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Notes from the June 6 Chatham County school board meeting

By Mia Munn
Posted Thursday, June 9, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - The meeting started late because of a long closed session agenda. The board indicated they would need to return to closed session after the open session agenda. They did not vote on the personnel agenda, because that had not yet been discussed.

One person, Brian Lockwood, made public comments. He called on the board to change the regulations on public comment to make them more open, not less open because there has not been a problem with too many people making comments. In the past 30 months, the board had 48 regular meetings or work sessions. 17 of those had no comments and 26 had four or fewer speakers. Before this year’s redistricting/budget issues, only two people had made comments more than once a quarter, and they were always on different topics.

Mr. Logan recognized the teacher of the year and teacher assistant of the year. He also recognized the Young Authors winners.

There was an extensive discussion on the Public Comment Regulation. Mr. Hamm appreciated the info Mr. Lockwood provided. I don’t have the exact changes, but there is no longer a limit on how often someone can speak, and they did not add a restriction on ceding time to a different speaker. They changed the language on asking for a copy of comments to make clear it is to help with the meeting minutes. They also asked for different language on the board responding to comments at the same meeting. (I think what they want is that board members can ask questions or make comments, but the board will not act on the issue at the same meeting comments are made unless the topic is on the agenda already.)

Board priorities. I missed part of this discussion. One concern was around Goal 2 Objective 3 on administrators. It doesn’t specify parent/community input, and that will be added. The district currently has a survey tool that is not used much, but for next year, the company will develop survey questions at no charge, so it will be easier to use to get parent input. There will be some standard questions at all schools, but also some questions specific to a school or grade span.

The board gave final approval to the change in the graduation requirement policy, removing the graduation project.

The board approved on first reading (final approval June 20) the policy on leave. There was more discussion on the regulation about leave, and language will be added to clarify that principals should try to cover absences of less than ½ day without a sub, and if they do, the employee leave will only be for the time actually away from school (1-hour increments).

The board approved on first reading (final approval June 20) the policy on certified staff working from home on optional snow days.

The board approved the food bids.

On the election districts, the board voted to ask Mr. Logan and Ms. McManus to work with Joe Hackney to try to get Chatham added to HB536, a local bill to allow the Lincoln County school board to set their own districts (not specifying a number, or if a number is required, as Mr. Logan and the board attorney believe, specifying 5 districts). It's too late to submit our own bill, so if it gets added and approved, the board would decide on lines for 5 districts this year (for next year's election) - either using the commissioners’ maps or drawing their own. If it isn’t approved, then the 2012 districts would be the same as now.

The board realized that Ms. McManus, Mr. Leonard, and Ms. Turner are all in the same district under the BOC maps. They will talk more about the maps at the June 20 meeting.

The board will take time for public comment before they adopt election districts. In the past, the board has said that they want the districts to be the same as the commissioners. Bruce Ladd asked and was given permission to comment by the board chair. He said is a highly political process. He made three points. The chair and superintendent should talk to Joe Hackney, but they should not overlook the Republican majority. They should talk to a local demographer before drawing the lines. In addition, acting in haste with urgency may lead them to decisions they don’t want – what is the timetable for making the decision?

Mr. Logan gave a budget update. He referred to both the House and Senate budgets. (I believe there is only one budget at this point, the Senate-based one approved by both houses.) The budget is on the governor’s desk, and she needs to decide if she will veto or approve it. The House majority is veto-proof, and the Senate majority believes they have five Democrat votes to override a veto. Ms. Turner said they do. They have the state allocation estimates based on the ADM (enrollment) estimate for next year. There is about $706K less than what we used in developing the local budget. Ms. Little had received the breakdown by category just before the meeting, so she will send that info to the board this week. (I’ve asked for a copy of that, and will post the info when I get it.) Mr. Logan was concerned about several special provisions in the budget.

SECTION 7.29 INCREASE NUMBER OF INSTRUCTIONAL DAYS - 185 instructional days and 1,025 hours, effective 2011-12. This removes the protection from 5 workdays and makes them instructional days. Districts can petition the state school board to return those days to workdays for staff development. The five additional school days, coupled with increased fuel costs, could leave the transportation budget $152K short.

SECTION 7.23 PERFORMANCE-BASED REDUCTIONS IN FORCE - requires specific policy language, and deletes the provision that career-status employees who are RIFed be given priority for subsequent openings.

SECTION 7.1B CLASS SIZE REDUCTION FOR GRADES 1-3 CLASS SIZE REDUCTION FOR GRADES 1-3 – changes allocation from 1:18 to 1:17. Note per Mr. Logan – the allocation funds all teachers (including specials), so actual class sizes will likely not be reduced.

SECTION 7.21 LEA BUDGETARY FLEXIBILITY – districts have the flexibility to move allocated funds from one use to another except for transferring funds to central office administration, and teacher funds can only be moved to teacher assistants, and teacher assistants funds can only be moved to teachers.

SECTION 7.13 ELIMINATION OF REPORTING REQUIREMENTS – a number of reports will no longer be required, but Mr. Logan said they are important so CCS will likely continue them: School Improvement Plans, Safe School plans, Technology plans.

There was a little discussion about the calendar – with an increase to 185 days, if the legislature does not change the mandated start and end dates, districts will have difficulty scheduling snow days. They did hear from some people about using Memorial Day. Absenteeism was about 28%. The high schools and Siler City schools had attendance close to normal.

Mr. Logan appreciated the commissioners restoring the funds for two teachers at SAGE. The enrollment at SAGE will increase next year, so more students will be served. He will ask the county manager for clarification about what the commissioners agreed to do about the state cuts.

The board approved the uses for yellow school buses next year.

Ms. McManus had added an agenda item about the School Board Association survey. The board will answer the survey together at the June 20 board meeting.

Mr. Logan started to give info about the Teacher Assistant salary reduction survey, but since that was not on the agenda, he will just send it to the board instead.

There was a motion to go back into closed session. Mr. Ladd asked the reason. Ms. McManus said to finish the closed session agenda. Mr. Ladd asked the board attorney to specify the reason, and Mr. Soo said to finish the agenda. Mr. Ladd wanted the particular reasons, and Ms. McManus read the five closed session agenda items. (Note: before going into closed session, the board meets in open session, and then someone makes a motion, including the specific reason allowed by law for the closed session. I don’t know if it is required when they reconvene a closed session, though it certainly was no problem for them to give the reasons.) The board went back into closed session about 10:15. I didn’t stick around for them to return to the open session, but at some point they did, and approved the personnel agenda.

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

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