The school board decided to ask for further consideration of some of the policies recommended to them for approval at their November meeting last week. The policies returned to the policy committee for further discussion are those relating to conduct and discipline.
In other business at the Thursday night meeting, the board approved the work of the Director's evaluation committee, and heard a report from the transportation committee.
"I think we need to look at our zero tolerance policy again," said committee member Curt Denton. "I know we approved it, but after talking with some of the Security Resource Officers and other people, I think we need to add a knife section that follows Tennessee law but gives a student permission to turn their knife in to the principal's office if they find they accidentally brought it to school."
Chairwoman Ann Tears agreed, saying, "We can pull out the whole zero tolerance section and ask the policy committee to re-visit it."
The board also asked the committee to give more study to the suspension and expulsion policy, and to the policy on interrogations and searches. Dr. Stan Curtis, Director of Schools, clarified for the board that because school officials are "in loco parentis" (in place of a parent) it is legal for them to search and question students. They can do this if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the student is in possession of forbidden items, in contrast to the police who have to have "probable cause" before they can do a search.
Board member Craig Michael reported on the negotiations with the Marshall County Education Association.
Michael told the board that his team had met three times with the MCEA, and had made a proposal for salaries and insurance. MCEA responded with a counter-proposal and there the matter rests until the next negotiating session on Tuesday, Nov. 25. Board member Kristen Gold quickly worked out that it would cost $950,000 to fund the pay raise the teachers had asked for, and Janet Wiles, the budget director, said the sum would be over $1 million if they refunded some of the teachers' insurance premiums as had also been requested. Since only $400,000 was put in this year's budget to fund the negotiations, there is a considerable gap to be bridged.
"There's a lot of needs in this system," said Michael. "We cut technology, and we need a real alternative school; I'm concerned about John Q. Public looking at these (the teacher's) demands. I'd hate to see animosity develop in the community when jobs are being lost."
"We've cut the budget to the bone; I don't think the County Commission is going to give us any more money. Everyone would love to meet their demands but I don't see how that's possible," said board member Randy Perryman.
Right now they are negotiating the 2008-09 contract, but as soon as it is complete, they will have to start negotiating for 2009-10 in order to know what sums they need to put in the next budget.
"We'll have to plant the money tree soon," joked Michael, adding, "At this point the team needs reassurance we're going in the right direction," said Michael.
"Yes, you are," replied Tears.
"I wouldn't be on that team for all the money in China," exclaimed Wilkerson.
"It has to be fair," concluded Michael. "We want to do everything we can for the teachers, but we also have an obligation to the tax payers." Marshall County is already near the top of the state list in terms of percentage of tax dollars spent on education.
"I think the negotiating team is trying to move at a good pace and come to a legitimate agreement with MCEA," commented Curtis. "We have given every indication to teachers that we truly want to get a contract in place and move forward again."