BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Board of Education continued to update board policies and procedures during Thursday's meeting at the Greene Technology Center.
The board has been updating its procedures based on Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) recommendations and recent legal developments involving a lawsuit against Tennessee school districts by the federal government.
The board began this process on Thursday with a second-reading approval of an update to the Student Disciplinary Hearing Authority policy that will allow students, parents, guardians or teachers to request such a hearing.
In addition, several policy manual revisions and recommendations from the TSBA were considered on first reading, including:
* making it policy to meet at 4:30 p.m. on months when the joint city/county school board meets;
* making it policy to retain e-rate records for five years after the date of service, which County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk said places in writing practices already in place for audits;
* maintaining a competitive bid process while using the Universal Service Fund (e-rate) for locating service-providers; and,
* updating language related to federal job titles in the system's non-discrimination policy.
Newly-elected board member Deborah Johnson requested that the board substitute specific language in place of more generic language in the School Board Records policy (such as "five business days" instead of "a reasonable length of time").
Moreover, she also provided the board with a copy of a form she said she had created for records requests.
Director of Schools Kirk, however, requested that the board not take action on these proposed amendments until she is able to review them with the TSBA and see if the language that is already in place is there because of state law.
In addition, she said that she is not certain that there is not already a form in place for such records requests.
"If I had known ahead of time, I could have looked it up," Kirk added.
Johnson agreed to hold the amendments until the policies are considered next month on second reading and also asked that the board add details describing the laws mentioned in the policy, including the Freedom of Information Act and the Tennessee Open Records Act.
"I also think that, as a school board wanting to have some transparency, [...] we might want to elaborate on that," Johnson explained. "Sometimes, I'm on the board and I don't feel like I have the open access to everything that I would like."
Kirk assured Johnson that the system works "very hard" to provide open access.
Board Chairman Roger Jones also requested that the board's agenda and attachments now be posted on the website prior to every meeting in order to further increase transparency.
The board then approved the policy changes on first reading before considering approving new procedures related to experience-verification guidelines for certified employees and verification of teaching experience,
Kirk explained that the state previously provided this service but said that the school system now needs to add this procedure.
Board member Kathy Austin pointed out that the experience-verification guidelines stated that, when a person was applying for a certified position with the school system, the applicant's prior teaching experience in a non-public school would be considered only if the school had had accreditation.
The Greene County system recently decided to drop its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Austin reminded the board.
"It's kind of a double standard to me," she said.
Assistant Director of Schools Dr. Judy Phillips explained that, in this instance, "accreditation" merely meant "state approval," not accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The board voted to amend the wording of the guidelines to say that non-public schools must have had "state approval" (rather than "accreditation") in order for the teacher's experience to count on his or her application.
The board also added a TSBA-approved definition of bullying into the procedures for responding to bullying.
In further business, the board voted to approve Five Points as the system's new insurance broker.
The proposal resulted from a request sent to nine insurance brokers that were then reviewed by the Insurance Committee.
Five Points received the committee's final recommendation based on the numerous "superior products" the company offers, Kirk said.
Both Jones and board member Rex Hopson questioned, however, if all local brokers had had the opportunity to participate in the bidding process.
When Kirk said that only nine requests for bids had been sent out, Jones said he would have preferred to give all local insurance brokers an opportunity to bid, even if it meant coming back to some of the brokers to say, "You don't have the services that we're looking for."
However, after hearing a brief presentation on the offerings available through Five Point, the board voted unanimously to accept the committee's recommendation.
Other items receiving the board's approval included Chuckey-Doak Middle School volunteer assistant coaches, out-of-state field trip requests, and changing the countywide science fair date from March 11 to March 4-5.
The board also heard numerous reports, including one from Shawn Street, director of the Greene County Health Department, on the flu vaccines provided for students through the department.
Street praised the efforts of the pilot program, reporting that 18 percent of the students accepted the flu vaccine.
Budget Director Mary Lou Woolsey gave her monthly budget report, in which she noted that sales tax is down by 2.8 percent, electricity costs are down for the year by $44,000, and diesel costs are up 10 percent.
Board member Johnson questioned this report and asked for more details and a categorization on the checks that are written each month, noting that she could not tell the reasons for all the checks.
"In one month, we wrote 516 checks," she said. "I couldn't tell just from seeing those checks what those expenditures were for.
"When we have three or four people that are getting a check from us, [...] for me, when I look at that budget, I don't know if we're paying their car payment or their house payment or what."
Woolsey said that she is not certain what the school system's financial software could do to address this request, but she said she would check into the matter.
She also noted that checks will match expenditures out of the line items in the county school budget.
Both Jones and Kirk assured Johnson that the state comptroller is often reviewing the school system's books and that all is in order.
The board also heard a Director's Report from Kirk, in which she noted that safety committees are beginning their work to review the schools' safety procedures and facilities.
Jones said he has also formed a committee from County Commissioners and board members that he expects to meet soon.
"We do have the students' safety first at hand, and we are going to do everything in our power," he said.
The board's next regular meeting will be at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28.