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Superintendents split on whether kindergarten funding bill goes far enough

For years, public education advocates have asked state lawmakers to fund full-day kindergarten for their students. On the last day of this year’s legislative session Tuesday, they got their wish – though some are now divided about whether lawmakers went far enough.

Lawmakers sent Gov. Andy Beshear an amended House Bill 382 that would provide $140 million in funding for full-day kindergarten in Kentucky’s public schools, effective for the next fiscal year.

“It gives us some opportunities we haven’t been able to do,” Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields told the Daily News on Wednesday.

That could include raises for staff and new instructional initiatives, Fields said.

Most public school systems in Kentucky already pay for full-day kindergarten out of their own pockets. Fields estimated the resulting cost savings could put $550,000 to $600,000 back into the district’s budget next fiscal year.

“In one way, this could fill the void that occurred after the pandemic struck last year as the Governor & General Assembly were set to raise educator pay across KY,” Fields wrote in a tweet Tuesday. “In a district with staff who have been educating students in-person since 8/24/20, the time is now.”

On the other hand, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton was skeptical that state lawmakers would not claw back the funding at some point.

“Make no mistake; there is no plan for sustaining Kindergarten funding outside of School Boards raising local property taxes,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Politics win and the people pay; unfortunately, our communities will too.”

Chris McIntyre, chief financial officer for Warren County Public Schools, shared a similar view, telling the Daily News that HB382 doesn’t go nearly far enough for his district.

WCPS currently spends nearly $5 million to fund full-day kindergarten for its students. The legislation would reimburse the district for roughly $3.5 million.

“They are not truly funding kindergarten,” McIntyre said, noting that the bill is only effective for the 2021-22 fiscal year. “It’s one year.”

Without a permanent and dedicated revenue stream to finance full-day kindergarten, McIntyre said he worries state lawmakers might at some point cannibalize other areas of K-12 spending to sustain it.

“To me, it is just shortsighted in funding,” he said, noting that quality early childhood education sets students up for success in the long-term. “Full-day kindergarten should be fully funded.”

The bill also goes further, adding $575 million to help make the state whole for a loan it took out to pay out unemployment insurance claims precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. Another $50 million goes toward high-speed internet projects for economic development.

The bill has been sent to Beshear for his veto or signature.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdaily news.com.

WKU farm first in U.S. to install new cow beds

To maintain health and increase milk production, experts say cows need to sleep comfortably for 12 to 14 hours a day. The more comfortable a cow is while sleeping, the more milk that she can produce.

That’s why Western Kentucky University’s farm recently installed new cow mattresses. WKU’s farm is the first in the country to install the Dutch Mountain Cow Mattresses.

Donated by Cowhouse International, the new beds are similar to memory foam mattresses, said Adam Blessinger, dairy herd technician for WKU’s farm.

Blessinger is responsible for maintenance and care of the animals and their facilities, including health checks, feeding, breeding, vaccinating, calving, milking and forage production.

“We believe that these mattresses will be much more comfortable for the cows to lie on and that they will help enhance our hoof health,” Blessinger said. “Our old beds are approximately 15 years old and are starting to show some age.”

The old mattresses were waterbeds that were made of rubber and contained a pocket of water where the cows could rest. While the waterbeds were comfortable for the cows, they put pressure points on the cows’ joints when lying down or getting up from the bed, Blessinger said.

The new beds, however, are waterproof mattresses with elastic foam that conforms to the cows while they are lying down, Blessinger said. Different from the old beds, the new beds have a polypropylene cover that provides the cows with enough traction to safely lie down and stand up, Blessinger said.

The Dutch Mountain Cow Mattresses will allow the cows to lie down faster and for longer, which increases milk production, decreases the cows’ stress and improves hoof and leg health, Blessinger said.

Lying down is vital to increasing a cow’s milk production, Blessinger said.

