June 25, 2008

Educational Community Buzzing Over Student Placement

By Missy Wattenbarger, Crossville Chronicle, Tenn.

Jun. 25--School may be out, but student placement remains an issue among parents and school board members.

Earlier this month, the Cumberland County Board of Education debated whether to grant five requests made by parents who wanted their children transferred to different high schools for various reasons. While concerns of harassment were expressed, some board members felt approving the transfers would create a problem.

"I think that we've got an issue here, and I think we are stepping into a quagmire," said 2nd District representative Robert Safdie.

"We've already stepped into it," stated Board Chair Shirley Parris.

Parris referred to a decision that was made last month regarding the transfer of two high school students who wanted to go to particular schools. Although the high schools in Cumberland County are hard zoned, the board approved the transfers and allowed the out-of-zone students to attend the school of their choice.

Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle explained some of the new requests were received before that decision was made, but the parents were given little hope they would get approval. After hearing the result of the other cases, the parents contacted her again to see if there was a possibility they would get approved, too, she noted.

Safdie stated the BOE needed to reassess its position and not support the requests until more information is presented. He pointed out harassment and bullying were listed in one letter, but no supporting documentation was provided from VanWinkle or the child's principal. Plus, there was a request for a transfer simply because school made the child sad, he said.

"Being saddened is not justification worth transferring to a different school...If we approve this on the basis of being sadden [and] approve a parent handwriting a note that makes accusations of bullying without being substantiated by the principal, then we are wrong. It's that simple," stated Safdie.

However, he motioned for one particular case involving a high school girl to be approved because there was "clear evidence" that harassment had taken place. Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, supported the motion.

"I think we need to either hard zone high schools or not hard zone high schools because there'll be something like this at almost every single meeting," 1st District representative Brian Houston commented.

"This can't go on and on because you have to have a limited number of children at each high school, and like the elementary schools, if you've got the number, you can't transfer any more," said Parris.

"All right. Why do we exist as a board? To do what's best for the kids, and to say, 'You are going to be hard zoned no matter what' is absolutely not in the best interest of the kids," said Schlafer. "I have seen this policy work and work well where I work. We are zoned in three different areas in Monroe County, and you're supposed to go to that high school. But if there is an legimate reason and circumstances change, you've got to have the modality to take care of the kids."

After further discussion on the topic, the motion was approved with all in favor.

VanWinkle then asked the board to consider one of the other requests because it pertained to a transportation issue with the parents. Schlafer made the motion, and support was given by Randolph. It passed with Schlafer, Parris and Randolph voting yes. Houston voted no, and Safdie passed his vote. Rick Smith, 4th District representative; Gordon Davis, 5th District representative; Mary Smith, 7th District representative; and Orville Hale, 8th District representative, were not present.

The other requests were tabled to the BOE's next regular meeting on June 26.

In case more parents make transfer requests by writing to the DOS, Parris asked VanWinkle to place new letters and supporting evidence in each board member's mailbox for consideration before being put on the agenda.

--A variety of other items were given the BOE's seal of approval this month.

After some changes were made, the four-year contract between the BOE and Uplands Retirement Village was finally approved for the proposed sewer project at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. By accepting the contract, Uplands has agreed to connect the school to its sewer system and increase the capacity of its treatment facility. Meanwhile, the BOE will pay a one-time fee of $130,000 for the purchase of the needed capacity; the costs of engineering, design, materials and installations of transmission lines; and a $462.50 monthly fee.

The fee was calculated by determining the school's annual water usage rate, which was 1.2 million gallons in 2007. It will remain in effect until August 31, when it will be recalculated based on the previous year's water usage. The new rate will remain the same for a year before being recalculated again.

Before the contract can be enforced, a bid must be received for the construction of the connection in an amount not to exceed $300,000, and necessary permits, easements and right-of-ways must be obtained. Also, the school will need to convey titles to existing pumps and mechanical equipment associated with its sewer system to Uplands, which will be held responsible for maintaining them.

In addition to this sewer project, the board agreed to allow Scott Nicholson with Uplands Design Group to continue to work on the North Cumberland Elementary sewer project and for a 20-foot sewer line easement to be placed near another school.

Next, the proposed pay scales for para-professionals and support supervisors were approved by the BOE. Para-professionals will now receive a three-percent raise to their salaries each year through the 15th year, as well as a one-percent raise with the same longevity pay rate given for the 16th year and thereafter. Support supervisors will be given a starting salary of $34,680, a three-percent increase for the first 10 years, a two-percent increase from the 11th to 20th year, a one-percent increase for the 21st to 25th year and longevity pay from the 16th to 26th year.

Special Education contracts were approved for physical therapy services with Plateau Physical Therapy, Inc. and occupational therapy services with Karyn Henderson, OTR/L. The BOE also approved other contracts for the 2008-'09 school year, including photography services from Lifetouch Photography for the Crab Orchard, North Cumberland, Pine View and Pleasant Hill elementary schools; photography services from James McEachern Photography for South Cumberland Elementary School; and beverage products from Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. for Crab Orchard Elementary.

Fundraising agreements were accepted for Martin, Pleasant Hill and North Cumberland elementary schools to raise money for instructional and athletic supplies and equipment. Field trips were approved for the yearbook staff and cheerleaders at Cumberland County High School as well as the Renaissance Committee, volleyball team and yearbook staff at Stone Memorial High School.

The lists of volunteers for SMHS and Pleasant Hill Elementary were approved, with a total of 12 individuals offering their services to the schools:

--SMHS -- William M. Krause and Laura Osteen.

--Pleasant Hill Elementary -- Kirk Finley, Kelly Hassler and Mike Turner, who will be assisting with girls' softball; David Garrett, Jamie McCloud and Johnathan Miller, football; Tammy Green, cheer; Shane McCloud, boy's basketball; Jerry Nash, chess; and David Stewart, girls' volleyball.

The customary rental fee for the SMHS auditorium was waived to allow a Musical Moods reunion production to take place November 19-23. By doing this, the BOE has allowed the 501-C-3 organization to raise funds for its annual Robert Stepp scholarship for students interested in pursuing a career in music. As part of the deal, the organization will provide payment for any custodians required, necessary supplies and security.

Lastly, the BOE approved bus specs, bylaws for the SMHS Tennis Booster Club, the disposal of surplus property at the maintenance department and Martin Elementary and a budget amendment for a $7,050 grant received for software and training for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade.


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