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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

STARS Linn County Foundation takes step to non-profit status

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

With rolling scaffolding and drying drywall compound as a backdrop, members of the newly chosen STARS Linn County Foundation board conduct their inaugural meeting on Monday. Board members included, from left, Chair Cindy Inman, Kyle Haupt, treasurer Don Epps, Ashley Hopkins, Shawn Thomas and secretary Jessica Hightower. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

By Roger Sims, Journal staff

PLEASANTON – It was not the kind of scenario that one imagines when they talk about a foundation board meeting. No heavy wooden table or comfy office chairs. Instead it was steel-and-plastic stackable chairs with a backdrop of drying drywall seams and flexible air conditioning duct hanging loose from the ceiling.

Although the group was meeting in an area more like a construction site than a boardroom, it was hardly an inappropriate setting.Those people were there on Monday, July 17, to create the STARS Linn County Foundation, a not-for-profit tasked with overseeing the operation of the Southeast Technical Academy for Rural Students (STARS).

In the former automobile dealership, new walls were being installed for classrooms in anticipation of enrollment for fall classes beginning Aug. 16-17 that will more than double last year’s enrollment. STARS director Jay Allen said that the remaining work to be done, including installation of ceilings and doors would be done by the end of July.

With Allen facilitating the meeting, the nine-member board was named. The board members were invited to be members by Allen, who along with former Pleasanton USD 344 Travis Laver, got the school off the ground for the 2022-23 school year.

The nine-member foundation board includes:

  • The three superintendents from Pleasanton, Jayhawk and Prairie View school districts – Don Epps, Shawn Thomas, and Chris Johnson respectively.

  • Three members representing the industry – Kyle Haupt with Haupt Construction; Daniel Earnest, vice president of Enerfab Inc.; and Ashley Hopkins from Community Health Centers of Southeast Kansas

  • Linn County Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower

  • Kris Mengarelli, director of the Southeast Kansas Career and Technical Education Center in Pittsburg (CTEC).

  • Cindy Inman, Pleasanton school board member.

Johnson, Earnest and Mengarelli were unable to attend the inaugural meeting of the foundation’s board

In a vote of the six members who were present, Inman was elected chair and Earnest was named co-chair. Hightower was selected to be secretary and Epps was voted in as treasurer. Voting to meet the third Monday of every month, the board members also decided to make the annual July meeting as the time to reorganize every year.

The STARS program recently got a $10,000 donation from Enerfab Inc. Vice President Daniel Earnest, from left, and Rusty Mudgett, business development manager for the company. Welding instructor and director of workforce placement Shane Kern and Pleasanton Superintendent Don Epps received the check. (Jay Allen/STARS)

The board did not set term guidelines but did decide that the industry representatives could send alternates in their place if they could not make the monthly meeting. Haupt said he planned on bringing other members of his organization even when he could make it so they could learn more about it.

The foundation is in the process of applying for a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, and one of the boxes it needed to check off to secure that status was forming a board.

Allen told the board that he was in the process of taking the bylaws of CTEC and rewriting them to fit STARS’ needs. CTEC is a similar technical school in Pittsburg that was created in 2016 with a $1 million grant from philanthropic couple Gene and Rita Bicknell, $375,000 from Crawford County, $30,000 from the city of Pittsburg, and the commitment of $4 million over 10 years from the nearby Kansas Crossing Casino.

Like STARS, the instructors and staff at CTEC is paid by Fort Scott Community College. However, also like STARS, CTEC solicits donations for supplies for welding and carpentry courses as well as scholarships for some students.

Banking on a one-mill tax levy tentatively approved by the Linn County Commission for 2024, work began restructuring the former auto dealership into more of a classroom setting. The mill levy is expected to raise about $340,000.

Allen told the board that other improvements that need to be made are making the parking lot compliant with Americans with Disability Act regulations for about $9.000 and installing a storm shelter for students and staff for an estimated cost of $80,000.

Ultimately the goal should be to make a school that looks more like a campus rather than a converted dealership, he said. “I want to make STARS turn into a school we can all be proud of,” he added.

Part of that would include purchasing the former dealership from the Pleasanton school district, Allen said.

He said that while Pleasanton’s former and current superintendents have been very supportive of STARS, a change at the top of the Pleasanton administration could mean that a superintendent who didn’t support STARS could pull the plug on it.

Board members also:

  • Gave Allen the authority to spend up to $20,000 without a vote of the board prior to the expenditure.

  • Approved opening a bank account and ordering a credit card in the foundation’s name.

  • Approved paying welding instructor Shane Kern an extra $16,000 a year for placing students in jobs, a job he currently does for free, and in fact spends about $6,000 out of pocket to do. If he places 75% or more of eligible students, he will get a $3,000 bonus, and 95% placement will see him get a $5,000 bonus.

  • Learned that the welding program will need more welding booths. Allen said Louisburg school district was pulling all 32 of its welding students from the Paola program to send them to STARS this fall.

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