“People can say that the instructional time is the same as the instructional days, but in my opinion, it is not,” Superintendent John Harper said during the board’s regular business session. “Also, there is a new evaluation instrument that is being given to us inside the state of Georgia and that evaluation instrument says that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is going to depend on student growth with regard to how they score on the [Criterion Referenced Competency Tests] as well as student learning objectives, and I think our teachers need as much support as we can provide them to let them have as much time with their children as they can.”
He continued, “Certainly also we need to address our financial history. We’ve been very prudent, we’ve been very conservative in this system, and I don’t see anything with this agenda item ... that would put us in financial jeopardy. ... I’m not going to make a recommendation to you as a board that would put our school system in financial jeopardy.”
During last week’s work session board member Matt Shultz expressed concern with the proposal, which brought the calendar from 175 to 177 calendar days, citing the additional cost of $800,000 to $900,000 for the system as well as the concern of teachers and parents already having plans consistent with a 175-day calendar. The two days added were Oct. 11 and March 14.
Board member Fred Kittle made the motion to table the item for further discussion, citing he needed more information about the projected finances for the 2015 school year. Shultz seconded the motion, but it ultimately failed with board members John Howard and Anna Sullivan as well as Chairman Davis Nelson voting against the tabling of the item.
“I’m a little concerned on the issue of tabling this motion because ... this means that we’re looking at making a change in October, and we’re already asking people to make a change. And, if we table it, then how long are we going to table this?” Sullivan asked.
Shultz again expressed concern about the cost of extending the calendar.
“I just don’t think we can afford it. We’re currently operating right now at a $4 to $6 million budget deficit, and we’re a couple of years away from having no reserve,” Shultz said. “I certainly hope that’s not the case, but that’s our operating methodology right now, that’s what we’re projecting ...”
He added, “I’m a parent — I have three kids in the school system. I have a vested interest in any kid who comes to our school [system] getting the best education possible all the way from kindergarten to high school, but I personally believe two instructional days are not going to make any difference one way or the other. And, for us to put the school system at risk by pulling almost a million dollars out of our reserve, I just don’t think it’s prudent.”
Shultz went on to say that Murray County Schools operates on 160 calendar days.
“[Murray County Schools’ College and Career Ready Performance Index] scores honestly are a little bit better than ours in pretty much every area — one of them its about the same, and I don’t think the CCRPI is the end all, be all measurement of success. But what I’m saying is, if they can be successful on 160 days, then I certainly think we can continue to operate on 175 we’ve already done the budget work on and that we’ve already approved,” Shultz said.
Sullivan said she did not believe that the cost of extending the calendar would be a key factor in lowering the system’s fund balance.
“To be clear, this item is not the only driver [of the finances],” Sullivan said.
Shultz quickly responded to Sullivan by saying personnel costs related to the calendar item was “the key driver” of the system’s limited budget and would correlate to budget restraints in the future
“I think it’s disingenuous to even characterize it as a key driver of getting to that position at this point,” Sullivan said, later adding she felt an extended calender could help the school system meet academic goals.
While the number of students enrolled at Murray County’s 11 schools was not available at press time, Sullivan asked during the meeting if Shultz’s comments about that particular system were of a fair comparison — or an “apples-to-apples” comparison — of Bartow County Public Schools, which serves nearly 14,000 students at 19 schools.
“We continue to make minimal gains. I can’t help but wonder how many gains we would have made if we had had our children in the classroom under a full instructional year,” Sullivan said. “I also can’t help but wonder how it is that we continue to think it’s OK to take instructional time away from our children and yet also expect a higher graduation rate and continuing to see improvements and gains.
“I don’t think we’re asking for something unreasonable, but we continue to push two completely different agendas here.”
Parent Alison Guyton attended the public participation portion of the meeting, criticizing the proposal to extend the calendar, citing that parents and teachers already have made personal plans based on the calendar previously approved this summer. She also accused the school system of not abiding by laws regarding special needs students as well as interfering with special needs students’ Individual Education Plans.
Following the discussion among board members, Harper again said at this time he did not see the proposal resulting in job cuts for the 2014-2015 school year. He did say, however, he expects there to be some changes in upcoming years regarding how courses are taught on the high school level and could not at this point predict whether a millage rate increase could be on the table for the 2015 budget.
“Certainly looking at the high school [Bartow County College and Career Academy], I do expect some combing of some of the courses we have at our three high schools at the college and career academy,” Harper said. “I’m not anticipating any layoffs in Bartow County with this agenda item or the budget as we have it for you year in and year out.”
The board approved the item with Howard, Nelson and Sullivan voting for the item and Kittle and Shultz voting against.
In other news, the board unanimously approved its consent agenda, which included an item to convert the payroll system to payroll cards rather than paychecks. Chief Financial Officer Todd Hooper said about 83 percent of employees use the county’s direct deposit system, leaving the rest with the option to use payroll cards.
The board also approved its 100 percent Freeport agreement with Bartow County government. Kittle said he was positive about the approval, but said it wasn’t a reason to spend without caution.
“We know good times are coming. There are — we know it — things have been signed and we’re looking forward to it, but I do caution us anticipating more spending for the next two years until we get there,” Kittle said.