It's Not The Lack Of Money

As a member of the school board, it's always a little awkward  to write stories critical of the board. After all I can express my views at board meetings. But some issues need a little more discussion.

I have maintained for years that much of the school board's financial problems is not so much a lack of money but poor management of the money we have. For instance, a couple of months ago the board found out well after the fact that the administration had spent over twenty thousand dollars for development of an employee handbook. The payment for the handbook was placed on 10 different purchase orders to avoid the bid process. Then just a week ago or so, the board found out that the administration had spent somewhere around ten thousand dollars to have motivational speaker, Harry K. Wong, to come to Loudon County to speak to county school employees.

Maybe a twenty thousand dollar handbook and a ten thousand dollar speaker are good things but is this really the time to be spending that kind of money under the circumstances? It's my opinion that the school board has over spent, over staffed and in some instances, over paid.

The school board budget committee has been presented with a preliminary budget for the 2010-2011 that would require an additional 1.8 million dollars in new operating costs. Unfortunately, no budget cuts were presented to offset the increases.

At some point it will have to finally dawn on these people that we just can not afford everything. Cuts are inevitable and some may be painful.

Board members want a 'say' in teachers' professional development

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

At the last workshop, county school board members expressed to the board their desire to have a say in what professional development programs are being brought in for county school personnel and some took exception to the decision to pay "motivational speaker" Harry Wong $10,000 to present his program on classroom management. Those opposed asked if that amount of money should be spent when the budget is so tight.

Board member Van Shaver also said he questioned the need for school employees to be motivated. He said he felt telling them they work or they're fired should be motivation enough. Shaver said the board should approve any expenditure over a certain amount - $5,000 or $10,000 -  "so this board will know what is being spent from Central Office."

He also questioned school administrator's paying $20,000 to develop a handbook when there is no money for raises for school personnel.  He said at next Thursday's board meeting he would move for the board to set a spending limit for such programs and any program that was above that limit would have to be approved by the board. 

Assistant Director of Loudon County Schools Jason Vance said the plan "was not a bad idea" if it would alleviate frustration from board members about professional development plans. He noted that 400 teachers and administrators were expected to attend which put the price at around $25 per person.

Board member Gary Ubben said the board had authorized money for professional development. "It's not the role of the board to decide what professional development they choose - the administration should decide," Ubben said. "It's up to us to make sure what we're spending money on," countered school board Chairman Scott Newman, adding it would better if school administrators would "just let us know" what is planned. "It's out responsibility to come up with staff development," said Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt noting that Wong is "a very well known and renowned educator" and taking part in his seminar would "be an advantage to our people." 

Newman said that when people hear financial figures their anxiety goes up. He suggested the director e-mail the school board members in advance of such a program so they can be prepared to field questions from the public. 

Special Education Supervisor Sissy Foster reminded the board the system is obligated to provide some professional development for staff and that many programs are paid for by federal grants that can only be used for that purpose. 

Board member Lisa Russell said the board just wanted to be kept in the loop on such programs.