Fore Note: Below is an editorial written by the staff at the News Herald on March 6 pertaining to the then planned Gatlinburg weekend retreat by the Loudon County School Board. Just below that is the follow up article from the News Herald pertaining to the actual Gatlinburg weekend retreat attended by the Loudon County School Board and a host of others. Apparently, the board decided to reject the opinion of the News Herald and many others.

OUR VIEW: No need to leave the county

At a time when Loudon County Board of Education and County Commission are haggling over when to pull the plug on additional funding for much-needed school construction projects, and amid a competitive teacher salary environment in which we should be retaining as many resources as possible, the BOE is nonetheless headed to Gatlinburg this weekend for a stay at Clarion Inn & Suites for what has become a yearly out-of-county retreat.

During the trip, BOE is slated to receive feedback from administrators from each school in the district, discuss and evaluate Director of Schools Jason Vanceís performance from the previous year and potentially outline a plan to increase teacher salaries over a three-year period, among other objectives.

Board of Education officials, along with Vance, have suggested that an offsite retreat is beneficial to help members focus on the task at hand without the distractions that may arise if the workshop was held in the county. Are we to believe that adults ó leaders of the community, no less ó canít focus on just two solid days of work without being pulled away by family and friends? If the nature of the work isnít important enough to warrant such undivided attention, then we have to question the need for the retreat in the first place.

Assistant Director of Schools Mike Garren estimated the trip to Gatlinburg will cost about $5,800, which is about the same as last year.

We realize that $6,000 is a drop in the pan when considering the school districtís overall budget, not to mention the millions of dollars the county could borrow in the future to continue school construction projects, but we think taking an out-of-county retreat ó when a much cheaper, virtually free event could be conducted right here in Loudon ó sets a bad precedent at best and is disingenuous at worst.

No one is disillusioned enough to think that the Board of Education will go over to Gatlinburg on a bus and dine on vienna sausages and potted meat the entire two days. We also would be foolish to think the trip is going to be an exercise in frugality.

For years, BOE officials have told our teachers that they are a valuable asset to the county and to our students, and we believe school administrators when they say they would like to increase salaries if at all possible and retain high-quality instructors. We also know that Vance has been forced to drop teacher positions in recent years just to make budget.

Thus, here is an opportunity, albeit a small one, to tell the community, and yes, teachers, that their school district is serious about saving money. Even if the $5,800 could be used to retain just one or two superlative teachers that might otherwise go elsewhere, is it not worth it?

Board touts helpful retreat
Jeremy Nash News-Herald.net
Loudon County Board of Education members claim they hashed out ideas and gained a better understanding of how to address needs going forward during last weekend's out-of-county retreat in Gatlinburg.

Various board members said the retreat proved helpful for discussions that included upgrading safety equipment in schools, contemplating a plan for capital projects and evaluating the director of schools.

"I felt it was a very successful retreat," Gary Ubben, board member, said. "It allows us to talk informally some and just have more, you know, one-on-one conversations than we do when we're in a formal workshop or a board meeting."

On Friday morning, school principals were allotted 15 minutes each to address the board with concerns, accomplishments and future needs. In the afternoon, board members heard reports from Business Manager Chad Presley, Director of Schools Jason Vance and Loudon County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Billy Hall.

On Saturday, the board talked about career and technical education, school supervisors gave reports and director of schools evaluation results were tallied.

One area of importance that resulted from discussions with principals was school safety, Ubben said.

"Some of the older buildings had doors that were not as secure as they should be," Ubben said. "The door would, if you pulled hard on it, it would lock, but if somebody went out the door and just allowed the closer to close it, the door might not click and lock again. Some things like that that needed to be adjusted."

Collectively, board members addressed the possibility of upgrading security equipment, such as implementing new security cameras in all schools and installing buzz-in locked doors that take photos of visitors during school hours, Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. said.

Ric Best, BOE vice chairman, said security cameras could be funded through grants, while buzz-in doors could be afforded through the BOE capital projects fund balance.

"We may have to replace some doors before we can actually get into that part of it, and since those would be one-time expenses, we could use our fund balance for that kind of a capital project," Best said.

Board members also touched on solidifying a phase two capital projects plan.

Johnson said a special called meeting will be held Thursday to develop a resolution to present to Loudon County Commission on Monday.

In response to a letter from Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron urging board members to construct a plan of immediate capital project needs, Johnson said the BOE had narrowed its upcoming capital projects to three of the county's schools.

"So, we got together, and we all agreed on one being Loudon High School, two being Highland Park and three being the traffic, I think, out there at North Middle (School)," Johnson said.

The board will also look to sell 80 acres near U.S. Highway 321, which at one time was intended for a high school and middle school.

Russ Newman, Loudon County director of planning and codes enforcement, said the property was purchased in 2006 for $2.2 million. Its appraised value is $3.24 million.

"At the time we bought that property ... this was before the recession hit, and North Middle was growing like crazy, and we were going to build a middle school and a high school there, but it's kind of since the recession hit everything's slowed down a lot, and we don't need it," Johnson said. "Plus, we think it's a bad location now because we don't want to build a high school."

Johnson said the board was looking to add a wing to LHS and Highland Park and is working to resolve traffic flow issues at NMS by allowing a University of Tennessee program to conduct a free study.

Best said agreeing to do the free study would be beneficial for the board because hiring an engineering firm would be "quite expensive."

"We're looking for ways to improve our present plan, and we feel like within the next two to four months all of this will come together," Best said.

Director of Schools Jason Vance received a 3.84 out of 4 on his evaluation, Johnson said.

Ubben said the BOE will look to recommend a one-year extension to Vance's four-year contract.

"I think everybody on the board offered him one or two areas ... where that he could grow and continue to mature in his position just like we can do the same as board members," Best said.

Johnson said the retreat cost about $5,800, equaling the same expenditure as last year.

"I felt like it was a pretty good retreat," Leroy Tate, board member, said. "We hopefully got some directions we need to go with (on) some of the stuff the state's mandated we've got to do."