By ALICIA LEONARD
The Walton County School Board(WCSB) meeting held on April 1, 2014 ran well into three hours, and covered a diverse selection of agenda items and opinions from the public.
The board opened the meeting with no forthcoming announcements, and approved the agenda before them as well as the past adoption of minutes, unanimously.
Under public comments, J.B. Hillard asked the board if they have taken any action, or held discussion on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) conversions for school buses. Walton County School Superintendent Carlene Anderson responded that the district had showed an interest a few years ago when DeFuniak Springs and Walton County were discussing the possibility, but until they moved further on the idea, nothing had been brought to the board for their consideration. Transportation Director Jim Hicks added that there were pros and cons to using CNG, and the Freeport bus barn, when constructed, is being designed to include the addition of infrastructure that will support CNG if the board decides to go that route in the future for fueling buses. Hicks continues to research the idea of using CNG.
Resident and former board member Donnie Richardson said he had been getting many calls from concerned citizens about education issues in the county. “Big problem. You are dividing the school district in half with these raises. Plain and simple, you had a slam dunk. This was an easy year. You got $2,500 the governor said for teacher raises. It was not aides, maids or anyone else, it was teacher raises. You should have given them the $2,500 like other districts did. Go to your fund balance and give the other raises. If it’s not there next year, go back to where they were. It’s a simple task. But what you have done is pitted half your school system against the other half. A house divided, it can’t stand,” he said.
“We need to find ways to work together. Our president at the college said during our last meeting we are up to 60 percent remedial reading rate now. That’s not good. I don’t know if his numbers were right, but that’s what he announced. We need to help our kids if we possibly can,” he added. Richardson also told the board that the new collegiate welding/machine shop the college has invested in would be good for local students and hopefully draw more businesses to the area.
Richardson also took issue with the handling of sending a teacher suspension to an outside party to decide their case as an extra expense not needed by the board. Richardson said he did agree with board member Mark Davis over the issue of half days used for teacher education, and teachers should receive professional development in the summer, not during the school year. Richardson was commenting on a past meeting over school calendars and half-days that Davis took issue with due to the strain it put on parents.
Consent agenda items, mostly concerning transportation of student to events were passed 5-0.
Board member Gail Smith had asked to be put on the agenda to address the board. Smith passed out a paper about financial concerns she thought to be important when selecting a method to hire/appoint or elect a superintendent for the district. Smith said she was neither for or against the ideas discussed, because she needed more information about what it would cost the district if voters decided they wanted an appointed/hired superintendent.
Items of concern she listed included salary, search for appropriate person, consultant fees, benefits packages, buyout packages, relocations fees and any other perks that might be considered part of an employment package.
“After our last meeting,” she said, “I still had some concerns about placing on the ballot the opportunity for our voters to decide if they want an elected superintendent or an appointed superintendent. I’m not here to voice my personal concerns about either of those. I’m here, and why I’m concerned is I don’t have enough information and I said that as clearly as I could at our last meeting. I’ve spent an undue amount of time trying to gather information for us as a board to discuss after I realized after speaking with the Florida School Board Association and Dr. Wayne Blanton that we are talking about a considerable increase in cost.”
Smith said she was concerned where the funds would come from if a superintendent was to be appointed. Smith said a appointed/hired superintendent could cost the district an increase of $35,000 over what Anderson’s salary is now, not counting the cost of a search for an appropriate candidate could run around $50,000-60,000. Smith said she knew there were many that felt strongly about both options. “All I’m questioning is that before we propose putting something on a ballot, that we understand it. We understand the pros and the cons, and we understand the expense,” she added. Smith also said she was in support of a workshop to educate the public and the board on their options and the expense of those options.
Board member Sharon Roberts responded that she respected Mrs. Smith’s personal opinion, and asked that she respect her opinion as well. “The voters of Walton County have asked us to put this on a resolution, and I explained the other night my position on that. I’m asking you all to search your hearts before we vote on this tonight. When you sit on this board, you act as the voice of the people, and the people have asked us for the opportunity to speak for themselves. They will have that right when they go to the polls and they vote, and that’s where I am on that,” she concluded. Roberts added she had faith that board attorney Ben Holley could write a contract for an appointed superintendent if voter chose that avenue.
Smith’s responded, “Thank you for that. I still have issues about placing something on a ballot that we have not discussed how we are going to pay for it.” Smith said she understood when elected that one of the board’s focus was on the budget. “So, I’m bringing to you a concern about the budget.”
Under resolutions, the board was asked to consider two items. The first for the the half-mil Ad Valorem Millage referendum for operating services to be placed upon the the primary election ballot. The second item was a resolution calling for an election referendum asking voters to decide if the superintendent of schools position should be elected or appointed.
Under the first item, Anderson said the first item was very critical to employees as well as the understanding of the general public. Anderson said she along with the prior financial officer and union representatives had formed a political action committee (PAC) to educate voters on the half-mil on her on time as she could not ask the public to vote on an item while on duty. “Mr. McCall and myself as part of this committee would go every night, somewhere and share information about the half-mil and how it works. Between now and August, there will not be enough time for me to get out in a political action committee forum, myself, personally, and promote this and inform people how this works. School funding is very different for general accounting. It’s very different.” Anderson recommended to the board for these reasons they reject the resolution….
Read the full story in the April 10, 2014 edition of the Herald Breeze.
By ALICIA LEONARD