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Stuff the Bus collects donated school supplies, money
 Jackson French  / 

Stuff the Bus has a new way of doing things.

No longer is the annual school supply drive a four-day event, founder Tony Rose said.

On Saturday, two school buses were positioned outside the Bluegrass Cellular location on Campbell Lane throughout a 12-hour telethon in which Rose, who’s also known in the Bowling Green area as morning personality for D93 WDNS-FM, took to the air, along with numerous others, to encourage donations.

“This year’s been special. It went from a four-day marathon to a one-day sprint,” he said.

While Stuff the Bus saw people stop by in person to donate checks or school supplies throughout the day, there were also lots of donations coming in online and by phone, neither of which was an option previously, Rose said.

“We wanted to do something where we could really focus in and be super dialed in,” Rose said, adding that it’s easier to coordinate volunteers for a single day than for an event spanning more than half a week.

Because the annual supply drive, which started as a publicity stunt Rose orchestrated in 2005, has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization, Rose was confident he and numerous volunteers could do it all on one Saturday, historically the event’s busiest day.

“We felt better as a foundation, you know, having it in one day and we knew we could get the job done in one day with the great partners that we have in the community,” he said.

Rose said that when he started Stuff the Bus, he never would have guessed the scale it would eventually have.

During its first year, the event brought in 2.5 tons of school supplies. In 2018, it brought in some 25 tons that were distributed to schools in 15 counties, he said.

“Every year, I am left speechless and I’m a guy who talks for a living. I’m left speechless at the way this community embraces this concept,” he said.

Around 5:30 p.m., nearly 12 hours into the telethon, Shane Watts pulled into the Bluegrass Cellular parking lot and presented volunteers positioned at two tents in the nearby grass a bag of markers and crayons.

Watts, who recently moved to the area from Florida, said he learned about Stuff the Bus on Facebook and wanted to contribute.

“There’s always a need for helping the kids and the teachers out,” he said. “Teachers, you see it, they don’t have the supplies so they’ve got to pay for them out of their own paychecks.”

Watts also noted the prevalence of children whose families can’t afford the supplies they need.

Chris Harp, who helped Rose found Stuff the Bus 14 years ago but is no longer involved in organizing it, dropped by Saturday with his 5-year-old daughter Cassie Harp to donate rulers, crayons, notebooks and folders.

Harp said he still donates every year.

Several times in the past, Harp has delivered Stuff the Bus supplies to schools, and remembers being shocked by the reaction he’d get from the districts’ family resource and youth service center workers, who are responsible for reducing the impact of barriers to education such as hunger and poverty.

“They’d be so excited when we pulled up,” he said. “I don’t know if underfunded would be the word, but there’s a need for supplies.”

Rose agreed, noting that he remembers being amazed at how quickly the 2.5 tons of supplies the first Stuff the Bus were distributed.

“We thought that would last forever and the schools literally used it in the first week,” he said.

Rose also mentioned the impact these supplies can have on children whose families otherwise can’t afford them.

“When they are able to walk into school on the first day of school on a level playing field, that changes the entire game,” he said.

While he can’t measure this year’s Stuff the Bus against previous years so soon, Rose said that there’s more to his efforts this year than just a one-day event.

People will be able to donate supplies at various dropoff locations throughout August, he said.

Additionally, the Stuff the Bus Foundation, which gained its nonprofit status last year, by working with community partners like Wendy’s of Bowling Green, can tackle other issues students face throughout the year,

“We’re able to address the need for school supplies in July but as a foundation now we’re able to address the need of having a hot meal at Thanksgiving or winter coats at Christmas or clothes for graduation for kids,” he said.

WCPS' Jackson Academy recognized by state for alternate school program
 Aaron Mudd  / 

After revamping efforts to integrate troubled students back into their home schools, an alternative school in Warren County Public Schools is receiving recognition from the state.

WCPS’ Jackson Academy was recently highlighted in a state report outlining efforts by schools to boost the state’s high school graduation rate. The full report can be viewed online with this story at

The Jackson Academy, which serves students referred by one of the district’s elementary, middle or high schools, was credited by the report for moving away from simply being a “holding tank” for students. That effort began during the 2017-18 school year, when the Jackson Academy piloted a transition plan for students exiting the program.

Now in his sixth year leading the Jackson Academy, Principal Eric Wilson said: “When a student left Jackson Academy, there really was no plan in place at all.

“They were here for 45 days. At the end of the 45 days, they just went back to their school. … It was just ‘OK, your time’s up. Go back,’ ” he said.

As a result, Wilson said, the school saw a need to put a plan in place that would allow supports developed at Jackson Academy to follow students back to their home school. To do that, however, the academy needed the students’ original schools to support them.

Leslie Miller is tasked with coordinating the transition program.

“What I noticed was that what every school desires is for us to ‘fix the student’ while they’re here,” Miller said. “We obviously know that’s not what it’s about.”

