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Notes from the September 13 Chatham County school board meeting

By Mia Munn
Posted Monday, September 26, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Here are my notes from the school board meeting held on September 13, 2011.

There were several members of the Bullying Task Force in attendance, in addition to three community members and at least 5 other parents (and a boy scout working on a citizenship merit badge). Del Turner attended the first part of the meeting on the phone.

Two parents made *public comment* about scheduling at Bennett. Gina Jones is a TA at Bennett and has 4 kids at the school. There was chaos during the first few days of school. 18 hours before school started,
teachers were reassigned. Three of her kids have had their teachers/class configurations changed 3 times this year. They have missed 2.5 days of instruction because of the changes. The day before school started, a waiver to have 28 kindergarten students in one class was denied. The 5th grade was going to be a combination 4/5, but now the 19 5th graders are in a separate class, but they don’t have a teacher - several teachers share responsibility (a 4th grade teacher, 2 middle school teachers, and the media specialist teach the core classes, and others like the school counselor fill in when there is not a teacher assigned to them.) The students are confused and don’t know what teacher to turn to. Budgets are tight, but the kids are being sacrificed. On the first day of school, 2 members of senior staff from the Central Office were at the school and waved at people, but didn’t seem to know what was going on. Why did the changes happen so late? Why didn’t they plan better? She asked the school board to come visit the school. Beth Culberson is a parent at Bennett. At 5pm on the evening of Open House, the 2nd grade teacher was told she would have a ½-combination class. The next day it was back to a 2nd grade class, but by the time school started, she had a 2/3 combination class. She had no time to prepare. This happened at several schools. The schools knew the numbers of students before school started. Mr. Logan asked the parents to stay until the agenda item on school numbers.

The*consent agenda *(personnel agenda, minutes from Aug 8 and Aug 15) was passed.

The *Bullying Task Force* made a presentation. Over 100 people, including parents, teachers, administrators, and students, from all 17 schools attended a series of meetings April – June. Erica Perlow, Cindy Lodestro did most of the presentation, with some comments by George Gregor-Holt and Cole Wicker (a CCHS student). I have not read all of the materials they posted, but I will, and I recommend that others read them as well. They have a number of recommendations for actions in the schools, as well as policy/regulation changes. The task force will meet again this month to prioritize the recommendations and return to the Oct 3 board meeting. The principals will also meet to discuss the recommendations (and what is already being done) before the Oct 3 meeting. They anticipate that the group will continue to exist as a
resource for the district on bullying, to provide research and problem solving, and perhaps to provide a speakers’ bureau for the district. The students on the task force felt that it was a positive experience, and
the adults felt the students gave an important perspective. Mr. O’Brien asked about the bullying survey results (one of the documents is a summary of the results), asking if there were differences in the schools. George Gregor-Holt said they didn’t typically release school-level data to the public (principals get it) because they didn’t want people to brand schools as “good” or “bad”. One committee member said there were differences between schools – some schools had to recruit task force members because there is not much of a bullying problem. Different schools use different programs/approaches. The bullying survey is typically done every other year (odd years) with a drug and alcohol survey in the other (even) years. There may be additional school surveys as part of PBIS (behavior management program). Mr. Hamm raised a concern about longitudinal records for students moving to other schools.

*K-8 consequences *for rule violations have been discussed by the principals. There are 15 rules for K-5 with age-appropriate consequences. Grades 6-8 use the same rules as high school (approved previously) with some different consequences. For example, for cheating in high school, students get a zero on the assignment (in addition to punishment), but in middle school they are given the opportunity to make up the assignment (or an alternate). The intention is that the code of conduct is a corrective force, not just a punitive one, to alter future behavior. The board approved the K-8 consequences. The student handbook (including all grades) will be sent to the printer, and should be distributed by the beginning of October. Mr. Hamm raised the issue of gambling consequences, when Booster Clubs do 50/50 raffles (which is a form of gambling). Mr. Soo, the board attorney, noted that it is illegal for a group to hold more than 2 raffles a year (something that has been discussed at board meetings in previous years). Ms. Little will get information from Mr. Soo to be included in a newsletter for principals. (And I think someone will notify Athletic Directors about the law concerning raffles.)

