08/06/04 — School board to consider legal options

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School board to consider legal options

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 6, 2004 1:58 PM

The county commissioners having denied their request for money to finance supplemental pay for teachers, school officials will meet next week to figure out where to go from here.

Several took issue with comments made by a commissioner suggesting that one of the biggest problems in the county is its school system.

"Certainly, I'm disappointed that statement was made," said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools. "Our progress, our test results certainly do not reflect that.

"At the same time, we're trying to work with the county commissioners on the teachers' supplement."

He said the school system has advocated every year for the increase in the supplement, and each year it has been denied.

"We had an unwritten agreement for a 5 percent increase each year," he said. "Until two years ago, we had been receiving that."

The commissioners ordered the school board to institute the supplement but did not provide the money that educators requested to pay for it. Instead, the commissioners said the school board could use money it has.

Taylor said the school board will call a special meeting to decide what its legal options are.

"We're just trying to figure out where we go from here," he said. "School has started and teachers are in place and I would certainly like to let them know what their supplement is going to be."

The supplement is the amount that a county pays teachers in addition to their state pay. All counties add to the state pay, and some neighboring counties add more than Wayne.

The school board approved its 2004-2005 budget request on May 3 and forwarded it to commissioners along with a request for a 5 percent increase in current expenses and approval of $1.5 million to raise the supplement from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

On June 22, commissioners approved only $762,924 and said it had to be applied toward raising the supplement to 6.5 percent. The move was conditional - it applied only to classroom teachers and had to be paid by the school system.

Taylor said the request created a hardship for the school system, which had already made $3 million in cuts, including 58 positions, over the past two years.

He said in order to comply with the request, more than $700,000 additional cuts would have to be made.

The school board countered with a request that commissioners amend its ordinance so the school system could bring the current 3.5 percent supplement to 5 percent.

The board also sought a commitment from commissioners that recurring annual costs be funded in the future.

Its hopes were dashed this week when commissioners denied the request and held fast to its recent edict. Commissioner Jack Best commented that the school system was the county's biggest problem.

School board member Lehman Smith said Thursday he was surprised by the latest decision by commissioners "because I thought we were working toward a better relationship."

He refrained from commenting further until the board meets as a group to discuss its plans.

Board member George Moye says there are two ways to look at everything.

"Some people would say the school system is part of a problem, others would say it's one of the best things we have got going for us," he said. "Test scores are improving, lots of schools are making outstanding progress.

"The glass is half full or half empty, but the glass is filling."

He said the commissioners latest request presents a challenge.

"I don't know what we'll decide but we have pretty much cut to the bone," he said.

"They have suggested that we cut some of our programs in order to give a raise to classroom teachers. There's a lot of other people that are as important as classroom teachers. They're very important to the operation of the school system."

Board member Rick Pridgen is also concerned about comments being made that the school system being the biggest problem in the county.

"When we're doing things by leaps and bounds, some good things for our schools and students amidst all the adversity and the cuts," he said, "it's interesting to see how individuals can make comments like that but not spend any time in the schools."

He said he is pushing for the two boards to meet and discuss some of the issues.

"I hope that we can get some type of resolution to the issue but it's going to require sitting down together," he said. "We desperately need to sit down and all of us get on the same page."

One legal option would be for the school board to petition the clerk of court to order the commissioners to add to the schools' funding. The clerk's decision could be appealed to the courts.