School budget being changed already

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Less than a week after getting approval for their budget from the county commission's education and budget committees, school board members had to approve changes to it.

The most expensive of these will be hiring an additional teacher for Marshall County High School.

Dr. Larry Miller, substituting for schools director Roy Dukes who was taken ill on Sunday, explained that it was "just one of those adjustments."

MCHS principal Keith Stacey said he found out last Friday that the teacher he was going to have teach English 2 and English 3 and also conduct targeted interventions - that are paid for out of federal funds - could not be scheduled like this.

The teacher "has to be employed all day, all year, to supplement regular curriculum," in order to be paid with federal money, Stacey said.

"That would require us to re-do the schedule for everyone," Stacey said.

"Does it affect any other schools?" asked board member Harvey Jones Jr.

"No," replied federal projects director Linda Williams-Lee. "The high school is unique because they have block scheduling."

"How much will it affect the budget?" Jones asked.

"One teacher paid for out of the general purpose budget will be $58,000," Miller replied.

Board member Barbara Kennedy wanted to know if they needed to go back to the commission and add it to the budget, but Kristen Gold advised a wait-and-see attitude. Enrollment numbers are still fluctuating, she pointed out, and when they settle down, there may be a teacher at one of the schools who's not needed.

Board members unanimously approved the hiring of another teacher at MCHS.

Another minor addition to the budget arose from the need to take on an extra assistant coach for Forrest due to the number of students who have signed up for football. The total impact of this is only $500 added to the supplement budget, due to cuts in two other supplements.

Other changes in personnel approved at the school board's meeting come at no change to the budget.

The re-instatement of a half-time assistant for the supervisor of coordinated school health was agreed by a 6-2 vote after some contentious discussion. This position is paid entirely from grant money.

Board member Ann Tears made the motion to add the position back into the Central Office organizational chart, pointing out that coordinated school health serves the entire school population, and that supervisor Michelle Ashley needs an assistant for data entry and for health screenings.

Rules were suspended to allow Ashley to speak from the floor.

"The assistant is needed," she stressed, pointing out that if she is tied up doing health screenings and data entry, she is not free to work on her bigger projects like improving physical activities for all students, or planning strategies for healthier eating. Health screenings were performed for more that 2,500 students last year, and then forms had to be completed in triplicate and sent to three different places. In addition, 1,000 students had to be re-screened.

Kennedy had done some research into other things the grant money could be spent on, rather than an assistant's pay, but she was unable to persuade the other board members to vote against Tears' motion.

Still on the topic of pay and personnel, Miller told board members there were four students in the Alternative School who needed special education services. If they can't have special education there at the Alternative School, the students have to be sent back to their previously assigned schools, leading to the perception that there are no consequences for the behavior that landed them in Alternative School in the first place. There is still money in the special education budget for supervisor Lisa Ventura to hire another teacher for the year, and this was unanimously approved.

Finally, grant writer Nancy Aldridge sought approval for an increase in pay for Building Bridges personnel. This would also be paid out of grant funds. Aldridge explained that for the last two years she has had money left in the grant at the end of the year.

"That tells me we're not paying our people enough," she said, proposing an increase of $1 per hour for teachers and 50 cents for assistants.

Questions were asked about how students in the Building Bridges program, which takes place after school and in the summer, were performing, and if they were making noticeable gains in academic performance.

"We saw small gain last year," Aldridge said. "You have to have a program for several years to see 'huge' gains."

In the absence of Dukes, and without information on pay rates for similar work in surrounding counties, board members voted to table the discussion until their September meeting.