BOE's gear up for retreats

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

Just as the cost of providing a quality education isn't getting any cheaper, neither is the cost of planning.

Schools officials with the Lenoir City and the Loudon County boards of education are expected to take a pair of out-of-county retreats in the coming months to hash out details on the budget, construction projects and other issues that will impact the next school year.

Lenoir City Schools is planning its retreat for May 31-June 2 in Gatlinburg. Along with its five board members, principals, assistants and various central office supervisors will participate in the outing.
Board of Education member Rick Chadwick said officials will discuss the system's $18 million budget, capital projects, technology upgrades, long-range planning and other topics of importance.

"That's when we do our yearly budget," Chadwick said. "A lot of work, not much play."

He said during the retreat principals would give the board presentations about progress at each of the schools and updates on new technology in education. Like the county system's retreat, the Lenoir City outing would conclude with discussion about the superintendent evaluation.

Chadwick estimated the city district's retreat would cost between $5,000-$10,000 for lodging, food and travel reimbursements, while Superintendent Jeanne Barker put the estimated price tag at $5,000.

Loudon County Schools, which is planning its retreat for March 8-9, will also go to Gatlinburg. Director of Schools Jason Vance put the cost of his district's retreat at $5,000 or less.

"We wanted to be as fiscally responsible as we could," Vance said. "When I say $5,000, I think that covers about everything, my staff and my board as well. It's an opportunity to go up there and really get some good education in."

Some of the topics that Vance planned to cover at the retreat include board policies, budget, coach supplements, construction, school resource officers and teacher salaries.

"Mainly we'd like to get up there and hammer out some ideas about our school budget," Vance said. "It's hard sometimes to get all the board together for any length of time, and so I'd like to be able to make sure that we can sit down, and we can all agree upon a philosophy as far (as) the direction that we believe the county school system needs to go."

He said school officials would also discuss the long-range plan, curriculum, instruction and technology infrastructure.

"From that we'll spring some different conversations about how much it's going to cost to get there because a lot of those things cost money, so we'll need to really hammer out some different things that we believe we can live with, what we believe we can live without," Vance said.

Gary Aytes, director of schools in Roane County, said his school district currently doesn't have a retreat planned.

"Normally, if we're doing like a two-day retreat, we would try to get away out of the county, somewhere where we can have everybody together and you can spend the time that way," Aytes said.

He said Roane County doesn't take a retreat every year and typically just takes one if officials are working on a five-year plan, noting that Roane educators traveled to Pigeon Forge the last time they took a retreat.

Aytes noted some of the benefits of holding a retreat outside the county.

"You're just in a location where you're not having to answer calls," he said. "You get more of a concentrated effort. You can have your meals right there. You just have a more concentrated work environment where you can get more things done in a shorter amount of time."

Vance said retreat discussions among Loudon County school officials will take a workshop-style format, and the board will not make any decisions. He said this year was the first time the county school system had taken a retreat in about four years.

"I just really felt that it was appropriate to get the board together," Vance said. "It seemed to me like it's easier for them seemingly to focus and pay attention and be on task whenever we're offsite. It seems like it's a whole lot easier for them to get up and go if something arises here while they're in town."

Barker said school officials benefited from holding planning sessions that were removed from the "constant" distractions of telephones and emails.

"It gives us an opportunity to do some team building and learn how we work together," Barker said. "It gives us a substantial amount of time without interruptions to do some of the hard work talking about these financial obligations that we have."