By TOSHA BROWN
[Editor’s Note: This article was updated Jan. 17, 2020, to include more detailed quotes from the Public Comment portion of the meeting.]
The Alexander County Board of Education met on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, at the Central Office. Much discussion was had regarding the per diem pay raise the school board requested from the County Commissioners. Member Caryn Brzykcy was under the weather and was not present at the meeting.
In late 2019, the Alexander County Board of Education made a request of the Alexander County Commissioners to approve a pay raise from $120 monthly (presently) to $600 monthly per member. According to G.S. 115C, the tax levying authority for a local school administrative unit may, under the procedures of G.S. 153A-92, fix the compensation and expense allowances paid members of the board of education of that local school administrative unit. At the January 6, 2020, meeting of the County Commissioners, that board unanimously approved a motion to grant authority to the Board of Education members to set their own salaries.
Board Chair Brigette Rhyne presented the decision of the County Commissioners to the board along with an option to use an alternative fund for the increase, if approved. Rhyne had been working with Finance Director Sharon Mehaffey and noted the salaries are now paid through Fund II but can be moved to Fund VIII, which is strictly discretionary revenues, such as auditorium and bus revenues along with some sales tax revenues. This fund is not made up of county allocation funds. Rhyne presented this to the board for discussion.
Board Member David Odom spoke about G.S. 115C and how most other boards set their own salary and have been for many years, including the Alexander County Board of Commissioners. Odom went on to note, “The only new precidence we are setting tonight is to set our own base per diem like others have been for many years. In the past election cycles, most of these seats have been uncontested, meaning very few seek this position. At the end of the day, it can certainly be viewed by the public as self-gratifying when we adjust our own salaries, but if that is the measure we are going to be held to, is it self-gratifying when 100 other boards representing counties in NC set their own salary? No matter what this board considers, we will not please everyone.”
Board Member Cindy Sellers discussed issues that teachers face today, with cuts in every area and how the profession is hurting due to those not pursuing a teaching career or those leaving the profession due to cuts. Sellers went on to say, “Tonight, I do not feel like I am going to be able to vote at this time. It is just timing. These folks on this board deserve this, but at this time, because of the teachers, I am not going to vote yes.”
Board Vice Chairman Harry Schrum stated, “It has been sixteen years since this has been addressed. If there had been an incremental increase over the years, this would have been easier to swallow. We know what happens to us when it snowballs and it’s never easy but it has been turned back to our hands and it is going to be addressed. I also want to make it clear, Fund VIII is not a teacher pay fund. I don’t want to give the illusion that if we vote for the increase it will take away from our teachers because it will not.”
Odom made the motion to the board to increase the base monthly per diem base rate for all board members to $650 per month, per member. Special called meetings, all day conferences or training of $40 and $20 per committee meeting or off site programming or events within Alexander County. Additionally board members shall submit for mileage, travel, or subsistence as stated in NCGS 115C-38, to be funded within the current appropriate fund and included within subsequent future budget requests. Further, any future per diem adjustments to Alexander County Board of Eduation base per diem shall be adjusted only at such times as NCGA provides pay increases based as a percentage for Certified or Non-Certified Alexander County School Employees. In the event that the NCGA provides lump sum one-time payments or bonuses to those employees, the Board of Education shall not receive any part or portion of any lump sum one-time payment or bonus. This action is valid for all Board of Education per diem submissions remitted after the time of the official adoption and remain in effect until amended by subsequent future elected boards.
School board members voted five to one, with Cindy Sellers voting nay, in favor of the above motion. Funding options for board members’ compensation are Fund II and Fund VIII, neither of which are funding sources for teachers. To see the presentation, tune in at 1:04:30 (hr:min:sec) on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8PbheoAcOY.
Retired school social worker Kathy Jones addressed the Alexander County Board of Education on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, at the monthly board meeting, during the Public Comment portion, regarding a policy which she feels is being unequally applied.
Jones noted that the purpose of Board Policy #7540 – Voluntary Shared Leave is to “enable employees to donate earned leave to a fellow employee who has exhausted all earned leave, continues to be absent due to serious medical conditions, and is likely to suffer financial hardship.”
Also, Jones stated that the policy only has two eligibility requirements: the applicant must be a full-time employee and the Superintendent must approve the application.
“Pregnant staff going out on maternity leave meet all these criteria, but the administration has added an additional eligibility requirement. This policy addition says, and I quote, ‘The administration of Alexander County Schools made a decision many years ago that the regular birth or C-section delivery of a child would not meet the criteria to allow for the donation of leave.’
This is a big deal for those pregnant staff who don’t have 35 to 55 days of accumulated leave to cover pregnancy. They end up taking unpaid leave, which causes them financial and emotional harm,” Jones said.
“This is particularly egregious, since voluntary shared leave may have covered those unpaid days. I contend they have a civil right to that benefit. Your own anti-discrimination policy expressly prohibits discrimination based solely on pregnancy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the North Carolina Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual further state that discrimination based on pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. And if an employer provides any benefits to any workers on medical leave, they must provide the same benefits for those on pregnancy-related leave,” Jones added.
