Board, Curtis clash over decision-making

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The transportation committee challenged the director of schools on his choice of a certified teacher to fill the post of transportation supervisor, and asked some hard questions about the Edulog software that is supposed to be saving the district money.

At their meeting last Wednesday, the committee led by Curt Denton decided to recommend to the school board that the new transportation supervisor, Michael Frey, be paid no more than Glen Ezell was for the same position; about $43,500 per year.

"If you lower the salary there could be possible litigation," said director of schools Stan Curtis. "I recommend you not lower the salary."

"You might have checked with us before offering the post," said committee member Craig Michael.

"I'll take that under advisement," Curtis said.

"Did he ask for the post?" asked committee member Dee Dee Owens. "Did he accept it?"

"Not officially," admitted Curtis.

"I thought he was supposed to start on July 1," said Denton.

"I have concerns about transferring a tenured teacher - one with a proven successful track record in teaching - to a non-certified position," Michael said. "Does he retain all bargaining rights?"

"I'll have to check and get an answer for you," replied Curtis.

"It concerns me that we would make an offer to someone and not know the answer to that," exclaimed Michael.

"I also have a concern about safety," he continued. "How can the bus garage function without a supervisor for two months a year?" This referred to the fact that it appeared Curtis was intending for Frey to working the same number of months as supervisor as he had as a teacher.

"I think the lead mechanic can do the summer work," said Curtis.

"Summer time is the busiest time for the mechanics," Denton pointed out. "They have 50-odd buses to clean, fix, and get ready for inspection."

"Why don't they need supervision?" asked Michael.

"There's only the mechanics there, not the drivers," Curtis answered.

Owens moved to recommend that supervisor of transportation should be a 12-month position because the transportation department, like the maintenance department, is open 12 months a year, and this was carried unanimously.

"I think there would be great safety concerns with an individual with no experience in management or the industry and have them working part time," summarized Michael. "Many people would start to question the decision-making as a whole."

"I'm just giving my opinion," he added.

"I appreciate it," Curtis said.

The committee also questioned Curtis on his decision to not renew mechanic Randy Lowe's contract.

"Ezell reviewed Lowe, and now he is going to be taking Lowe's job?" challenged Michael.

"I didn't look at it like that," admitted Curtis.

"You commented Ezell stepped down," said Owens. "When was that?"

"He's working until June 30," Curtis said, turning to human resources director Mitch Byrd for the exact date.

"The first part of the month," Byrd told the group.

"When did he do the reviews?" pressed Owens. "He also made the recommendations of terminations and re-hires, and recommended not to re-hire Lowe?"

"Yes," Curtis said. "The ultimate responsibility is the director's. I made the final decision. I don't have the recommendations in front of me."

"I would like to see the dates," Michael added.

"I know what your answer is going to be," said Denton. "But just tell me again: why was Randy Lowe not re-hired?"

"For the effective and efficient operation of the Marshall County school system," replied Curtis.

"Which does not have to be consistent with documented evaluations?" asked Michael.

"That's what Chuck Cagle (the school board's attorney) said," answered Curtis.

The committee moved on to discuss "the bus routes combined or eliminated for 2009-2010 by use of the Edulog software."

"We haven't eliminated any yet," said Curtis. "We just started conversations about this; it's very preliminary."

"So we have no dollar figure to put into the budget?" Michael inquired.

"We hope to have it by the 16th," Curtis said. "We may need to be on Edulog a year before we know."

"Janet Wiles (the budget director) told the Education Committee we would eliminate some routes," Michael said.

"Has Edulog recommended any changes?" Denton asked.

"That's part of what we're working on," said Curtis.

"We asked you to contact the directors of other systems that use Edulog and find out how much they saved," said Michael. "Have you done that?"

"I didn't get the numbers," Curtis replied.

"We asked for a figure on what was spent on Edulog, including the value of the man hours spent in training. I request it again, and I will not stop requesting it. We have spent far more than the purchase price, and our savings so far are zero!" Michael said.

Additionally, Michael asked why the system needed new buses if there were going to be fewer routes and enrollment was not going up. New buses have been ordered, but he said a contract could be cancelled.

"We called the bus company," said Curtis. "It would be $1,000 to cancel."

"Is that in the contract we signed?" asked Michael. "We'd still save $79,000."

The committee adjourned without setting the date for another meeting, but with Curtis directed to find them the real cost of Edulog and also to find the reference in the Tennessee Code Annotated to the school board's role in setting salaries.

"My understanding is that the director recommends and the board approves," said Michael in conclusion.