Softball will become a junior high sport in the Neosho School District, if the Neosho R-5 Board of Education acts upon a proposal presented by NHS head softball coach Brandi Arthur at a study session on Thursday.

That approval seems likely at the school board’s monthly meeting Monday, July 21.
Arthur reported to the school board and administrators that four of the eight large schools in the Central Ozarks Conference now have junior high-level softball, as do six of the seven small schools in the conference.

“It would help level the playing field for our high school team,” she said.

Arthur said Neosho players currently don’t become a part of the system until the 9th grade, and recreational teams lack consistency in instruction and leadership. She said skill positions are not being properly developed and taught, and added the quality of skill depends upon their coaches from year to year. She said the inconsistency in skill of players as they reach high school can be dangerous for those playing against others at a much higher skill level.

Arthur noted there is a lot of junior high softball in the area, so there would be no problem comprising a 10-game schedule along with a couple of tournaments. She said most schools utilize a head coach and an assistant, paying a stipend of $3,000 to $4,000. Figuring in also the cost of uniforms, equipment, facilities, umpires and travel, Arthur estimated the start-up cost for the program would be $12,000.

She said both an A and a B team would be formed from players in seventh and eighth grades, expecting to need about 25 student-athletes to fill the program. As junior high school softball is played in the spring, Arthur said there would be no conflict with the high school team regarding facilities.

Brett Day, board president, said he expects Arthur’s proposal to be approved by the board next Monday.

“The things that I’ve said about our softball program having a great history of having student-athletes with high GPAs, I think that’s a great tradition, and I think getting our young ladies involved in it earlier will help them become better student-athletes – with the emphasis on student first – just some extra motivation there,” Day said.

Meanwhile, the new NHS softball field adjacent to Carver Elementary School will remain the one school facility not available for public use, in another decision expected by the board next week.

“We’ve got to come to an agreement that allows all or none of our facilities to be used. We’re creating a rift in the community,” said Dan Decker, superintendent, opening the discussion about formulating a facilities usage agreement, a topic the school board has wrangled over for several months.

Decker asked, “Do we charge a fee? If we do, is it only for those making a profit? If the money goes into a program for the kids, I don’t feel we should charge. If someone is making money, they ought to pay. We need to have something in place that says, “Here is our policy.’ ”

Decker explained that for a district the size of Neosho, the school has a large number of facilities, without a lot of options elsewhere in the community outside of school facilities.

“What we are finding is that we really have no set policy on who can use facilities, when they can use facilities, who is going to pay if there are damages, who has to pay for the use of the facility,” he said. “It’s not to limit any of the community from being able to use our facilities, it’s just being able to have a policy so that if they talk to the athletic director at the junior high or they talk to the athletic director at the high school, or one of the administrators or the central office, they are going to get the same answer. Here’s our fee schedule. If you’re a not-for-profit or you’re a Neosho team, you’re not going to have to pay a fee. If you’re a for-profit activity – the money is going into somebody’s pocket other than coming back to our kids — the fee is going to be minimal. We’re going to look for custodial reimbursement, electricity reimbursement, we’re going to look for damages.”

Decker said some facilities have been damaged by groups that have used them, and the school had to pay for the repairs because there was no policy in writing to hold anyone responsible. He said the facilities usage agreement will put into writing how the district will allow facilities to be used.

School board members were in unison that the new softball facility will remain off limits to all but school usage. Decker will draft a policy for the board to ratify at its July 21 meeting.

Decker announced that representatives of Freeman Health System will come before the board at its August work session to provide more information on a proposed in-school health clinic. Decker said he is excited about the prospect of Freeman providing needed health care for students.

“The goal is to provide health care for our kids,” he said. “We have a lot of kids who don’t have health insurance. We have a lot of students who don’t have access to health care, and this would be a partnership with Freeman that will allow schools to take students who are sick and in need of a doctor’s care to a clinic throughout the day that would be of no cost to the student or their family, but also provide a place for our staff if they needed something – it will provide a hotline for our staff – they can call the clinic and connect with the nurse to discuss symptoms and make a determination about if the student needs to come in, or if it’s just a generic sore throat and ‘Here’s the things that you can do to help the student get relief.’ ”

Decker said the goal is to keep kids in school, and to provide them an opportunity to have health care if their parent is unable to take off work to take them to a doctor. He said it would also be available for staff to get the help they need and stay on the job.

He said the partnership would also provide access to mental health care through Ozark Center.

“Freeman has access to information and help from Children’s Mercy if they need something like that, they have a partnership with Access Dental, so there’s just a lot of different things and I think it’s going to be an excellent program for our kids and, in turn, for our school,” he said.

He said sports medicine services would also be available through the partnership. Decker said the clinic would be maintained off-campus by Freeman, and would be available to the public. However, he said anyone from the schools utilizing the facility would take precedence over the general public patronizing the clinic at that time.

Another decision the board is expected to make next week is whether to turn to Penmac Staffing Services for substitute teachers. Tim Crawley, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said there would be multiple benefits to drawing substitutes through the temporary agency.

First, he said, the move would provide a larger pool of teachers to draw upon, and it would alleviate the headache of having to track the hours of substitutes, who must be provided health insurance if they were to work 30 hours in a week. Crawley said retired teachers would benefit the most, as they would no longer be tied to the 550 Rule that limits the number of hours a retired teacher is able to substitute. Crawley reported that Penmac would bond the teachers, would train and evaluate their stable of substitutes, who would be under the employ of the temp agency and not the school district.

Crawley said he would continue negotiations with Penmac this week, and will bring a proposal before the school board at its July 21 meeting.