“Cows sleep lying down just like other animals,” Blessinger said. “The point of the beds is to keep the animals as comfortable as possible. When the cow isn’t eating or being milked, we want her to lie in the bed.”

For 12 to 14 hours a day, cows should be lying in their beds, Blessinger said.

The cows are able to come and go from the beds as they please, except during milking, Blessinger said.

Since the new beds were installed March 9, Blessinger has noticed the cows are using the new mattresses more than the old ones, he said.

“Visually, it seems to me that the cows are using the mattresses more and are less likely to stand up as I walk through the barn,” Blessinger said. “Once the cows have settled in, it will be interesting to see if there are any differences in lying times. The cows spent approximately 12 hours per day lying down in the waterbeds.”

Aside from the benefits of the new mattresses, there are some disadvantages that come with the adjustment as well.

“The mattresses would be easier to install in a new barn,” Blessinger said. “The mattress has raised the bed height by 14 (centimeters) so we are in the process of adjusting our stall heights to once again fit the cows.”

Blessinger also said the top cover of the beds may need to be adjusted soon as he has seen some stretching since installation.

WKU’s farm currently has 50 cows, and 45 of them are in the milking herd, Blessinger said.

“There are 56 beds,” Blessinger said. “I would like to keep between 45 and 50 cows in the milking herd so they are not overcrowded.”

One defendant pleads guilty, other awaits trial in La Placita slaying

The alleged gunman in a Bowling Green robbery that turned deadly pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges in federal court.

Jonny Alexander Reyes-Martinez, 32, of Nashville, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to murder through use of a firearm during a crime of violence, interference with commerce by robbery, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, conspiracy to carry or possess a firearm during a crime of violence and illegal possession of a firearm.

Reyes-Martinez admitted taking part in the March 17, 2017, robbery of La Placita market on Morgantown Road, in which Jose Cruz, 31, of Bowling Green, was shot and killed as he attempted to intervene.

Authorities said $23,500 was stolen during the incident and that Reyes-Martinez was part of a group of 13 people based in Nashville who carried out a total of 15 robberies at mostly Hispanic-owned businesses in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and North Carolina over several months in 2017.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford said Wednesday that Reyes-Martinez participated in 13 of the robberies, in which employees were typically restrained with duct tape at their wrists and sometimes their ankles while armed robbers made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before each robbery, members of the conspiracy would do in-store surveillance, conduct a money transfer at each business and stay in touch with one another via cellphones, Ford said.

The shooting at La Placita was investigated initially by the Bowling Green Police Department, and the FBI became involved as investigators realized the scope of the crimes.

Evidence left behind at La Placita, including a pair of gloves and a cellphone, enabled law enforcement to link Reyes-Martinez to the robbery, Ford said.

“He can be seen on surveillance video on that day entering the store,” Ford said. “He is carrying a firearm, as is his co-conspirator.”

Court records said Reyes-Martinez and Jose Adan Mejia Varela entered La Placita on the day of the robbery as another reported co-conspirator, Jorge Caballero-Melgar, waited outside.

Employees in the store were restrained with duct tape, and Reyes-Martinez reportedly struck one of them with a gun.

Cruz arrived at the store as the robbery was taking place to pick up one of his children, who was inside.

Cruz entered the store, realized a robbery was occurring and attempted to fight Reyes-Martinez, according to prosecutors.

Varela, who had gone out into the parking lot by the time Cruz entered, returned to the store and joined the fight, during which a gun discharged and a bullet struck Varela in the elbow before fragmenting and entering Cruz’s back, authorities said.

Reyes-Martinez was arrested May 30, 2017, in Kansas with another person who is not suspected of involvement in the La Placita robbery.

Later in the year, Reyes-Martinez was interviewed, with the aid of an interpreter, in FC Leavenworth penitentiary by two FBI agents, during which he confessed to his involvement in the robbery and gave details about the shooting.

