter to the district letting school officials know it had completed all activities and strategies outlined in Guy-Perkins’s Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan.
Superintendent Shade Gilbert told the Log Cabin Democrat that the district then sent a petition to ADE Fiscal and Support Services Coordinator Cindy Smith, which was heard by the state board in July.
He said the district was “very thankful” to the board — who commended the district for its hard work — and everyone involved for their actions.
“It was really short, sweet and painless and we thank them for doing so,” Gilbert said.
The praise, he said, goes to former interim superintendent Robert Stewart and the office administrators at Guy-Perkins, as well as the ADE Fiscal Services and Support Unit for the development and implementation of the Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan.
Included in that plan, Gilbert said, was the need to make cuts in different areas to get the district’s “fiscal ship” in order.
He said in order to get to that standing, Guy-Perkins officials renegotiated contracts with multiple vendors, reduced substitute teacher costs year after year, decreased expenditures dramatically in the cafeteria putting them “less in the red” and downsizing on staff, ultimately shifting resources to make it work.
“We just watched expenditures,” Gilbert said. “It was just a total effort here.”
Stewart said there were quite a few strategies the district used … several small things that in a small school add up to big savings.
In addition to that, he also gave acknowledgements to the community and the 2.5-mill property-tax increase that was passed in 2015.
“The community did a great job,” Stewart said. “Not every community will step up and do that.”
Despite having gone through fiscal distress before when he previously worked in the Quitman School District, he said he forgot how stressful it was to be in that position, constantly thinking about the district’s circumstances.
When he was hired in June 2016 and placed in the interim superintendent role, Stewart said there were two things that the school board wanted him to produce: get them out of fiscal distress and help them find and hire a good superintendent to fill his position.
“I think we’ve done both of those,” he said.
Stewart said he wishes Guy-Perkins the best and thinks Gilbert will be an outstanding superintendent.
“I’m glad for the district and I’m glad Gilbert is at the realm,” he said.
Gilbert said he was proud of the work that the administration put in to better the district, which overall, made his job easier coming in, officially replacing Stewart as superintendent July 1 of this year.
While in fiscal distress, he said the district was required to submit a debt request to spend anything more than $500. Now that the district has been removed, he said it won’t have to do that anymore.
“That frees us there to not have to submit [to] that level of bureaucracy,” Gilbert said.
Moving forward, he said the district will be more free to run its own fiscal business and decide where those funds go.
Despite that, Gilbert said he plans to remain “very conservative” with the district’s finances and make sure they are living within their means.
“We’re just kind of playing it cautious,” he said. “We can’t overspend of course, but we do have some needs.”
Gilbert said he intends on keeping those lines of communication with ADE’s Smith open to make sure Guy-Perkins doesn’t end up going down the same path, using all resources to help make the best decisions for the district going forward.
“I’d rather have a lot of eyes on this,” he said.