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April 18, 2024

School Board split on superintendent search, staff cut ideas

By ANGELA FARR KING

The Alexander County Board of Education held a special called meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, at 6:00 p.m.

Board Chairman Rob Arguelles made a motion to approve the agenda for the meeting, which contained two items: A) to give a Budget Committee Update and options to ensure focused implementation and B) to review the Superintendent recruiting process options and timing.

Board member Brigette Rhyne made a motion to amend the agenda to remove item B pertaining to the superintendent timeline and she cited the following reasons for her amendment motion: “1) We, as a board, have not taken official action to accept Dr. Hefner’s resignation and 2) The board did not act as a board in asking for this recruiting process to start and for the options to be given to us.” Scott Bowman seconded the motion for the amendment. The amendment was not approved with Bowman and Rhyne voting in favor of it. When the vote was taken to accept the agenda in its original form, Rhyne was the only board member who voted against it, while the other six board members, including Vice Chairman Matthew Reese, Ramie Robinson, Anthony McLain, Scott Bowman, and Josh Dagenhart, voted in favor of approving the agenda.

Chairman Arguelles led the first agenda item pertaining to the budget committee update. The Budget Committee was appointed by Chairman Arguelles and consists of Budget Committee Chairman Josh Dagenhart, Board Chairman Rob Arguelles, and Board Vice Chairman Matthew Reese.

Arguelles shared a document with board members containing dollar amounts in different categories of personnel that will need to be cut to meet the 1.5 million projected shortfall in the budget for the coming school year. He said “the purpose of this meeting is to inform the board of the ideas (potential) to address the shortfall and to have an open discussion about a potential action plan.” He added, “there are a number of personnel that have been identified, not in terms of persons, but in terms of generalities and functional areas of the school system. We’ve been looking at teaching positions in the (reduction) amount of $453,000.”

Arguelles also stated that they have looked at positions in the following areas: communications staff, clerical, bookkeeping, data management, media, counseling, social work, and other classified staff in considering reductions in force. He said, “That’s the update we have here to provide to all you board members. Obviously, this will be published to the public because that’s part of our conversation.” He then opened the floor for discussion.

Board member Rhyne asked, “Has the budget committee reached out to our commissioners to set up any type of meeting to see if there is any help available?”

Arguelles replied in part, “We will let them see what Dr. Hefner is working on and how it is that we’re directing her to provide us feedback on the necessary reductions.” He added, “Right now, there’s nothing to talk about because nothing has been kicked off.”

Rhyne then said, “So the budget committee has reported this and we’re looking at 22 positions and we’re going to assume this without going through any other avenues? Am I clear?”

Arguelles answered, “What other avenues do you have? You should add them to this list then. If you have other ideas and you’ve been working with others, you should put them on this list and then we’ll make that part of the conversation in the upcoming board meeting.”

In an exchange between Rhyne and Arguelles, she said she did have other ideas, including the pending sale of the Old Wittenburg Property and a public discussion with County Commissioners.

When asked for further clarification as to whether or not this was the only plan option being presented, Arguelles responded by saying, “Right now this is the immediate plan coming from the Budget Committee. This is what we have seen as the plan that could deliver 1.5 million dollars in savings, which is what’s necessary.” He added that other ideas are to be coupled with this plan to address the continuing declining enrollment. He said plans could include additional reductions in headcount or school consolidations or other ideas that came out of the community meetings.
There was no action taken about the possible staff cuts. They were presented to the board members outside the Budget Committee and the community as information.

Arguelles then moved to the next agenda topic, which was to review the Superintendent recruiting process options and timing. Arguelles said that after Dr. Hefner announced her plans to retire effective July 1, “we” started a discussion with a number of service providers in a recruiting effort and we came up with four potential service providers, which are the North Carolina School Board Association, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, The Masonboro Group, and Campbell & Shatley Attorneys at Law, which is the legal firm that provides legal services for the school system. Arguelles shared that the cost of these recruiting service providers could range from $5,000-$30,000.

Board member Rhyne, who said she saw this information for the first time at the Feb. 7 meeting, said she was “concerned about spending $25,000-$30,000 on a search when we are experiencing critical financial problems. That’s a lot of money.”

Board member Ramie Robinson reminded everyone that no action was to be taken at that meeting. The purpose was to get the information out.

Arguelles told the board to read over the information from the four recruiting agencies and be prepared to vote for one at the Feb. 13 meeting.

(The Feb. 13 meeting article appears below.)

The Alexander County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner are shown above on Feb. 13, 2024.

A Board Divided: School leaders split on how to proceed

By ANGELA FARR KING

At their Feb. 13 meeting, in “Unfinished Business,” Alexander County Board of Education Chairman Rob Arguelles addressed the timeline for the search for a new superintendent for Alexander County Schools. He passed out voting forms for the four options for recruiting services that had been shared at the special called meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7. He said that board members were to fill these out and sign them as their vote for which recruiting firm to employ in the search for a superintendent after tonight’s discussion. In the Feb. 7 meeting, he had shared that the cost for these services would range from $5,000-$30,000, depending on which is selected. The recruiting firms listed on ballots were the North Carolina School Board Association, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, The Masonboro Group, and Campbell & Shatley Attorneys at Law, which is the legal firm that provides legal services for the school system.

