As the Franklin County School District looks towards the 2013-14 fiscal year, the school board has agreed on a staffing plan for next year based on a budget expected to raise about $150,000 more than came in this year, and to spend about $50,000 less.

At their June 25 special meeting, the school board voted unanimously to approve 59 instructional positions, with three additional teaching positions – an elementary school teacher and middle school math and physical education teachers - as well as an information technology coordinator to be hired. The board earlier this month approved the re-hiring of five teachers who are on assignment, serving as deans, guidance counselors or in other non-instructional posts, so it appears the district will have five fewer teachers on staff than the 73 on staff this year.

The district plans to next year hire a foreign language instructor to teach Spanish, after having eliminated the position a year ago as a cost-cutting move. Students this past year who took Spanish did so through Florida Virtual School, which involved online learning.

“They did a survey with students before school was out and our students responded very favorably to having an instructor and we feel we have to address it,” said Superintendent Nina Marks.

Director of Financial Services Shannon Venable said around 60 students indicated they wished to sign up for a foreign language class. She said hiring a beginning teacher would cost about $44,000 including benefits, and that all but about $7,000 of this expense would be reimbursed by the state

Before approving the staffing plan, the school board heard a report from Venable, who told the board she forecast revenues next year to be roughly $10.97 million, about $150,000 more than this year’s $10.82 million. This is in part because the district’s combined property tax valuation will rise from $1.696 billion to $1.715 billion next year, by about $19 million, or roughly 1.1 percent.

Venable said the district will carry over a balance of about $400,000 from the current fiscal year, and will have about $600,000 in revenue in June 2014 at the end of the next fiscal year. Of this, about $371,000 will be in unrestricted funds, which is about 3.74 percent of the overall budget, considered an acceptable cushion by the Florida Department of Education.

“We’re continuing to update that as we make changes,” she said.

One cost-cutting move that won’t be made next year will be to privatize the district’s custodial and lawn care services. The school board decided unanimously to postpone talk of a plan first presented by Marks about a month ago, which would save the district anywhere from about $68,000 to $113,000 in custodial costs. They decided it should not go the bargaining table for this year, but that chief negotiator Leonard Dietzen should open discussions on the matter for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The school district spends about $350,000 annually on its custodial needs, including supplies and lawn care. A proposed by GCA Services Group would have trimmed those costs back to $235,000, an annual savings of a little more than $113,000.

At the time they first reviewed the plan early last month, school board members asked for a second quote that would have retained three existing custodial employees who were nearing retirement. Keeping those three on staff would have meant that only the main campus custodial staff would be privatized, and would have saved the district about $68,000 over this year’s costs.

The school board decided June 25 that rather than make a decision now, they would keep the idea on the backburner for discussion with the union for the following fiscal year.

The current custodial staff “can't order supplies. Everything’s kind of in limbo,” said School Board Member Teresa Ann Martin. “I’m not saying we can't revisit it in the future. I think we should come to a decision tonight as a board as to what we’re going to do. I don’t think it’s fair to keep them in limbo.”

Board Chairman Jimmy Gander pushed for a decision on privatization that would apply for the entire fiscal year.

“I know these employees back here, they want to know where they stand,” he said. “I just put myself in the place of employees. It we hire them tonight, we need to hire them for 12 months and be done.”

Ultimately, Marks agree to postpone any move towards privatization. “I think with the financial difficulties that we have, it’s something we need to be looking at,” she said. “I also think they need to get on with the summer and get the school prepared. You need to hire them tonight and let’s revisit it at a later date.”


Croom’s contract renewed


In another matter concerning a private sector service provider, the board agreed to a $66,000 contract for next year with Croom’s Transportation that will cover the cost of transporting a half-dozen disabled students and a paraprofessional to the Gretchen Everhart School in Tallahassee.

“I believe we’re still going to try to work towards the future of transporting the children ourselves,” said Marks. “We don’t have anything in place right now to take care of these children, and we need it by July 1.”

The price tag for the transportation will run $15,000 more than did it this year. School Board Attorney Barbara Sanders said the cost increase was due to the fact Croom’s would no longer be able to offset some costs by transporting additional adults to physician appointments in Tallahassee on the bus.

“My understanding is the contract before did not require the bus to only have our students. They were able to keep that price because they transported other kids,” said Sanders, adding that Martha Weimorts, the former director of special programs, had insisted on the exclusivity due to requirements of the Jessica Lunsford Act. That state law requires background screening of all individuals who provide contracted non-instructional services to Florida public schools or districts.

Last month, the school board approved the hiring of a successor to Weimorts, who retired from her post this year. Named as the new director of special programs was Sue Summers, a former superintendent of the Liberty County Schools.

Summers served one-four-year term, from 2008-12, as Liberty County superintendent. She lost her reelection bid in the August 2012 Democratic primary. She holds a doctorate in education, and will be paid $67,000, about $3,000 less than her predecessor.


A plea to visit classrooms

In a spirited back-and-forth at the start of the meeting, Cathy Wood, president of the local teachers’ union, said the union had reviewed four proposals presented by Dietzen at the recent opening bargaining session.

“Three of the four took my breath away,” said Wood, calling the proposals “a little bit skewed

“I just feel that once again the communication line has been severed and closed if these are the proposals… to balance the budget on the backs of the employees,” she said.

Both Wood and the school board members avoided going into detail on the proposals now on the table. She did encourage school board members to visit classrooms once school is back in session.

“I’m saying to you please come, please schedule it,” she said. “You need to be there, maybe on your lunch hour from your other jobs. Show your presence on a regular basis in these classrooms.”

The proposal was met with some skepticism from school board members. “It would be virtually impossible and very disruptive to have five school board members traipsing around from class to class, to teacher to teacher,” said Gander. “Everyone has an opportunity to come to the board, as you do. I don’t really understand how we can make ourselves more available unless we go on conference call to the classroom.

“Just to go out and knock on the door and say ‘Do you want to see me or don’t?” it’s never worked out well for me,” he said. “I’ve tried it. I have rarely ever gone in there that didn’t feel like I was interrupting something going on.”

Wood asked that school board members “formulate some sort of schedule. If a teacher knows that you’re going, the teacher would have to agree with you coming, and pair you up. We would have camaraderie of people sitting in your position as elected officials, (being able to see) something wonderful and positive that went on on that campus.”

Board Member Teresa Ann Martin sought to reassure Wood that the school board supported teachers. “I think great things are happening at the school but there’s always room for improvement. Don’t take it so to heart that all they’re doing is putting us down. We’re looking at numbers and results and saying we don’t have to be a D school. There’s a lot of teachers working hard, some that’s not and some that are.”

Wood continued to plea for personal visits. “Please come and sit in a classroom. For our staff to see you come and participate in some capacity is going to be that motivator, that something that will entice them to maybe make that difference.”

Board Member Pam Shiver said she did not favor the idea of staging school board visits. “I won’t come announced; I don't want to walk in on you on your best behavior,” she said, and then likened the situation to hers as a postal service employee.

 “Everything is data driven. Management looks at nothing but the data,” said Shiver. “To the employee, it’s ‘Hey I’m a human being.’ But in the essence of it all there’s still a business that needs to be done.”

Board Member David Hinton, a former teacher at Carrabelle High School, said he did not support the idea of school board member visits. “When I was a teacher the only time I ever saw a board member was when there was a problem,” he said. “It wasn’t the board member’s job to micromanage the school.”

He said when he was elected to office, he decided that “I’m going to do it here in the board room. I don’t go to school to see what’s going on.

“I don’t really have a desire to go to the schools. It’s intimidating for a school board member to go into the school.”