The *Superintendant evaluation *for 2010-11 needs to be started soon. The board still needs training on the new evaluation instrument, and Mr. Logan will try to schedule that so it can be used for 2011-12. The board will decide on the format of the 2010-11 evaluation at the Sep 19 meeting, since they did not have enough time to review the materials before this meeting. Mr. O’Brien asked if there was online training available, and Mr. Logan said that the NC School Board Association only has live training. Mr. Hamm prefers the NCSBA training.

*10-day membership and redistricting* Mr. Logan discussed several documents. Day 10 membership was 8031, 28 students fewer than the district’s projection and 79 student higher than the state’s projection. State funding is based on the state projections. Our enrollment is not high enough to request additional funding. The schools were staffed based on the district projections. Perry Harrison has 27 more students and Pittsboro 23 fewer students than projected. A kindergarten teacher at PES has resigned (husband transferred). The 5 K classes were reconfigured into 4. Perry Harrison will be hiring an additional teacher (I think 2nd grade, which will lead to reconfiguring the 2nd and 3rd grade classes, since there is currently a 2/3 combination). Bennett has 14 students fewer than the projection and Virginia Cross 16 more, but those aren’t big enough changes to move a teacher. (In the past, teachers weren’t moved after school started because there was enough local funding to cover additional staffing.) All of the other K-8 schools had single digit differences from the projects. At the high school level, Chatham Central has 16 fewer students than projected, while Northwood has 15 more and J-M 10 more. None of those is significant. In total, 144 students transferred to different schools within the district (moves), 290 moved from other districts in NC, and 112 from out of state.

Only K-3 classes have class size limits now. A single class in those grades can’t exceed 24 students (without a waiver from the state), and the district average (I think by grade) has to be no more than 21 students per class in those grades. Funding is allocated at 1 to 17 students, but that funding also pays for “specials” (art, music, PE). In the past, the state had a limit of 1:29 in grades 4-12. (There are only 2 classes in grades K-8, both the only class in the grade at the school, that are more than 29 – 7th grade at Bennett has 33 and 4th grade at Moncure has 30.) Just before school started, the administration realized that Moncure, Bennett, and JS Waters had classes in K-3 that were too big (based on the limits). That caused the reshuffling of classes for all grades at those schools. The principals had the projection in June, and the numbers are not that different. Mr. Logan does not know why there was an issue. Mr. O’Brien commented that he was not hearing any explanation of what would be done differently next year. Mr. Logan said they could ask the principals to submit their staffing plans before school starts, but all of the principals are fine, capable
administrators. There are many things central administration could ask to approve – at what point do they ask the principals to get approval instead of making their own decisions? Mr. Hamm said the staffing at the 3 schools had been mishandled. How are we going to fix it in the future? In the past, when he was a principal, they had to submit the staffing plan 3 times a week over the summer, especially if they were on the bubble of losing or gaining a teacher. The enrollment should have been looked at daily over the summer. There was a breakdown in communications – the administration should have provided more oversight. The principals should have raised the issue when classes exceeded the limits (or before). It boggles his mind that this happened the night before school started. It’s like dropping the ball in the end zone on the last play of the game. Mr. Logan said he did not totally agree with Mr. Hamm’s statements.

This year there are fewer multi-age (combination) classes. Moncure in the past had combination classes by choice. (There was no discussion about why Moncure changed that, even though combination classes at Moncure were eliminated at the last minute. My question to anyone that might know – was that a decision by the teachers, or by the principal? My understanding is that the teachers at Moncure choose to go to a multi-age model a couple of years ago, and have had professional development focused on that.)

The district also has 61 more ESL students than last year, 31 at Siler City Elementary, and the rest throughout the district.