“Policy 7505 says this board shall comply with all benefits and employment policies as stated in the North Carolina Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual. Therefore, this administrative policy is illegal and cannot stand. What it says is no different than if it denies this benefit to all employees over the age of 50, or all African-American staff. Would you approve those policies? Would you wait and only act if an employee filed a grievance? Is that how we handle illegal policies in Alexander County?” Jones stated.
[After reviewing the Board Policy #7540 on the school system website (which may be viewed in PDF form by clicking here Policy-7540), Times’ staff could find no mention of a mention of pregnant staff being ineligible to receive shared leave.]
Board Chairman Brigette Rhyne noted the board would look into the policy.
Honors and Recognitions
School board members were recognized during the board of education meeting for School Board Appreciation Month. Schools and district administration presented cards, gifts, and goodies to the board members as a thank you for their service to Alexander County Schools.
“I have the pleasure of working closely with the school board members as decisions are made that make our individual schools and entire system better,” stated Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner. “Our school board is one of the 115 such boards across the state. With the advice and counsel of the educational professionals they hire, our school board has an impact on virtually every aspect of our schools. This is a huge responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly. Our Board of Education represents every student, every staff member, and every community within Alexander County. They take this responsibility seriously by attending meetings and conferences where they broaden their knowledge about education.”
Tiffany Stine, school bookkeeper at Alexander Central High School, was recognized for completion of the North Carolina Association of School Business Officials’ (NCASBO) School Treasurer’s Academy. The academy is a continuation of the NCASBO Business Management Academy and includes sessions such as School Finance Law, Internal Controls, General Accounting Concepts, and many more topics important to school bookkeeping.
It is an accomplishment to successfully complete this training and shows Stine’s dedication to her profession.
Hiddenite Elem. Update
Hiddenite Elementary School Principal Charles Draper began the presentation by sharing the celebrations the school has been able to experience this school year. Hiddenite was indicated as a Low Performing school at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, but beginning the 2019-2020 school year, they no longer classified as Low Performing. The school met overall growth at 84.7 percent, met growth in reading, and exceeded growth in Math.
Mr. Draper and the school leadership team began the school year identifying the big rocks, or goals, for the 2019-2020 school year as to be intentional, explicit, and to build relationships. School staff has focused on being intentional with everything that they do. They strive to be explicit in how they teach the curriculum and standards. At the core of it all, the focus is to build relationships with students.
Head Start Five-Year Refunding Application
Head Start Director Macy Jones presented the five-year refunding application plan and budget to the board for suggestions and input before submission to the regional office in Atlanta March 31, 2020.
The five-year plan was developed based on employee survey questions and policy council member input. Ms. Jones requested any suggestions or questions to be presented before the February meeting to allow time to update the plan for its approval in February. Once the school board approves the plan and budget, it will be submitted to the regional office.
ACS Transportation Department Update
Transportation Director John McCurdy presented cost estimations and savings to the board along with a recap of the bus consolidation and plans for the department. Highlights of the presentation included fuel savings of 110 gallons per day for the 2019-2020 school year, based on the savings from August through December. This figure does not include labor cost savings. Additional savings include cost of tires, parts, driver salaries, cameras, and Synovia.
In August, school started back with a consolidated bus plan. The plan has been updated based on needs and requests from the schools. In the beginning, all buses were parked at the middle schools. The change was made to park some buses at the elementary schools during the day. The transportation department will continue to work with the schools to fine-tune the process.
Bus monitors were used in the afternoons at the beginning of the year as drivers and students acclimated to the new routes and consolidation. Monitors will be used on buses as needed going forward. Cameras are on all regular route buses. Extended stop arms are on 10 buses. The stop arms were paid for by the NC Department of Instruction. Mr. McCurdy reported the overall operations are more efficient with less buses to maintain.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner announced upcoming meeting dates. A school board work session is scheduled Thursday, Jan. 16, to discuss the Sugar Loaf facility needs. The budget committee will meet Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Taylorsville School visit will be held Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. A facilities presentation to the board of commissioners is scheduled Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.
Dr. Hefner shared a document outlining facility needs and projected costs based on estimates obtained by School Maintenance Director Chris Campbell.
Dr. Hefner also reminded board members that students and staff will be on holiday Monday, Jan. 20, and Tuesday, Jan. 21, is an optional workday for staff.
The North Carolina School Boards Association has webinars available for school administrators and board members to view during January through April. One webinar will be available each month on a set date for viewing.
National Board recipients and those renewing will be recognized at the February board meeting. A reception will be held prior to the meeting.
The school board members reviewed two policies presented by Finance Director Sharon Mehaffey for a second reading. Four policies were approved at the meeting. One new policy was presented for a first reading. All Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at www.alexander.k12.nc.us or the Alexander County Board of Education Office on Liledoun Road, Taylorsville, North Carolina.
The next regular meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, at the Central Office.