BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A weighty agenda kept the Greene County Board of Education taking care of business for three hours on Monday, when members approved nearly $809,000 in building improvements and instructional equipment.
Those expenditures, which the Greene County Commission must also approve in January before they can become final, would come from the school system' s undesignated fund balance.
School System Budget Director Mary Lou Woolsey said during Monday's meeting that the fund balance, or savings, is currently at nearly $2.9 million.
Among the numerous proposed improvements on the projects list are several school safety improvements, including two safety entrances, buzzer systems and exterior door replacements.
Board member Kathy Austin opened discussion on the proposed list Monday by saying that she has "big reservations" concerning approving the full $809,000 since the board did not yet know anything about the school system's 2014-15 budget.
Austin also voiced her concern that some students may not have basics such as their own textbook or the appropriate sized desk.
"I think we need to take care of those things, after safety, first," Austin said. "Safety needs to be met immediately."
Austin and board member Deborah Johnson supported a motion to prioritize the projects to determine when they should be done and in what order.
The motion failed, with no support from other members and with new board member Rick Tipton abstaining.
County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk said she asks teachers about their textbooks and other needs at the end of every school year, as well as during leadership meetings. She said that she is largely able to meet those needs.
"I think it's important to fix these things, and they're not going away," Kirk said of the full $809,000 projects list. "I would say that, no matter what next year looks like, we need to do these things."
Chairman Nathan Brown said that he also supported approving and funding the list as a whole, noting that the board in various committees and workshops has reviewed and edited the list for more than a month.
After the motion to prioritize the needs failed, Kirk said the system has close cost estimates for all the projects and should be able to complete the full list.
She said that, to the extent possible without disturbing classes, the system would complete safety improvements first.
The board then approved the full project list and its funding from savings, with Austin and Johnson opposed and Tipton abstaining.
The board did approve an amendment that Johnson proposed concerning the distribution of funds received by the school system from advertisements on the outside of school buses.
With Johnson's amendment, the school system will distribute funds from the sale of advertisements equally among the four county high schools.
These funds will offset the cost of athletic, band and academic competitions.
The bus advertisement program has so far brought in $6,800 for the school system since it began a couple of months ago.
The board also addressed several policy and procedure changes, but pulled for separate discussion changes to the system's Energy Guidelines.
Austin requested this discussion, saying that she has received many more complaints this year concerning the temperature in the schools and in the Central Office.
Energy Specialist Steve Tipton sets and monitors temperatures, lights and other energy consumption in all the schools and at Central Office as a part of the system's agreement with Cenergistic.
Woolsey reported that the system has saved over $80,000 so far this year in electricity, compared to the same time period of the last fiscal year.
Austin, however, urged Tipton to remember that the "maintenance of the learning environment is to take precedence."
"I'm really concerned about the strict adherence to these guidelines to the point of discomfort," she said.
Tipton said that he keeps most classrooms and offices between 69 to 70 degrees during the workday, which he said is "well within" the guidelines for acceptable temperatures.
He said some teachers request their classroom temperature to be 66 degrees, saying that they have better student participation at that temperature.
At night, the school temperature is set back to 55 degrees.
Many schools don't have heated hallways, but students don't spend much time in these areas, Tipton added.
"I've been in a few of the schools," Johnson said. "It's a shame when we go in a school and see the office staff and the students are wearing coats and hats and gloves."
Tipton said that he would continue to respond to any complaints. Austin urged Tipton to issue anonymous surveys for parents, teachers and administrators to give their true feedback.
The board then approved Tipton's editorial changes to the Energy Guidelines, along with:
* making a policy change, on second reading, adding cross-references for procedures to the Use of Electronic Mail (email) policy;
* amending a policy at member Rick Tipton's recommendation, and approving it on first reading, to add legal language in the Board and Director Relations policy stating that the board dismisses any tenured teachers at the recommendation of the director of schools;
* the formation of a request form for Student Transfer/Application for Out of Zone Enrollment;
* the formation of a Facilities Planning Policy detailing an annual assessment of facility needs and an Asbestos Management Plan, all of which Kirk said the system is already following even though they are not yet required in formal policy;
* allowing students not participating in graduation activities a period of one week, rather than one day, after the ceremony to pick up their diploma, adding language to say that principals shall ensure that students graduating with distinction or honors are recognized at graduation, and adding language to say that student speeches are their own and not endorsed by the school system;
* adding specific requirements for inventories of equipment purchased with federal funds, as well as adding a new system for inventorying computers and devices;
* updating the Payroll Procedures and Energy Education Guidelines policies to match system practices; and,
* creating a Fixed Assets Policy detailing the system's practice in maintaining and depreciating individually all items that are valued at $10,000 or more.
The board also approved, in a split vote, to allow workers in Extended School Day/Year Programs and School Age Childcare to be granted raises at the same time that the system grants any raises to classified staff.
Johnson objected to approving the policy, saying that the program itself needed further review.
Kirk, however, said that this is a matter of providing the cost-of-living increases to these employees, who are technically also classified staff.
The board later agreed with a request by Johnson to have the Central Office provide a report on the Extended School Day/Year Programs and School Age Childcare at the next meeting, including pay scale for staff and criteria for hiring.
Prior to that report at the next regular meeting, the board agreed to hold a special called meeting, the time of which is to be determined.
The board chose to hold a called meeting to deal with an addendum item concerning a contract with TerraShares to install solar panels at three more schools.
The system has previously allowed TerraShares to place these panels at several locations, including Doak Elementary School and South Greene High School.
New sites would include Chuckey-Doak Middle School, Camp Creek Elementary School and Mosheim Elementary and Middle schools.
Under the agreement, TerraShares would own the panels and pay the system $1,310 per site, per year, to lease the location on which the company places the panels.
The Tennessee Valley Authority limits the time period during which the agency will guarantee investors a certain rate for the energy they sell to TVA from the solar panels.
Because of the TVA time limitation, TerraShares needed the board of education to approve the new contracts prior to the board's January meeting.
However, County Attorney Roger Woolsey had a number of reservations with the contract, citing liability concerns in several areas.
Austin also requested that an alternate contract include site maintenance, including mowing, since that has been an issue at the sites already in place.
Woolsey said he could formulate an alternate contract by the end of this week.
The board voted to table action on the contract until such an alternate is available.
Other items that received the board's approval on Monday included:
* allowing Dr. Kirk to serve as the system's purchasing agent for the federal e-rate program;
* approving the School Activities Funds Audit and the Food Service Audit Report;
* approving the 2013-14 board goals;
* approving mid-year budget amendments; and
* accepting Skyward Inc. as the company to provide the district's student information computer system.
REPORTS AND HEARINGS
Rhonda Brown, a parent with children in the system, requested that the board consider allowing fundraisers in order for volunteer fire departments to be on site as first responders during full-contact games.
Maryann Johnson also spoke to the board, criticizing members for what she said were behaviors and attitudes concerning questions raised by Johnson and Austin.
She also encouraged the system to review with caution Common Core state standards.
The board also heard a number of reports, including one from Greene Local Educational Advancement Foundation (Greene LEAF) Executive Director Darlene McCleish, who said that the organization will benefit the system through encouraging volunteerism and monetary donations.
Greene LEAF will begin a public launch in January, she said.