Miller added that the process begins with looking at what the original school has already done “because I don’t want to start there.”

According to the report, when a student is referred to Jackson Academy, staff members meet with the student, discuss situations that triggered the bad behavior in the past and set up a plan ahead of time if they get into trouble while at the academy.

“We put things in place for them that are new and different outside of what their school has already done, and for 45 days or however long they’re placed here, they get to practice those things,” Miller said, adding the process is constant trial and error that ends in building strong relationships with students.

For students, the transition back to their home school begins as soon as they enter the academy. Staff members work with staff at the student’s sending school to develop goals, and staff at the original school are kept in the loop on the student’s progress. That communication line continues throughout the transition planning process and academy staff are also in contact with the student’s parents about their goals.

When students are finally ready to take the leap, a student-led meeting is arranged and anyone who could potentially support them back in their home school is invited. During the meeting, the students read a letter they wrote to their home school, and for those involved, it often leads to emotional moments, Wilson said.

“We are building these relationships with students, really getting to know them and really kind of figuring out what is the root,” of their behavior issues, Miller said. “When we’re able to do that, then it’s so much easier to figure out what do we need to do to help them.”

Going forward, the academy is working to expand the programs it can offer students, despite limited space at its current facilities at 877 Jackson St. in Bowling Green. The academy can currently serve about 20 students at a time, Wilson said.

“This year, we’re adding a long-term program,” Miller said. “Students who complete the Jackson Academy program will have the option to extend their (stay) with us. So they’ll be with us, and then every nine weeks a committee – including the parent and the student and us – will decide: Does the student want to stay for another nine weeks?”

The program will allow the academy to accept 10 more students. At least two students will start their school year with the academy.

Pension bill: temporary fix or final solution?
 Emily Zantow  / 

Was House Bill 1 just another temporary fix, or was it the final solution for Kentucky’s ailing pension system?

The bill, penned by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, delays higher pension rates for regional universities and certain quasi-governmental agencies for one year, after which they will have to choose whether to stay in the current state pension system or switch to an alternative plan.

Employers will receive financial incentives if they decide to freeze current employee pensions and switch to a 401(k)-style plan.

Several Republicans say the bill is a temporary fix that will allow legislators more time to work on the solution.

“It gives them autonomy, and gives them the ability to help us, help them,” said state Rep. Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green. “It’s not meant to be any kind of funding mechanism or major change. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the pension.”

But many Democrats argue the bill is meant to be a solution designed by Bevin to privatize the pension system by encouraging employers out of Kentucky Retirement Systems.

“It’s a manufactured crisis designed by Bevin meant to make the (KRS) insolvent,” said state Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green.

After six days, a special General Assembly session called by Bevin came to a close Wednesday when he signed the bill into law just two hours after it passed in a 27-11 vote in the Senate. At about $65,000 a day, the special session cost taxpayers about $396,000.

KRS is raising employee contribution rates as a way to help deal with the $23.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that make it the worst-funded pension system in the nation. Regional universities and several quasi-governmental agencies were previously making a contribution equal to nearly 49 percent of their payroll. But when the new fiscal year began July 1, that rate jumped to about 84 percent.

“The state pays 84 percent, the higher cost, for their employees, so it’s not like we don’t understand what it takes to pay that,” Sheldon said.

Joe Dan Beavers, CEO of the nonprofit LifeSkills Inc. that provides mental health services, said the estimated millions it costs to freeze the rate is outweighed by the money saved.

“If we go away as an agency, the people we serve do not,” Beavers said. “They will just be served by our jail and prison systems that are already overcrowded and overpopulated. They’ll be in hospital emergency rooms, they’ll be in homeless shelters, they’ll be in psychiatric hospitals. All of that is more expensive than the work we do here.”

Without the one-year delay, some affected businesses would have been faced with tough decisions. Hope Harbor Executive Director Melissa Whitley said her nonprofit likely would have had to make cuts to its staff of 11 who serve survivors of sexual trauma.

“Because of our funding sources … they’re very restricted to what they have to be used for … we can’t just increase the fees for service to make up those shortfalls,” Whitley said.

Beavers says LifeSkills would have had to contribute $3.1 million, which he calls “a significant hit.”

“That’s not the kind of thing we could absorb long term, it would’ve absolutely reduced our services,” Beavers said.

Western Kentucky University had budgeted $4.5 million for the potential increase, according to spokesman Bob Skipper. Skipper said the bill gives the university more time to figure out its best pension system option, which “must strike a balance” between providing desirable benefits for employees and sustainability for the university.

Beavers said he doesn’t know what route LifeSkills will take, but he said switching retirement systems might complicate matters. Under the current language of the bill, businesses that choose to exit KRS would have to buy themselves out by collateralizing their assets.

“That’s a challenging system for almost everyone, in terms of grant opportunities, any type of future growth. I mean part of surviving this and moving forward is the agency growing,” Beavers said.

