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Notes from the August 15 Chatham County school board meeting

By Mia Munn
Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Here are my notes from the school board meeting held on August 15, 2011.

Ms. Delcinia Turner was not at the meeting.

District convocation to kickoff the school year – optional for teachers (but good attendance last year) Thursday August 18 at Northwood. STAR award winners will be announced – eight this year (budgeted for ten, only one given in each of past two years.) No outside speaker to save money – Mr. Logan will speak. Also presentation on new website/email.

Open House schedule

Email and Website conversion – email is now a free service, live@edu, with better spam filters, more storage, and ten year archiving. Website is schoolfusion – site for district, each school, and individual employees. More consistent navigation and design. Requires no web design skills, and easier to post grades. Will save in HW/SW costs.

Forty percent of Chatham students do not have internet access at home.

Students Rights and Responsibilities – Handbook. Last week’s meeting made changes to policies to remove consequences, per change in law. Law now requires that consequences be in the Code of Student Conduct (part of the handbook). Handbook also has some policies (e.g., medication), required notices, forms. The principals have worked through the 9-12 consequences (law also put some limits, with the purpose of reducing suspensions). K-8 principals not done. High school students will get handbook downloaded to laptop. Hard copy will be printed and distributed in September when K-8 is complete.

Stakeholder engagement – district has used a survey service (now called K12 Insight) since Ann Hart. This year, offers free consulting to customize surveys. Not used a lot in the past because not easy-to-use. Current cost ~$1/student. Next year, if we want consulting to develop surveys it would be ~$2/student. No limit on the number of surveys (but beware of survey fatigue if done too often). Planned district surveys for this year (with some school-specific questions):

* Vision – September – Students, Staff, Parents, Community
* Climate (satisfaction) – October - Students, Staff, Parents, Community
* Budget Priorities – November - Students, Staff, Parents, Community
* New Hire Mentoring – November and May – Staff
* Exit survey – as needed – Staff

Since 40% of students/families don’t have internet at home, looking at other ways to reach them. Use AlertNow to tell them about the survey and how/where they can access it. Looking at schools, libraries, perhaps kiosk at Walmart/grocery stores. Responses are anonymous – hosted at third party site. District only gets responses, not who responded. (Survey may ask what school, because there may be school-specific questions.) There are reminder emails to staff/known email addresses, but responses are not linked to email address (just whether responded or not, and won’t be given to district.) The state will also do a Teacher Working Conditions study this year (every other year).

Budget Amendment 2010/11 – move $50K from Instructional Services to Charters – have to figure final charter payment after all income is received. (routine)

Money for SAGE Teachers given by the commissioners in June. Since the commissioners gave the district $110K extra for two teachers at SAGE, but now it turns out there is a $246K surplus, Mr. O’Brien suggested that the $110K (which came from county fund balance) should be returned to commissioners. Deb McManus said she had a conversation with Brian Bock, and he agreed. Board voted to offer the $110K back to the commissioners. It appears that enrollment will be higher than the state estimate (currently at 7994, estimate was 7952), so we may be getting more in state funds – there does not seem to be a decline in enrollment because of Siler City plant closings. Numbers will continue to change. The district estimates new teachers’ cost at zero level (bachelors/no experience) until pay level is verified by state. (Note: I would expect that they budget at the level they expect a new teacher to be at – they
ask for degrees and experience in the hiring process, so that info would be more accurate than assuming level zero.)

Election districts. Lots of discussion. Mr. O’Brien favored using the commissioners maps. Mr. Hamm said the maps
don’t really matter since members represent everyone in the county (not just a district). Ms. McManus didn’t like that three board members are in a single district. Commissioners’ map splits Siler City but not Pittsboro – Siler City has three times the population of Pittsboro. They looked at number of schools in each election district. District 1 – 1 school, Districts 2, 3, and 4 – 3 schools each (assuming SAGE is in 4 – hard to tell from the map), District 5 – 7 schools (rural west). Decided to ask county to draw some alternatives as soon as possible. Priorities are:

* Equitable distribution of voters (required by law)
* Better distribution of schools (if possible)
* Board members in separate districts
* Along geographic features/keep communities together (preferred)
* Compact (as much as possible)

Mr. Logan made another statement about what happened with the budget. He will repeat it at the convocation for the staff on August 18. I tried to get it all.

Mr. Logan advised the board to ask the commissioners for additional funds on July 18. A lot has been said about that, some factual, some not, some political some not. He shared his explanation at the August 1 meeting, but there seem to be two questions floating around. 1. If the district had $1M+, why did they ask for more money. 2. Was the district
trying to finagle more money from the commissioners, or did they not know what they were doing. Some things were different this year - No planning allotment from the state, so planning numbers weren’t as firm. The district got the allotment June 29, and went to the commissioners July 18 – why didn’t we know there was money? The request was made on the best information they had at the time and the unknown variables. Some things had (have – not sure which he said) changed, like not permitted to furlough teacher assistants/clerical staff. He tried to be proactive and show leadership, so the district would be in a favorable position September 1. They were not trying to finagle more money, and they do know what they are doing. Ms. Little has a lot of experience and so does Mr. Logan. They understand the timelines. What changed? They got the allotment at a different time. What could they do differently?
Procedures in place. Could they/should they have waited to ask for more funds? Yes, they could have and should have waited till they knew more. It became political, and that was not the intention. Commissioners got heat for not funding the request for $706K. The board/district needs credibility with the commissioners. The commissioners were not wrong to ask for more information before funding the request. In the future, in a recession, they will wait until they have as much information as possible. The school board was also put in an unfavorable light. The two boards need to maintain a good relationship and confidence in each other.

Ms. McManus responded that all through the budget process, they were hearing doom and gloom about budget cuts, from the NC School Board Association, the media, and from DPI. It didn’t turn out to be as bad as everyone predicted, and many districts are in the same position of having more money than they anticipated. (Ms. McManus still has a hard time believing that there is more money than thought.) Mr. Logan said that when the discretionary cut was higher than anticipated, everyone was alarmed. Ms. McManus said she is glad the Mr. Logan is aggressive on the students’ behalf. Mr. Leonard said (on his own behalf, not speaking for the board) that the board should have met before going to the commissioners, and that is the board’s (Mr. Leonard’s fault) for not asking for that meeting to be scheduled.

2010-11 Budget Committee (approved at August 8 meeting). Mr. Hamm scheduled the first meeting for Friday, August 19 at 1pm at the Central Office. It is a public meeting. The purpose will be to plan schedule, set up future meetings, set parameters, and assign tasks. Mr. Logan was concerned about Ms. Little’s time on Friday – the district is preparing for a Race to the Top funds audit Thursday, and for the start of school. Meeting will be 1 hour – no deliverable to prepare for the meeting.

Standing Budget Committee (approved at August 8 meeting). Mr. Hamm wanted to reopen discussion of what is needed. At Master Board Training last March, they all agreed that they needed more education on the budget process, so they can be more involved. Board needs to understand its role before a committee does work. They discussed getting an outside trainer (like from the NC School Board Association) to give more education on budget process and school finance in general, followed by district specifics from Ms. Little. Mr. O’Brien suggested that they should have 2 board members on a committee to figure out what the board needs and how to proceed. They voted to table the 10-person committee from August 8 for now, and form a committee of two board members, Mr. Hamm and Mr. Leonard.

Mia Munn is a former educator who ran for the Chatham County school board in 2008.

 
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