All over the state, school systems will be competing to hire the teachers and guidance counselors needed to carry out the mandates of the Tennessee Diploma Project.
According to discussion last week's school board budget committee meeting, Marshall County not only needs to recruit teachers, it also needs to find the money to pay them, in addition to funding vital repairs and improvements to our schools.
The committee met last Thursday to review the prioritized requests from the schools. Principal Bob Edens was there from Cornersville High School to answer questions about the retaining wall at the baseball diamond and lights for the football field, both of which are urgently needed.
"Duck River wanted to condemn the light poles (at the football field) this year," Edens told committee members. "Some of them are rotten."
This project will have to be bid out, since it is estimated to cost over $10,000 (budget director Janet Wiles reported that maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis had an estimate for $120,000).
"We might have to get the money for the lights out of fund balance," said Wiles at the February board meeting, where the board approved calling for bids.
Edens pointed out that the best time for installation was June or July, when the ground is hard, so there is time available.
This is not so for the retaining wall, which needs to be finished by the start of the season, just a few weeks away. At their meeting the board therefore approved a motion to accept the lowest bid for the wall.
The recent heavy rains have highlighted deficiencies in the roof at Marshall Elementary School, and Davis reported to Wiles that the "roof is in horrible shape" and could cost $310,000 to repair.
"This is where we're at when we don't get funding," exclaimed committee member Ann Tears. "It costs more to repair than to maintain."
"The fire alarm at MES, is that a pressing issue for safety?" she asked.
"Yes, it is," replied then-interim director Roy Dukes.
Replacing this, along with improving the public address system at Westhills Elementary, is a top priority.
"They have to be done," said Wiles.
Edens said his school could manage without a camera system, but Wiles said Westhills needed cameras because anyone could get into the school corridors without going by the office.
Lyn Stacey spoke up to say they needed a full-time office person at Spot Lowe, because without one there is no one to watch the front of the building.
"I can't imagine leaving a front office unattended for half a day," said board chairman Mike Keny.
"Our top priority is safety," said Tears. "We've got to do the retaining wall and the football lights; the fire alarm at MES and the Westhills P.A."
Continuing on the topic of safety, new board member Harvey Jones Jr. pointed out that there is just one nurse shared between Chapel Hill Elementary and Forrest School.
"We share one, too (in Cornersville)," said Edens.
"That's a lot of responsibility on teachers," Jones said.
"We should look at the ratio of nurses to students," recommended committee member Craig Michael.
From here, the committee moved on to other personnel issues.
"The (Tennessee) Diploma Project is going to catch up with us," warned Edens, going on to say that he would choose safety over more teachers at the moment.
"We should not have to operate that way," exclaimed committee member Randy Perryman.
Wiles told the committee that Bonnie Reese, the Cornersville Elementary principal, had been asking for full-time art, music and physical education teachers every year.
"Look at Lewisburg Middle School," said Dukes. "They need a full-time guidance counselor there; Forrest and Cornersville also. The Diploma Project requires counseling for all 8th graders before they start high school."
"Mr. Sorrells (Marshall County High School) asked for a science teacher last year and didn't get one," Wiles said. "He only has one (teacher) certified in chemistry."
"What about posting the positions now?" asked Tears. "Can we go ahead and get a jump on it?"
"We can't post until we know they're in the budget," said committee chairwoman Kristen Gold.
"Legally you can," Michael said. "I would encourage you to post."
"Every system in the state has the same problems we have," he continued. "If we don't have a plan to recruit, and don't have something meaningful to offer, how are we going to get them?"
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us," agreed Beverly Miller, supervisor of 7-12 instruction. "Even worse: our chemistry teachers are all eligible for retirement now. I don't know how rural counties are going to get those people."
"We have a whole year," Edens said. "This time next year it will be a must."
The committee agreed to intensify recruiting with visits to mid-state institutions - like Martin Methodist College, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University - as well as a presence at job fairs.
"Most school systems work on student teachers," Dukes said. "We could post to see what we get."
"We have to have them," said Gold.
"Just to have three math teachers and three guidance counselors, and the other we talked about is going to cost $1 million," Michael said. "We've got to have these positions; we've got to find a way to make it work."
"We need to take the list to the County commission," Tears said. The committee plans to hold a work session with the commission's education committee in April to acquaint commissioners with the requirements of the Diploma Project, as well as discuss the capital outlay requirements of the schools.