Whitley said Hope Harbor can’t switch because it doesn’t have any collateral to put up. Barren River District Health Department Director Matt Hunt said his agency’s priority is to keep employees in KRS that fall under the “tier 1 and tier 2” rankings.

Minter voted against House Bill 1 and said she supports the idea of bringing it to court because it illegally breaks the “inviolable contract.”

The bill “take(s) pension promises away from our public employees and (forces) universities and our quasi-public institutions into choices like throwing their employees off of a defined benefit pension and putting them into a 401(k)-style plan,” Minter said. “If you’re 21, that might be a good deal for you … but it’s not a good deal for you if you’re mid-career and suddenly you get thrown into a defined contribution pension and off of the benefit that was promised to you.”

Minter said the better solution would have been Democratic-backed House Bill 2, which included a rate freeze and a 20-year pension payoff plan with “realistic” rates.

Sheldon voted for House Bill 1 and called it a creative solution with options.

“The truth is, most of these agencies, they’ve already been pulling people out of the (pension) system and using … some type of hybrid situation or (they’re) subcontracted labor,” he said. “These are all things that they’ve done to be creative and work through the problems.”

Both Minter and Sheldon plan to meet with constituents over the next few months in preparation for the next regular legislative session that begins in January.

Report shows overdose deaths fall in Kentucky, increase in Warren County
 Justin Story  / 

For the first time in five years, the number of overdose deaths in the state decreased, according to an annual report released by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

The 2018 Overdose Fatality Report released this month shows that 1,247 Kentuckians died from overdoses last year, a 15 percent decrease from the 1,477 deaths reported in 2017 by the state agency, an arm of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Overdose deaths had been steadily increasing since 2013 as the state reckoned with the opioid crisis and the increasing prevalence of heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in the drug supply.

Though most counties witnessed a decrease in overdose deaths from 2017, the 17 deaths reported in Warren County last year represent an increase from the 13 documented here two years ago.

Warren County had the 11th-highest total overdose deaths among all Kentucky counties last year.

The report from the state office of drug control policy attributed the decrease in fatal overdoses to a number of factors, including the statewide use of prescription drug monitoring programs, expanded availability of naloxone – also commonly known as Narcan – to reverse the effects of heroin overdoses and the enactment of laws addressing the availability of prescription medications.

One of those laws limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply, with some exceptions.

While deaths went down overall, the number of fatal overdoses involving either methamphetamine or fentanyl and fentanyl analogues increased from 2017.

Overdoses involving either heroin, oxycodone or gabapentin all decreased last year.

Tommy Loving, director of the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force, said meth continues to be the predominant drug in local investigations, with the area being inundated with crystal meth of high purity imported from Mexico.

“We have been very attentive and aggressive to heroin and fentanyl and we still see very little of that here,” Loving said.

Relative to Jefferson County and northern Kentucky, heroin’s presence has barely registered in Warren County, and Loving believes the reasons are multifold: arrests of local drug traffickers who sought to get into dealing heroin, and a customer base of users addicted to meth who prefer the effects of that stimulant to the narcotic effect of heroin.

The harm reduction program introduced in 2016 by the Barren River District Health Department to help address drug addiction has seen tangible results.

The program includes an anonymous needle exchange that helps to combat the spread of bloodborne diseases through the sharing of contaminated needles, supplies of free naloxone, harm reduction kits to protect intravenous drug users from disease caused by needle sharing and referrals to treatment programs as needed.

“We’re having a good rate of testing folks for HIV and hepatitis C, and with the doses of Narcan we’ve given out, we are capturing some data,” said Ashley Lillard, population health branch manager for the health department.

The department began giving out Narcan in April to clients participating in the harm reduction program, and a needle exchange program was introduced last year in Barren County.

Lillard said the health department has given out 112 naloxone kits, which are provided through a partnership with the Kentucky Pharmacy Association.

“We have four reports that our Narcan was used to reverse an opioid overdose,” Lillard said.

Clients at the health department seeking treatment for addiction are made aware of local resources and also are directed to the website, a website that allows users to find an addiction treatment facility that is taking on new clients.

The site is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was formed through a partnership among multiple state agencies.

Loving said the increased public awareness and availability of naloxone will make a difference in reducing the amount of fatal overdoses in the future.

In addition to efforts to spread awareness of treatment resources, Loving said another factor that has helped address addiction is the law mandating physicians to refer to the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting database before prescribing a controlled substance to a patient.

The database monitors controlled substance prescriptions in the state.

“The education that went out to medical professionals about the addictive qualities of pain medications has also been very important in not creating new addicts,” Loving said. “I’ll qualify that many physicians were lied to by the drug companies over that issue, and as we can see, it didn’t work out well.”

Warren County was a statistical outlier in the annual overdose fatality report, but Loving expressed optimism that increased awareness of available treatment resources, continued law enforcement action against drug traffickers and other factors can help stem the tide of deadly overdoses.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight, but these numbers do make me think there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Loving said.