“The person that went in came at us and we struggled, fighting there, and yes, a shot released from the gun. ... I honestly got scared when he started to fight with me,” Reyes-Martinez said in the interview about Cruz’s intervention, according to a transcript filed in the case.

Reyes-Martinez later told police he remembered the sound of the gunshot while struggling with Cruz and ran from the store without knowing what happened to Cruz.

“It was never my intention to hurt him,” Reyes-Martinez told police, according to the transcript. “I know that asking for forgiveness does not remedy anything ... in that moment I was not thinking about what I was doing.”

A plea agreement suggests a penalty range of 17.5 to 35 years for Reyes-Martinez, who is set to be sentenced June 23 by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers.

Caballero-Melgar also appeared in court Wednesday for a pretrial conference.

Of the five co-defendants charged in the La Placita case, Caballero-Melgar is the only one who has not pleaded guilty.

“This defendant is not contesting that these robberies took place, he is contesting his role in the robberies,” Ford said Wednesday.

Caballero-Melgar’s attorney, Bryce Caldwell, said federal prosecutors offered a plea agreement to resolve the case that Caballero-Melgar has rejected.

Ford said the plea offer recommended a sentence ranging from 262 to 405 months, but Caballero-Melgar expressed interest in a narrower range of time for his sentencing.

Caballero-Melgar faces murder, robbery and conspiracy charges as well as a charge of illegal re-entry after deportation, and faces a life sentence if convicted. His trial is set for April 27.

Varela has pleaded guilty to the same charges as Reyes-Martinez and awaits sentencing.

Two other co-defendants, Lilian Duron and Estrellita Soto, pleaded guilty to a robbery charges. Duron is serving a four-year prison sentence while Soto has been sentenced to five years and 10 months.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

Cross Check Quality Inspection expanding to new quarters

Toby McGinnis founded his company in the midst of the 2008-09 Great Recession, so it’s only fitting that he expand it during the economy-stifling coronavirus pandemic.

McGinnis, who in 2009 started Cross Check Quality Inspection after being laid off from his job at Tower Automotive, broke ground last week on a 45,000-square-foot headquarters for the fast-growing company.

The building, which will be located on Logistics Court next to South Central Kentucky Industrial Park on Nashville Road, is testament to the vision of McGinnis, a Bowling Green native and Greenwood High School graduate.

“I got laid off when the market crashed,” said McGinnis, a quality control engineer who recalled that 2009 genesis of his business. “I recognized that I wanted to own my own business. I hired three people, and we started sorting parts.”

As the company’s name suggests, Cross Check specializes in quality inspections, working with manufacturers to find and correct any defects in their products.

“When quality issues arise in the manufacturing world, not all facilities have the manpower needed in-house to resolve the issues,” he said. “We offer solutions to address and correct quality concerns, preventing defective or suspect products from reaching customers.”

The company works with many local manufacturers, but McGinnis said Cross Check now has a broad reach from the building it has been leasing on Industrial Drive.

“We have customers throughout the United States who send us parts to inspect and package,” McGinnis said. “Many of them make automobile parts, and Ford and General Motors expect zero defects.”

A Cross Check team that McGinnis said totals 167 people works to find any defects and help clients correct them.

It’s an important service, Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Bunch said.

“Cross Check plays an important role in the region’s manufacturing ecosystem,” Bunch said. “They support national, regional and local manufacturing companies, helping to keep their operations running smoothly.”

In addition to quality inspections, McGinnis said the new headquarters will allow Cross Check to offer staffing, warehousing, distribution and assembly services to its clients.

He said the new building will have a 10,000-square-foot inspection area and 30,000 square feet of warehouse space to go with 11 offices.

Most of the company’s employees, McGinnis explained, are inspectors located elsewhere.

Although he said the headquarters project will be “big enough” to meet his needs and doesn’t plan to expand it anytime soon, McGinnis isn’t ruling out an expansion of his workforce as his company’s growth continues.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.