🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
The April School Board Meeting was one of the longest board meetings on record. However, it still seemed as if they were lacking action on the issues that they talked about the longest. I am referring of course to...
the conversation surrounding facilities, which took up about a third of this board meeting. The school board has been talking about improving facilities without taking definitive action for a long time. Sure, the board has assigned a significant amount of money towards this goal, but they have yet to clarify their plan for moving forward with facilities or to even set a timeline in place for what they will do. It is understandable that many goals are going to be pushed back along the imaginary timeline due to COVID-19. However, I think that Hamilton County needs to do something (even set a tentative date for the board retreat they have been talking so much about) in order to move forward with improving facilities rather than sitting in the same place and spinning the wheels. During the meeting the board discussed and presented options for repairs to East Brainerd Elementary School caused by the recent tornado and the relocation plan for CSLA. These were in the context of presenting potential plans that will be decided upon later, but it still seemed like the board has been doing this forever and very little action is taking place. The presented plans for both schools looked very well thought through and seemed to present lots of options for the school board and our county to move forward. The last school board meeting (the main meeting in April) seemed like the board was playing catch-up and was traigeing the school system in light of the recent switch to distance learning, but this meeting seemed more like the board was playing the waiting game. Every facilities plan that was presented was waiting on something else to happen. So in the future it may be better received to showcase what has been done thus far and what is happening right now, in addition what is happening much farther down the line. All of the talking without making decisions and not seeing progress directly gives an air of uncertainty that appears as if nothing is happening.
After Valoria Armstrong introduced the seven members of the Advisory Board, she went on to present feedback and data for students and staff within the schools. They also studied the monthly and quarterly data; benchmark, testing dates, and the 2019 TNReady and accountability measures. She then introduces the slides with recommendations from the advisory board, containing great points I might add. With those recommendations, she passed the floor to Wayne Brown: He explains the salary scale, asking to implement a scale for principals, teachers, and other staff and an additional increase in base pay. They are asking that the times of the grants are consistent every school year, providing time to budget and plan accordingly. The presenters open up the floor for the board for the board to ask questions. After a few very long minutes, the board moves on to the next topic.
While the board meeting was exceptionally long, there were some notable topics that stood out. There was a proposal to make school fees optional with $20 donations that are encouraged. There were some discrepancies between board members because Board Member Robinson mentioned that because the $20 fee is “optional” but not required it may be confusing to the public. Her idea essnetially was that “what’s the point in offering the $20 if it’s not required?” Extracurriculars may have fees, though. The ELA pilot program has been approved as well as the Charter school approval.
The ELA textbook option was approved--ELA stands for Early Literacy Initiative. Dr. HIghlander mentioned that there are 3 to 4 different programs approved by the state of Tennessee and was concerned that magnet schools that are more involved in creating their own program, may not be on the same program. Neelie Parker mentioned that if this program were adopted, it’d be the same program for the whole county. The “upfront cost” would be $6 million and then as the program progressed for the next six years, the price would increase. It is advised to the board members that they make an adoption of the program but they may not be required to purchase anything. “Our number one job as an educational body is to create a literate society” said Parker and I couldn’t agree more. This initiative has been attributed to creating a more “cohesive” learning environment for all students. After the lengthy discussion, the board decided to approve the proposal.
It was recommended that the board approve this. A committee of sixteen people reviewed and gave their input about the approval of the Charter school acceptance. Dr. Elaine Swafford gave a brief explanation about the monsory model and how it’s unique model benefits students who don’t “learn as quickly as other students.” The board ended up passing this proposal.
Since the April 23rd School Board Meeting, there have been 2 budget meetings in addition to the conversation that the school board had at the original board meeting. At the original board meeting the board discussed whether or not to postpone their conversation to another meeting after they had learned more from the County Commission. They chose to postpone until a meeting on April 30th. During this meeting the board was essentially just asking questions and making comments about the proposed budget. The board had some concerns about whether or not now was the time to put a million dollars in the fund balance (also referred to as the Rainy Day Fund). Jenny Hill mentioned that the board needed to define when it was raining, because it really seems like it is raining right now for a lot of people. The meeting on May 4th was to assign some additional (legally required) funding. The board went back and forth about how it should be used for just under an hour and ended up voting to put the money in the rainy day fund and assign a use to it later. The ideas that were tossed around ranged from giving teachers their scheduled step pay raise increases or using the money for facilities. Jenny Hill previously mentioned that it is a rough time for teachers right now, so maybe it was a good time to help them by continuing their stepped pay increases. Rhonda Thurman was in strong disagreement to that point though, she thought that the money should either be saved or put towards facilities. Some of the comments that Rhonda had were really hurtful though, especially in the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week this week. Here are some highlights of her colorful commentary:
“Teachers don’t work harder than anyone else. The teachers haven’t lost a penny yet.”
“Teachers aren’t the backbone of our school system.”
“Not giving teachers a pay raise is not the same as taking money away from them.”
After seeing all of the hope that the board had for their budget at this time last year, it is disheartening to see the status of the school system budget this year. Last year the board was talking about extra things that they hoped to see in the budget, but this year they are talking about which thing should be cut first. Even before the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19, the school board was proposing an extremely slim budget and I truly hope that I will be able to see that hope restored in the years to come.
Following the long discussion of the budget and a few other topics; the board finally came to the close out discussion, COVID-19. They consider what parents are to do about child care due to going back to work. They plan to open 25 child care places instead of the original 14. Of course Mrs. Thurman has multiple questions and an opinion of her own, but I digress. They move on to the topic of summer school and how that will work with the curriculum not coming from the teachers. Dr. Johnson said something that I highly appreciate in regards to that topic, “I wouldn’t be overly comfortable with saying let’s bring the kids in and figure it out.” Thank you for acknowledging that as students, our voices matter! Although this discussion doesn’t have many final decisions, they express that new information is received daily and they want to make the best decision in the safest way possible for students, teachers, and staff. There was an early start date, July 27th, mentioned but not decided upon. They feel this is the way to get back the “face time” that was lost. They still have a lot of things to iron out, but plan to pay attention to those students who need it most.