School Board chooses Curtis for negotiating team

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The school board chose its director of schools to succeed board member Craig Michael on the team that negotiates with the teachers' association.

The board held a special called meeting with just one item on the agenda: what to do with the negotiating team. Chairwoman Ann Tears reported that she had been in contact with legal and had been advised that the board could either leave the team with the remaining two members (Janet Wiles and Mitchell Byrd), or add a third member to replace Michael.

Tears moved to leave the team at two, and vice chairwoman Kristen Gold seconded the motion.

Board member Mark Wilkerson volunteered to serve, at least until July (when a new team can be chosen).

"This (negotiating) is what I do for a living," Wilkerson explained. He is an official with the United Auto Workers Local 1853 in Spring Hill.

"I would move that Stan Curtis take the position," said Michael. "It needs someone familiar with policies and procedures, and an understanding of both sides. It needs someone who spends a lot of time in the schools. We can take another look in August."

"Dr. Curtis, are you willing to serve?" asked board member Randy Perryman.

"I'll do the will of the board," Curtis answered. "There's positives and negatives on each side. I don't want a bad relationship with teachers and the Marshall County Education Association."

Tears called for a vote, but Michael said, "I'm not through with discussion! It's difficult to make good decisions when the decision maker is not familiar with day-to-day operations. The two people on the team now (Wiles and Byrd) are not in the schools on a daily basis. Curtis has both the big picture and the classroom-level view. There's tremendous value in his experience."

Tears' motion to leave the team at two members was defeated, and Michael's motion to nominate Curtis was unanimously approved.

This part of the board's business was concluded in 25 minutes, but they spent almost another hour discussing the policy committee's recommendation to eliminate the zero grade for work missed due to an unexcused absence. (Reported in the April 24 edition of the Tribune.)

"I need a better answer for people who call me," said Michael. "What purpose does removing the zero serve?"

"Grades should reflect the student's mastery level," explained Curtis. "Are we grading on skill, or on whether a kid comes to school?"

"The people who have called me say that you're discriminating against the kids who do show up and work," Wilkerson exclaimed.

"We've used zeros for punishment for years," Curtis said. "I'm just giving you the research."

"Has anything changed so far?" asked Wilkerson.

"No," replied Tears. "We're going to bring it before the board at the meeting on the 21st, plus we have another policy committee meeting on the 19th."

"It's an important issue," Michael said. "One of the people that called me is here tonight to share her thoughts with you."

Connie Lentz stood up in the audience and addressed the board.

"I have two children who started in Cornersville and finished in Lewisburg, and I also substitute teach," she said.

"My concern is what Mr. Wilkerson mentioned," Lentz said. "The students know the policy and they know how to work the system. I don't understand how it's holding them accountable, or how it's preparing them for the real world. Where's the reward for the ones who do show up? Attendance is part of learning."

"It begins with the parents. Can we not hold parents accountable?" asked Perryman.

"We can take them to court," Wiles said.

"Don't forget we only have two social workers for over 5,000 students," added Michael.

"We have parent conferences," said assistant director Roy Dukes, "But the ones that need to come are the ones that don't show up."

The discussion on possibly removing the zero grade continued until Michael said, "I promise it would help the policy committee if we had a screening committee of students and teachers" to give their view of policies - they're the ones who are experiencing policy on a daily basis. "The more diverse your input the better decision you'll make," he continued.

"I would love that," said board member Dee Dee Owens. "We have suggested it to Curtis, and I have e-mailed people asking them to come to meetings.

"We had a motion three or four months ago; we just haven't done it," said Michael. "I could make the motion again, but it didn't do any good before."

"Any interested person can feel confident coming to meetings." Gold said. "If there's a meeting you have an interest in you should come.

"I think everyone's missing the point," Wilkerson said. "We were elected. I represent the voters. Seeking more input isn't a bad idea, but I go to the guy we hired (Curtis) - he's our direct point of contact. I rely on him exclusively. At the end of the day the board is the decision-making body."