Walton County School Board June 30 special meeting finalizes budget amendments, talks new salary legislation [PREMIUM]

By BRUCE COLLIER

The Walton County School Board (WCSB) held a special virtual online meeting June 30. All members of the board were in attendance virtually – Gail Smith, Kim Kirby, Bill Eddins Jr., Marsha Winegarner, and Chairperson Jason Catalano, as well as District Superintendent Russell Hughes. 

Following the opening of the meeting, there were no citizen comments on any agenda items. 

Under the action agenda, there were two items under the Human Resources Department. The first item was a recommendation for approval of the Walton County School District Contingent Substitute Pay and Agreement. A motion was made to approve and was approved unanimously. 

The second item was a recommendation for approval of the June 30, 2020 Personnel Recommendations and Personnel Addendum. A motion was made to approve and was approved unanimously. 

Under the Facilities Department, there was a recommendation for approval of a West DeFuniak Elementary Re-Roof Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). There was an original price, and also a substantially higher price. It was explained to the board that a new roof was “much-needed,” and that the bid accepted was the lowest-price bid submitted that would install a Loadmaster roof, a necessity for the school building. Winegarner asked when the roof would be installed, and was informed that construction will be done during the school year “as best we can.” A motion to approve the GMP was made and approved unanimously. 

The second item under Facilities Department was a recommendation for approval to adjust the time of the July 7, 2020 interviews with architectural and engineering services candidates for the Freeport Elementary School classroom addition and master planning project. A motion for time change was approved unanimously. Hughes said that he needed to discuss further details of the interview process at the close of the regular agenda.

Under Finance Department, the first item was a recommendation for approval of final budget amendments. Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Hofheinz reported that the General Fund is slightly higher, what with federal grants and the funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). A motion was made and unanimously approved to approve the amendments, and members of the board joined to offer kudos to the finance department staff for their work on the budget. 

Next under Finance was a recommendation for approval of 2020-2021 resolutions for Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC) services. Hughes stated that the PAEC is fully funded. Hughes said that he intends to maintain the continuing standard and showing that the district is being a good steward. A motion was made to approve and was unanimously approved. Catalano expressed thanks to the PAEC. 

A recommendation for approval of SchoolPay Merchant Account Agreement was next heard. This agreement and tool minimizes exchange of cash money for several programs and was approved unanimously. 

Under Good Cause items was discussion of teacher salary compensation package. Hughes referred to the governor’s recent announcement of signed legislation on this subject of future pay raises. Hofheinz then briefed the board, saying that under the new law, the district has been allocated $1.75 million, of which $90,000 will go to charter schools. Eighty percent of the remainder must go to actual classroom (K-12) and VPK teachers. The reminder will go to guidance counselors, etc. and must be negotiated. The range for beginning teachers is estimated to be between $42,000 and 46,000. Walton County starting salaries are currently below that level. Catalano asked if the funds will be used to adjust that disparity. Hofheinz said that a beginning teacher would be getting a raise to that minimum point. Catalano asked if this would mean that more experienced teachers would be getting relatively smaller salary adjustments, and suggested that this would create a problem with “equity” between beginning and experienced teachers. Hofheinz observed ironically that this would make salary bargaining “fun.” No action was proposed or taken on this item; it was simply a discussion. 

Under Curriculum and Instruction Department, the board was joined by Director of Student Services Randy Stafford, who attended virtually. The subject was the license salary/benefit schedule for licensed and contract employees – speech language pathologists, speech lab, psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, etc. Stafford walked the board through the schedule, explaining and answering questions.  

Catalano (joined by Winegarner) asked whether it was best for the district to continue outside contracting for these services, or to hire employees for them within the district. Stafford said that that might be accomplished in stages, and gave some comparative figures from Okaloosa County. Kirby asked of this would lead to a separate salary schedule. Stafford said that surrounding districts offer examples of that. 

Hughes said that “recruiting and retaining” certified professionals is the aim, and that he could put together some options on the “mechanics” of carrying that out.  No action was taken; it was simply a discussion.  

The final item was a discussion of the logistics of how to conduct the July 7 interviews with architectural and engineering applicants for the Freeport classroom addition and master planning project. Several ideas were discussed, including holding the interviews in-person in the Walton High School or Wise Center auditorium, or some other large venue, with social distancing guidelines. It was noted that virtual meetings were good for regular board meetings, but that interviews were a separate consideration. The applicants have been notified that there would need to be some limitations on the number of people who attend when making a presentation to the board. 

Following discussion, it was decided that a virtual interview was best. Applicants would be asked to furnish the board members with hard copies of any informational material, etc. on July 6, the day before the meeting. 

A budget workshop was moved and voted on to be scheduled for July 21, at 4 p.m. It will be a virtual meeting. The regular board meeting would follow at 5 p.m. that day. 

Hughes said that a school reopening plan has been prepared and that he would supply the board with the plan on July 1. It was scheduled to be made public July 7.