When Superintendent Michael Hester was appointed in 2017, Batesville School District was facing issues with finances and teacher retention. The district’s annual utility bill, amounting to over $600,000, exacerbated these concerns. Hester and the school board took action and implemented a strategic plan with goals for student achievement, hiring/retaining staff, efficiencies, and partnerships.
To start achieving these goals, Batesville consolidated buildings and campuses to reduce their overall footprint. Then, the district partnered with Entegrity to conduct a district-wide energy investigation, revealing opportunities to reduce electric energy costs by 40% and generate $2.4 million in energy savings. The upgrades included updating lighting, thermostats, windows, HVAC, water fixtures, and, most notably, installing solar. Entegrity implemented a solar canopy at a campus entrance as well as an array on district land, generating an annual total of 750 kW of renewable energy.
“Whenever people pull in [to the school] we just want them to know that we are utilizing the solar panels,” said Megan Renihan, communications coordinator for the district. “Not only for coverage and shelter, but its also going to inspire people for innovation and that’s what we’re so excited for.”
By approving the project in March 2018, Batesville School District made history by becoming the first school district in Arkansas to install solar on their campus. While the savings were exciting, this opportunity meant more for Superintendent Hester and the board, who voted to use the savings for teacher raises.
The district raised teacher salaries by up to $15,000 each, becoming one of the best-paying districts in the county. “It took us from worst to first in our area,” Hester stated. “It took us from the lower quartile in the state for teacher pay to the upper half in pay in the state.”
“We have school choice in the state of Arkansas, so that meant not only could our students choose to go to a different campus but also our teachers, so by improving the pay raise in our area, it attracted and is retaining those teachers, giving our students the best education,” said Renihan.