Volunteer firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, park administrators and election officers in Warren County have at least one thing in common these days: an increasing dependence on grant funding.
Counting money obtained through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the county received more than $6.7 million in grant funding during 2020.
The money has helped the county pay for everything from equipment and storm shelters for volunteer fire departments to a $750,000 cash infusion to prop up the ailing Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center.
Now Warren Fiscal Court has taken steps to see that the grant money keeps flowing.
On Feb. 12, fiscal court voted 6-0 to approve a contract with grant writer Jennifer Schmidt’s Schmidt Consulting LLC that will pay her $2,750 per month this year to find and apply for grants.
County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said it’s money well-spent.
“Jennifer’s expertise is terribly important,” Buchanon said in a text message. “She has years of experience and has a clear familiarity with grant application requirements.”
Buchanon said Schmidt has helped find funding sources like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters grants and has also helped ensure that the county has received its fair share of CARES Act money.
“The CARES Act funding, administered through the Kentucky Department for Local Government, hasn’t been difficult to obtain since the amount is predetermined by population,” Buchanon said, “but it requires accurate and timely reporting. We can act with confidence in Jennifer’s experience and rely on her advice and direction.”
For her part, Schmidt said the CARES Act grants “require a lot of documentation.”
“It’s obviously very generous, and the county is very happy to receive that money,” Schmidt said. “But it requires crossing all t’s and dotting all i’s.”
Much of the CARES Act money has gone for enhanced safety and cleaning measures at the courthouse, county parks and other facilities, but Schmidt has also been able to help with grants through the Center for Tech and Civic Life organization that are helping modernize how elections are conducted.
The county clerk’s office received a $570,360 COVID-19 Response grant from the CTCL to purchase new election equipment. Schmidt is continuing to work with county Clerk Lynette Yates on grants that are helping the clerk’s office digitize records.
And Schmidt is at work on more grants. A number of the county’s volunteer fire departments have benefited from the FEMA grants that have helped them buy personal protective equipment and build storm shelters.
Now Schmidt said she has submitted one regional grant application for funding to replace aging radio equipment and four more applications for individual VFDs that total $872,289.84.
She is also working with Sheriff Brett Hightower on applying for a U.S. Department of Justice grant that would fund the purchase of body-worn cameras.
In other items at the Feb. 12 meeting, the magistrates approved:
GLASGOW – The Barren County Skills Development Academy has partnered with the South Central Workforce Development Board in Bowling Green and the Cumberlands Workforce Development Board in Campbellsville to offer a web design class to high school students and adults.
BCSDA, or BC Skills as it is more commonly known, was founded in 2018 and is a program within the Barren County School District.
“We wanted to provide a capstone for a computer science pathway that was No. 1, so we invested a lot of time in developing a computer science program that was K-12. And if you are going to do that well, you really need a capstone that takes what they are learning and transitions it over to the workforce prior to them entering the workforce,” said Justin Browning, project manager for BC Skills.
“That was our desire going in but also we wanted to be intentional about offering opportunities for adults in our area. Since the first group in 2018, BC Skills has been a hybrid program where we have both high school students and adults participating.”
This is the first time for the class to be offered off-site in Bowling Green and Campbellsville.
The decision was made to make the web design class available in other communities after being contacted by several entities over the past three years.
“I’ve been a little slow to scale it up because I wanted to make sure our product was refined to the point that we thought it would be worthwhile to both the people in the communities and to whoever we were partnering with,” he said.
There are nine students taking the class in Bowling Green and 20 in Campbellsville.
When the students graduate they will have the capacity to be junior web developers, Browning said.
“They will have gone through a curriculum that has been consulted on by several different companies that have taken a vested interest in what we’re trying to do, so they will have the capacity and the skillset as junior web developers,” he said.
Both classes are taught by Matthew Riley of Glasgow, who is the lead instructor and an employee of the Barren County Board of Education. Riley is a former student of the class and was part of the 2018 class.
Jamie Aquino, also of Glasgow, and Austin Benedict, of Franklin, Tenn., are also graduates of the class and make up the support staff.
The class meets two days a week in Bowling Green and two days a week in Campbellsville. Both classes meet virtually on Fridays.
“We’re excited to be scaling up a model that has proven to be successful in Barren County. We are going to continue to look for ways to innovate in a time of limited resources,” said Bo Matthews, superintendent of Barren County Schools, adding the school system seems to have found a niche that benefits high school students, as well as displaced workers.