One of the documents included (see the links) was the last ORED projections. They will be updated after the actual Day 20 numbers for this year are available. At that time, the district/board will verify proposed changes to move students from North Chatham to Perry Harrison, and propose changes to move students from Siler City Elementary to Virginia Cross Elementary. NCS and SCE are almost at capacity, while PHS and VCE are significantly under capacity. There was no discussion of other district line changes (which would take effect in 2012-13). The NCS/PH areas are Fearrington and a small area east of 15-501 near the Orange Co line (a bit of Lystra, Legend Oaks, Old Lystra). There may also be a small change from Pittsboro Elementary to PHS – a few students near the Alamance Co line near Chicken Bridge. There is no discussion of moving 5th grade from Horton to PES, or changing JSW or Moncure attendance lines. After the ORED confirmation, the administration will contact the people in the affected areas for informational meetings. Then the changes will be brought to the board for a vote. ORED will also update its projection for where the next elementary school will be needed (currently they project 15-501 near Fearrington.)

*Moore Property donation*. Mr. Moore (Moore Machine and Tool) wants to donate 5 acres adjacent to the JM student parking lot to the district. It includes a building that could potentially be used for CTE programs (he is also willing donate machines for training.) JM is landlocked and cannot expand. The donation could also provide soccer practice field space. The price is zero – he just wants the tax value as a donation in this year. The board agreed to ask him for a level 3 environmental assessment (which he will pay for) in order to ensure that it won’t be a superfund site or cost the district to clean up. After that is complete, it will come to the board for a decision whether to accept the donation. (There would be some renovation cost, including probably removing a metal building, but Mr. Moore will clean up the facility before the donation.) The property is currently zoned industrial, but discussions with Siler City indicate there should not be any difficulty in getting the zoning changed to a school.

*Strowd Property* – land-banked by county. The Recreation department has indicated that they don’t think this property (near Chicken Bridge) is appropriate for a park. They asked if the school system was interested in the land for a school. Mr. Drumheller walked the site. It does not appear to be a good site for a school, primarily because of the location. This will be on the consent agenda next week (to agree to tell the county the district is not interested in the land.)

*S Second Av property*. This is a 51 acres site located near Bray Park. Harvey Harman has offered it to the district for $325K. It includes Siler City greenway access, and is centrally located in Siler City. The land is wooded, gently sloping with a large flat area. The owner wants it to be used for the community but cannot develop it at this time. Unfortunately, it is not a good site for a school (since there are already 5 schools in Siler City). Mr. Hamm raised the possibility, which other districts have done, of developing the land with the State Employees’ Credit Union for teacher housing, but there is not money in the budget for that now.

*Early Release days*. Since the legislature eliminated protected work days, the principals asked for flexibility to use early release days (which had been specified for staff development) for parent/teacher conferences or administrative work (grading, end of semester planning, etc). The board approved the request.

*School board election districts*. Mr. Moody spent several hours working with the county GIS department to come up with a map that met the board’s criteria. Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Hamm both had concerns about gerrymandering. (There is an odd split in Siler City that looks like a boot.) The most important factor is keeping the district roughly equal in population (the proposal was within 2%). Board members will give Mr. Moody suggestions on how to tweak the map. Ms. McManus and Mr. Leonard were ok if they had to end up in the same district. They will bring another map back at a subsequent meeting.

*Returning money to the county*. At the last meeting, the board voted to offer the $110K, which the commissioners added to the budget in June, back to the commissioners since it turns out (in July) that the district received more state funding than anticipated. The commissioners kept $25K of the offered funds, which is being used to extend the hours at the Pittsboro library. They did request an explanation of how the remaining $85k will be used. There was some discussion about whether the commissioners will ask for more funds back. (Pam Stewart had suggested at the Sept 6 commissioners meeting requesting and additional $25k back to use for 4H, but none of the other commissioners agreed.) The board said the response should go to all of the commissioners (not just the chair) thanking them for letting the district keep the $85K, and explaining that it will be used for the original purpose, funding 2 additional teachers at SAGE, with the remaining $25K coming from the district’s fund balance. (The fund balance is low, but was increased some by the additional state funding.)

The meeting adjourned at 10:50 pm.

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

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Notes from the September 13 Chatham County school board meeting
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