Money, e-mail spark schools conflict

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Marshall County School Board member and a central office employee are at loggerheads over an email she sent and which he dislikes.

The email says support personnel pay and benefits may suffer budget cuts while the board member is a "big supporter" of the certified professionals.

As a result, support staff and teachers crowded the school board's budget committee meeting Monday night, hoping to get a preview of where cuts would be made next year as the draft budget was presented for the first time.

Cafeteria managers were urged to attend in an email from their supervisor, Larissa Delk.

"The word around here," Delk wrote, "is that some members, particularly Craig Michael, (are) wanting to cut time, pay and insurance coverage percentages for the support staff only."

Delk justified the e-mail in a news interview Tuesday saying, "As a taxpayer and a parent, I think we should all be aware of what goes on at board meetings. As their supervisor, I thought it was my duty to let them know."

Michael responded with a statement near the end of Monday night's school budget committee meeting.

"Contrary to what you may see or hear," he said, "I'm not advocating getting rid of anything. I am clearly on record stating I am never in favor of taking anything away that someone already has."

Delk countered: "It's a statement.

"Actions speak louder than words," she said, pointing to Michael's request to see comparative numbers on support staff pay and benefits in surrounding counties.

In another financial matter regarding a lack of money, the school board's budget committee chairman, Kristen Gold, opened her Monday night meeting by reported on a meeting with state legislators held that afternoon. It was to make the politicians aware of revenue shortfalls in the county and the mandated increases in expenditure associated with the Tennessee Diploma Project (TDP).

Schools Director Roy Dukes, Gold, Michael, and county commissioners Billy Spivey, Larry McKnight, and Rocky Bowden met with state Sens. Jim Tracy and Bill Ketron, and state rep. Eddie Bass.

All agreed the TDP would be "something good for the state," Gold said, but its quick implementation and lack of funding are causing problems.

"There was not a lot they could do for us," Gold told her committee.

"At least we opened lines of communication," she said, thanking Spivey for arranging the meeting.

Michael said he "could see it in their faces; They understood it's not going to be funded in a lot of systems. The only option is to postpone the requirements."

School board members came to no immediate conclusions on how to close the gap between revenue and expenses.

"It's probable this will not be the worst year," Michael said. "If the money's not there (for the county to make maintenance of effort), what happens? I think it's a distinct possibility."

Dukes agreed.

"I got that feeling too," the schools director said. "It's a serious situation with the state."

Michael asked Spivey about county revenues, and was told they were further behind than the previous year, with sales tax revenue "heavily off."

"It will be at least the first of June before we know," Spivey said. "Our budget meetings start on May 4."

Returning to the school budget, Gold asked for help.

"We're open for all suggestions," she said. "We have to tell Mr. Dukes and Janet (Wiles, the budget director) what we want."

Michael said, "We have to reduce expenses because we can't increase revenue. We've got to find the least painful way to get expenditures and revenue back in line, while minimizing the impact on the children."

"Instructional facilitators" were the only employees whose positions were discussed at the Monday meeting.

"We have $275,000 in those five positions," Michael said. "I would question needing one in every (elementary) school. We share nurses between schools, for instance."

"Maybe," Barbara Kennedy said, "we could re-assign some of them to the classroom."

Gold asked if it would "be helpful to get input from the principals... Maybe they can justify having one instructional facilitator per school."

Harvey Jones wanted more advice, too.

"We should get input from teachers," Jones said. "We have a lot of good teachers. We need their input."

Kennedy agreed: "As board members we ought to be asking these questions."

Gold urged her committee members to: read the draft budget at home; suggested they talk with teachers and principals; and "think through what we have" before the next meeting, a work session on May 3.

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