“The outcome is that people have credentials and are ready for high-paying jobs of the future immediately.”
Dr. Robert Boone, outgoing president and CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board, said the computer coding and IT in general is an emerging industry in the region.
“We wanted to make sure we’re preparing the workforce for not only the jobs that exist now, but also the jobs that are likely to exist in the future. When we look at the data we see that computer coding jobs are increasing in our region (and) also nationwide,” he said.
Such jobs can often be done remotely, which he said is good for a lot of people’s schedules.
“That’s something we really want to move into and invest in as a workforce board. The program is housed in partnership with the WKU Center for Research and Development, which is a great spot for the academy because the students are surrounded by new businesses, startup businesses. Some of the students may even want to start up a business themselves and ... are already plugged in to a network that can help support them,” Boone said.
The South Central Workforce Development Board provided financial support for six students to take the class in Barren County, and was able to do so with a grant it received for economic recovery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The class is offered in Barren County during the fall semester.
The Cumberlands Workforce Development Board has 20 students taking the class this semester. A majority of the students taking the class in Campbellsville are adults.
“They have in some way, somehow been affected by the pandemic. Maybe it was the loss of a job or their hours have been reduced,” said Lyndsey Brown, economic recovery coordinator for the South Central and Cumberlands Workforce Development boards.
Because of the impact the pandemic has had on their employment, they qualified under the grant the workforce board received.
“That was one reason we wanted to do BC Skills is to get these people in the district in a different industry (and) broaden their skillset and provide them with a whole range of knowledge they didn’t have before,” she said.
Some of the companies that have hired students who have graduated from the class are ADK Group, which is based in Boston but has an office in Louisville and a few other locations; Fifth Dimension Strategies, which is based in Kansas City; South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative, Bluehorse and Lynx Labeling, all in Glasgow, Browning said.
One Barren County High School student who took the class during the fall semester of 2020, Collin Graves, along with BCHS’s business pathway students Melena Hughes, Gracelyn DeWeese and Cathern Goodman worked on an app that won the Congressional App Challenge for the Second Congressional District for 2020.
“This is the second consecutive year (of students winning),” Browning said. “Their concept is a web application that matches local consumers to local producers. So, the idea itself is they want to bolster local tourism by providing up-to-date accurate information and reviews from local people, and they want to give an outlet for local businesses to get their product, whatever their product or service is in front of their target audience.”
While there are many opportunities to read reviews about businesses and services online, there aren’t many just for rural area businesses and services, he said.
The app is still “a work in progress.”
“They will spend some time this semester getting that deployable product potentially to the marketplace,” he said.
Having BCHS students win the Congressional App Challenge two years in a row is “... a testimony to creating opportunities for our students to be successful. And in saying that, we continue to look for ways where we can basically remove barriers in our institutions of learning and combine learning opportunities that transcend the traditional learning mode.”
Without a federal exemption from state testing for public schools in hand, Kentucky is moving ahead with exams this spring with a plan that includes flexible testing windows and in-person assessment for virtual students, among other changes.
At the same time, the state’s education commissioner is also seeking a temporary reprieve from identifying schools for Targeted Support and Improvement, a label that means one or more student subgroups within a school are performing as poorly as schools in the bottom 5% statewide.
Kentucky only labels TSI schools when it has three consecutive years of testing data to do so, Education Commissioner Jason Glass wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education dated Feb. 15.
“In the spring of 2020, Kentucky received a waiver from federal testing and accountability requirements. This previous waiver also waived the requirements for the identification of federal classifications, including TSI, in the fall of 2020. Due to this waiver, Kentucky is unable to identify schools for TSI status in the fall of 2021 because it does not have three consecutive years of accountability data,” Glass wrote.
The Kentucky Department of Education is asking for public comment on its waiver request, and the public can submit feedback up to 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. The full request is available here with this story online.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or submitted to KDE General Counsel Todd Allen at the Kentucky Department of Education, 300 Sower Blvd, 5th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601. Comments also may be submitted via fax at 502-564-9321.
If granted the federal waiver, Kentucky would not identify TSI schools until as late as the fall of 2024, due to the three-year reporting requirement, Glass noted in his letter.
That raises questions about how the state will ensure marginalized students don’t fall further behind after months of distance learning and limited in-person instruction.
In his letter, Glass wrote that Kentucky will continue to collect and monitor data relevant to school quality and student performance. The state’s partnership with Infinite Campus, an online student information portal, will ensure access to real-time student performance data.