Board member Brigette Rhyne again voiced her concern for spending a large amount of money on a Superintendent search when the next topic in the meeting will be to talk about a reduction in forces. Bowman said he had the same concern. He said that Chris Campbell, the ACS attorney, had mentioned some alternatives that would be less costly.
Rhyne said that Campbell also mentioned hiring an interim. He said he is willing to make recommendations of available candidates that the board could interview themselves. She said a qualified interim could run the school system for a set amount of time. She added, “We seem to be putting the gas on everything. We are jumping into things so quickly.” Board member Matthew Reese said to look at the cost of a recruiting firm as a “potential investment” in the community.

Board member Ramie Robinson asked what had been done in the past when searching for a superintendent. Rhyne said the Board of Education advertised for the position and conducted interviews themselves.

Board member Dagenhart said, “We don’t have the manpower or the time to do this ourselves. We need to farm this out. We don’t have the knowledge or the contacts that they have.” Arguelles said they are trying to reduce risk and broaden the pool of talent by using a recruiting firm.

After much discussion, the board was asked to vote on one of the four recruiting services on the ballot and the results were as follows: Bowman-Campbell & Shatley, McLain-Campbell & Shatley, Reese-Masonboro, Robinson-Masonboro, Dagenhart-Masonboro, Arguelles-Masonboro, Rhyne-Look for an interim solution. In the final decision, Masonboro was selected as the recruiting service to move forward with.

Josh Dagenhart made a motion for Matthew Reese to be the Manager for the Superintendent Search Project and called for a vote. Rhyne interjected that there should be a committee instead of one person. After nominations, the Superintendent Search Committee will consist of Vice Chairman Matthew Reese and board members Brigette Rhyne and Ramie Robinson.

Chairman Arguelles then moved on to what he called the “Reduction in Force Plan” to combat the 1.5 million dollar expected budget shortfall. Chairman Arguelles turned the lead of the meeting over to Josh Dagenhart, the Chairman of the Budget Committee.

Dagenhart said there would be three things happening at this meeting. He said “Dr. Hefner will outline her plan because this is her plan.” He said “My colleagues here will have an opportunity to speak their opinion because it’s important that everybody speak, and there will be a motion to kick-off her plan.”

Dr. Hefner shared her plan, which listed positions and their money amounts to potentially cut. She added the reasoning behind the suggested position cuts. The list included: six teachers at Alexander Central High School totaling $453,437, one part time community support position totaling $25,000, seven clerical positions totaling $383,717, two itinerant support teachers totaling $133,247, one counselor totaling $88,068, one social worker totaling $63,584, three central office staff members (two certified, one classified), totaling $286,870, one locally funded position in Career and Technical Education totaling $45,044. This is a total of 22 positions totaling $1,478,967.

In a lengthy and somewhat confusing discussion among board members about whether this is an actual plan or a suggested strategy, Scott Bowman and Brigette Rhyne both brought up the need to slow down. Bowman thought that the board should wait and see who retires or leaves the system. He said we should focus on getting new leadership in place first, before turning 22 lives upside down. He said the sale of the Old Wittenburg property will also be a help in funding the budget.

Rhyne brought up the fact that letters of intent for next year have already been sent out. Administrators don’t have to be notified about their job placements for next year until May 1. Teachers don’t have to be notified until June 1. Her suggestion was to table the discussion of a reduction in forces until the April meeting so that there would be time to talk to commissioners, to review retirements and resignations of personnel, and to finalize the sale of the Old Wittenburg property. Some board members seemed to be on board with holding a work session to discuss all of these options.

Arguelles pushed to move quickly to protect the finances of the school system, while Rhyne and Bowman said they wanted to do everything possible to keep people working for another year.
When the votes were cast to allow Dr. Hefner to move forward with putting names with the numbers, Bowman and Rhyne voted against it, while the other board members voted for it. To view the actual discussion and vote, visit ACS Board of Education Meeting February 13, 2024 (youtube.com) and view the last hour of the meeting.

 

Teachers honored by Alexander Board of Education Feb. 13 for National Board Certification and Renewal

By ANGELA FARR KING

The regularly scheduled monthly Board of Education Meeting was held on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. Students Kennedy Hall and Paisley Winters from Ellendale Elementary School led the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner then recognized teachers who had recently achieved National Board Certified Teaching (NBCT) status or who had renewed their board certification. According to nbpts.org, “National Board Certification is the most respected professional certification available in education and provides numerous benefits to teachers, students and schools. It was designed to develop, retain and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide.” It is a rigorous and lengthy process.

