By ALICIA LEONARD
The Walton County School Board held their regularly scheduled meeting March 4, 2014 to an unusually full crowd at 5 p.m. The small meeting room spilled over with teachers, union representatives, parents, and board members of the Walton County Taxpayers Association (WCTA).
The board first handled the presentation of Industry Certification Supplements. Instructors with The Walton Career Development Center(WCDC) received awards from certifications completed last year. Mike Davis with the WCDC awarded “outstanding teachers who made these successes possible the last school year,” according to Davis. Dawn Robinson with South Walton High School technology department received an award for $880, Pat Delly and Tommy Martin from WCDC received $16,700, Freeport Internet Technology Academy, represented by Sherie Smith received $29,900, in the industry certification awards.
The Kiwanis Clubs of Walton County were recognized for their efforts to fund transportation costs for students to attend arts performances at Mattie Kelly Art’s Center. Jeffery Rink, conductor for the Northwest Florida Symphony told the audience and board, “due to the generosity of these clubs, we’ve had over 2,000 fifth graders from Walton County attend our annual fifth-grade concert. We could do it without the Kiwanis.” The group also made donations to the district so students could continue to visit the art’s center performances.
The board paid recognition to the St. Joe Community Foundation for their Take Stock in Children program. The foundation donated $28,800, which will cover six scholarships for students to attend college at a future date.
The board then moved to approve the agenda, and the adoption of minutes, with an amendment for a typo. They then approved the consent agenda unanimously.
Under the Action Agenda, the board approved personnel recommendations unanimously. Board member Mark Davis asked for a moment of silence for the loss of Paxton School coach Randy Infinger. “I think we should all take a moment and realize how precious life is to lose someone at 49 years of age,” he said.
Under facilities and construction, the board moved to reject Walton County School Superintendent Carlene Anderson’s recommendation for approval of plans to relocate Walton Middle School (WMS) students to the WISE Center during the remodel and rebuild of WMS. More firm numbers on the project are not due until May 2014, and the board has hesitated to move plans into action until they have a better idea of costs associated with the project. This possibly delays the project for another year.
Under administration, the board approved the collective bargaining agreement for school year 2013-2014 for the Walton County Education Support Personnel 5-0. The agreement for Instructional Personnel has gone to impasse after they voted down the agreement made on Feb. 13.
Board member Sharon Roberts questioned an email she asked for in January of this year saying funding for the raises had been “allocated” but the funding was not actually in the district’s accounts. Anderson responded that the money was allocated for the district from the state’s fund, but the actual dollars would not be transfered into their account until both plans had been turned in together, to the Department of Education, as the district had been told not to send them in separately. Roberts responded, “yes, ma’am. I’m aware of that now that I contacted the department of education.” Roberts explained, “I don’t understand why we continue to say we have received these funds when we have not.” Anderson responded, “we have received an allocation amount.” Anderson recalled a scenario where the budget is made every year from expected or projected totals for the budget. “We budget for what is being allocated.”
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “allocation” as to apportion for a specific purpose or to particular persons or things, to distribute, or to set apart or earmark. Anderson and Roberts continued to discuss the meaning of “allocation of money received.” Anderson said after some audience interaction that the plans had to be turned in by June 1 for the “allocated” funding to be dispersed to the district. The negotiator for the district made this clear during negotiations that if they could not reach an agreement, the money would would be lost in an article in the Feb. 20 edition of the Herald/Breeze.
After more discussion on the employee contracts, board attorney Ben Holley cautioned the audience and the board that the negotiations for teachers was still open and should not really be discussed until an agreement had been reached. Board member Mark Davis said that although he was not aware of the terms of the contract, he wanted to assure the audience the funding would not be lost, “I just want to assure the public that we will be there by June 1.”
Under the miscellaneous section, the WCTA requested three items to be considered by the board. They asked for the board to make a resolution asking the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to place the vote for the half-mill tax for schools onto the regularly scheduled August ballot. The second item requested was a resolution by the board to ask the BCC to place a vote on the August ballot, a measure specifying that voters can decide if the Superintendent of Schools should be changed from an elected position to an appointed one at the earliest date possible. The last item requested by the WCTA was for school board meetings to be held in a manner more consistent with the needs and desires of parents and citizens, i.e., in the evenings and alternating locations in DeFuniak and south Walton.
Executive Director Bob Hudson and President Dr. Don Riley represented WCTA. Hudson said the expenses would be much less to move the half-mill vote to the August election rather than have to pay the expense of a special election, but would not get buried under a general election ballot that usually has many items for voters to deal with. “We have been working with a very dedicated group of parents and residents throughout Walton County about the three items we are asking you to consider,” Hudson told the board. Hudson also cited a low voter turnout and a cost of $38,000 in 2011 for the special referendum that comes before voters every four years. The referendum allows the district to transfer Operating Funds to the General Fund to cover expenses.
Hudson also cited the district ranks 62 in the state in teacher retention. “Education does not take place in this building. I can tell you that. Education takes place in schools, in classrooms, and by teachers. What we are looking for here tonight is a joint effort to improve those situations,” Hudson remarked on the district’s statistics.
After more discussion between Anderson and Hudson on budget issues and teacher numbers, the board voted to set a resolution for the next board meeting, April 1, calling for a vote on the issue 5-0….
Read the full story in the March 13, 2014 edition of the Herald/Breeze.
By ALICIA LEONARD