“Kentucky remains committed to maintaining an accountability system that ensures equity for all students,” Glass wrote. “In July 2020, the Kentucky Board of Education adopted a resolution affirming its commitment to racial equity in Kentucky public schools. This commitment is evident through our accountability system. While new TSI schools would not be identified in 2021 under this waiver, Kentucky’s commitment to equity and service will continue to ensure that students from traditionally underserved backgrounds have their physical, emotional and instructional needs met during the 2021-22 school year.”
Additionally, the state won’t identify schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement this fall.
Currently, Kentucky hasn’t identified any schools for TSI, a label that invites the possibility for intervention from the Kentucky Department of Education.
Even amid the lingering uncertainty, Kentucky is planning to administer state tests this spring, issuing new, tentative guidance Feb. 15.
“Annual state testing provides critical information about school and student performance to parents, educators and state and district policy decision-makers,” the guidance document reads. “The assessment results can help determine if students are meeting academic expectations, identify holes in student learning, areas where supports or assistance are needed and identify gaps among different student groups (e.g., students of color, students with disabilities, students not yet proficient in English, economically disadvantaged students).”
Normally, when not plagued by disruptions driven by a pandemic, administering the state tests takes less than 1% of the entire instructional time set aside for the school year, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
That said, the KDE “has worked internally and with test vendors to provide flexible testing windows and reduce the amount of time for assessment administration even further where possible,” according to the state guidance document.
The guidance sets out the expectations for schools as follows: “District and school staff should make a reasonable, dedicated effort to assess all students. All students attending school in-person full or part time should be scheduled for testing on their in-person days. Additionally, school administrators should plan, in conjunction with district administrators, to bring in small groups of students who are in a full-time virtual setting for testing. Students served in a homebound or hospital setting who are provided with in-person services should also be scheduled to take the state assessment. School and district testing plans should be communicated to parents in advance of testing windows. Remote proctoring with students taking assessments at home without a trained administrator is not an option on state assessments for the 2020-2021 school year.”
A Barren County grand jury will hear the case against a woman accused of harboring a suspect wanted in a Bowling Green slaying.
Megan Sequeira, 34, of Scottsville, faces a charge of first-degree hindering prosecution/apprehension.
Sequeira is accused of allowing Antwan Britt, 23, of Bowling Green, to flee with her when Britt was suspected of involvement in the shooting of Tayveon Bibb, 23, of Bowling Green, who died Jan. 10 after being shot multiple times while in the 300 block of East Main Avenue.
Britt and Dederic Anderson, 29, of Bowling Green, are each charged with murder in connection with the incident.
Britt and Sequeira were arrested Jan. 18 in Glasgow by Kentucky State Police.
Sequeira had an arraignment scheduled Feb. 11 in Barren District Court, but she elected to waive her case to the grand jury, court records show.
According to an arrest citation, Sequeira told KSP that she met with and picked up Britt on Jan. 18 at Bowling Green Towers.
The two then traveled to a gas station.
“Britt advised that people were talking about him and he advised the police were trying to pin something on him,” KSP Trooper Brent Davis said in Sequeira’s arrest citation. “Sequeira advised that if they do not have evidence then they will look into things deeper.”
Sequeira told police that she remembered Britt was “nervous and freaking out” and she knew that police wanted to talk to Britt but was not aware of the existence of an active arrest warrant against him, court records show.
According to police, Sequeira brought Britt to her father’s house in Smiths Grove.
“Sequeira stated that her end goal was trying to be a good friend and take Britt to Tennessee and his dad’s,” Davis said in the citation.
Sequeira and Britt traveled to another location where they were picked up by a woman who took them to her apartment on East Washington Street in Glasgow, which is where police located and arrested them.
At the time she was detained, Sequeira told police she knew Britt was in trouble but said “her anxiety was causing things to be difficult,” her arrest citation said.
“Sequeira later stated that she misspoke and that she did not know (Britt) was wanted,” Davis said in the arrest citation.
At a preliminary hearing last month in Warren District Court, Detective Rebecca Robbins of the Bowling Green Police Department said investigation led police to determine that Britt was in the company of Sequeira and that the two had fled to the Smiths Grove area of Barren County, eventually resulting in their discovery in the Glasgow apartment, where police found them hiding under a bed.
Police allege that Bibb had been involved in prior confrontations with Britt and Anderson before the shooting.