There were two teachers who achieved their NBCT status for the first time: Dixie Caskaddon from East Alexander Middle School and Donald Robinette from West Alexander Middle School. There were 11 teachers who achieved their renewal status. They included Joshua Bowled from ACHS, Scottie Cook from ACHS, Kimberly Burgess Curry from Sugar Loaf Elem., Natasha Haas from ACHS, Heidi Hefner from WAMS, Michael Mays from WAMS, Tyler Mitchell from ACHS, Sonya Teague from Bethlehem Elementary School, Adam Walker from ACHS, Jennifer Weddington from ACHS, and Christina Williams from Bethlehem Elementary School.

Dr. Hefner then recognized Danielle Ortiz from Bethlehem Elementary School for being the recipient of a KI Furniture Grant in the amount of $42,000 to upgrade her classroom. Mara Hollar from Ellendale Elementary School was then recognized for being the first recipient of the ACAT Grant, which provides financial support for Aspiring Teachers. Hollar has been working full time while pursuing her teaching degree at Gardner-Webb University.

Principal Katie Nash gave an update from Ellendale Elementary School. Nash shared the school motto that students say every day, which is “Today is my day to love myself, my school, and my community. I believe in myself and I will do my best today.” She shared school improvement goals for academics, attendance, and family and community engagement. She was happy to report that Ellendale has seen an increase in family engagement from 30% to 66%. She also thanked the school’s community partners.

Amy Johnson, the Coordinator for the Student Success Center, then gave an update on that school’s progress. She said their numbers fluctuate, but they currently average 20 students daily. The SSC goals this year are to reduce out of school suspension days and to enhance academic achievement and student engagement. She said they currently have two or more students attending elective courses at the high school and they had three December graduations.

Dr. Betsy Curry, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, shared Mid-Year iReady Assessment Data. She shared that the state of North Carolina requires every school system to have a Multi Tiered System of Support (MTSS). MTSS is a “school improvement framework that encompasses academic, behavioral, social, and emotional instruction.” The purpose of MTSS plans are to “promote educational equity and improve district, school, and student outcomes.”

In order to track progress, Alexander County Schools uses an online reading and math program called iReady. Curry explained that it “helps teachers determine students’ needs, personalize their learning, and monitor their progress throughout the school year.”

In a detailed overview of the midyear data, Curry was pleased to announce that Alexander County Schools are often ahead of state and national averages of proficiency. She said there have been great gains since the Covid Pandemic and she believes that students have mostly recovered their academic losses from so much lost instructional time, although they are still recovering emotionally. When reading the detailed graphs in her report, Curry noted that there is a lot of green, which indicates that those students are at or above grade level. She also noted that the smaller red areas indicate students that are below grade level. She is happy to see students trending toward green and much less red in the data.

Superintendent Hefner then read the guidelines for the Award of Honor candidates for Alexander County Schools. She shared that “The Alexander County Board of Education has established the Award of Honor in order to recognize those individuals who have made exceptional contributions to Alexander County Schools. This award represents the highest honor that the Board of Education can bestow. Criteria for the selection of this award shall be based on exceptional contributions to the Alexander County School System or any of its individual schools in the areas of academics, athletics, administration, student achievement, or community service to the schools. The contributions may include recognition on a regional, statewide, or national level as well as local notoriety and shall have allowed our children the chance not only to grow and meet their full potential, but to excel as well.” Forms to nominate personnel for the Award of Honor can be obtained from the Board of Education Office.

In her Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Hefner shared that the ACS Nutrition Program has received an Innovative Breakfast Grant in the amount of $33,649 for equipment to help with the distribution of breakfast to increase participation in the School Nutrition Program. Kathy Caudle’s nutrition team also applied to become a host for the NC K-12 Culinary Institute this summer and they were selected. There will be chefs on site training managers and child nutrition staff in efficient culinary techniques.

Dr. Hefner shared that February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. The CTE Program has recently received two grants. One is a Tobacco Trust Fund Grant for $17,875 that will fund a storage facility for the Agricultural Program. The other is from the Education and Workforce Innovation Commission in the amount of $60,000 that will be used for equipment, props, and training grounds for the Fire Rescue Academy.

Dr. Hefner was excited to share that the CTE Program was highlighted for their Mobile Career Lab in the NCASA Superintendent’s Update, which goes out to all of the superintendents in the state.
The CTE Mobile Lab visits elementary and middle schools, offering hands-on experiences aligned with career pathways.

Hefner then shared an update on the construction progress at Sugar Loaf Elementary. There have been some rain delays, but progress has still been steady and they still plan to finish according to the original timeline. She was also happy to report a high number of responses to the Family Academy surveys who were sent to parents and staff.

In a Facilities Committee Report, Board member Scott Bowman shared that there has been an offer on the Old Wittenburg School property in the amount of $600,000. The potential buyer is Parallax Development Group, LLC. They are placing a $30,000 deposit on the property and have asked for 105 days to perform normal due diligence inspections. There will also be a 30 day closing period. The board voted unanimously to proceed with the contract to sell.

 

 

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