Board faces criticism from NAACP, union

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The school board received criticism from two bodies at their meeting May 21.

Rochelle Alexander of the NAACP addressed the board about the treatment of minorities in the county's schools. She cited numerous incidents at Westhills Elementary of "poor response to concerns of parents," and pointed out that the board of education employs a below-average number of minority teachers and staff, especially in Chapel Hill and Cornersville.

"The school district should be an example," said Alexander. "It should be an advocate for integration."

She presented a list of five questions for schools director Stan Curtis, and asked for a written response within five days to Gary Davis, president of the Marshall County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"The entire community has strong concerns about the direction of our school system," said Alexander. "We're not asking for anything special - we're just asking to be treated fairly."

Colin Beatty, reporting to the board from the Marshall County Education Association, was critical of recent actions.

"The teachers are opposed to changing the attendance policy," he told them, explaining that removing the 'zero' grade removes the penalty for unexcused absences. Increased absenteeism can lead to reduced state funding, since payments are based on the number of children actually attending school.

"Teachers' and principals' input on policy decisions is crucial," said Beatty. "Our common purpose is the future of our children."

During the director's report, Curtis presented his organizational chart, and heard negative comments on some portions of it.

"I have concerns with the bus garage supervisor," said Curt Denton, chairman of the board's transportation committee. "That job wasn't posted. I don't know what his qualifications are, but I know he has no transportation or mechanical experience; he doesn't even have a CDL license. I take offence!" he concluded.

"The board has total control of the approval of the organizational chart," Michael pointed out. "How is this a lateral transfer?"

"For the efficient and effective operation of the Marshall County schools that transfer occurred," answered Curtis.

At the transportation committee's meeting Tuesday Dee Dee Owens sought clarification: "Where is Mr. Ezell (the former bus garage supervisor) going to be?" she asked.

"He's going to be a mechanic," replied Curtis.

"In a supervisory capacity?" asked Owens.

"I guess so," Curtis said. "Maybe 'lead mechanic'."

"And his pay?" inquired Owens.

"Decreased," answered Curtis.

"I wanted to make sure," Owens said. "Are we losing a mechanic?"

"No, we're back to the original number we had at the start of the year," clarified Curtis.

The new bus garage supervisor is Michael Frey, formerly a physical education teacher at Westhills Elementary. He will be trained on the Edulog bus routing software, which Curtis anticipates will be implemented at the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

In other business, after some discussion the board approved by a vote of 7-2 use of a system-wide matrix for assigning children to classes.

"It gives a chance to look at value-added because all classes have the same make-up," Curtis said.

"The matrix is a mystery to me," complained board member Craig Michael.

"We want them to use it," explained chairwoman Ann Tears. "We haven't had good enforcement of balanced classes."

"Could we see a copy before we have to vote on it?" asked Michael.

"The policy committee trusted me to develop a matrix," Curtis said. "I talked to a lot of supervisors and we have put the parameters into Star Student (a computer program) and it will schedule the classes. We're trying to be equitable across the district."

The school board approved the bid for refinishing the gym floor at Lewisburg Middle School. There was only one bid: $1.41/square foot, from a company that budget director Janet Wiles said the school system had used before.

Requests from the maintenance department for a new tow motor and a new bucket truck were discussed, and then returned to the building and maintenance committee for further consideration.

"As chair I voted for it (granting these requests)," said Michael. "Now I've had time to reconsider, and, looking at the economic stress figures, it seems hard to justify a brand new truck."

Federal projects director Linda Williams-Lee reported that the system would be receiving Title I funds for two new positions in Chapel Hill, and over $32,000 in Title II funds which will be used to fund computer labs at all three high schools.

"Let's commend Ms. Williams-Lee on a great job," exclaimed Mark Wilkerson, and she was given a round of applause.