03/06/12 — Board to teachers: Speak up

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Board to teachers: Speak up

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 6, 2012 1:46 PM

A Board of Education member Monday night made an appeal for teachers to speak out about their concerns, while another's plea was directed to county commissioners and state legislators to make schools more of a priority.

The board would benefit from more input from its educators, especially those hesitant to offer it, said board member John P. Grantham, vice chairman of the board.

He said oftentime, he and other board members hear from educators one-on-one but there has been some trepidation about being too vocal.

"You can call the board members," he said. "If there's problem areas that you think we can do something about, let us know. We'll try to do something about it if we can.

"If there's any foolishness that we're putting on locally, we definitely need to know that."

Grantham said there is already enough "foolishness" from the state, so the district could benefit from hearing feedback from teachers, teacher assistants, "right down the line."

"We have got a PR problem. A lot of people aren't impressed with the central office," he said, later clarifying that he included the school board in that group. "Right now, I don't think they feel like you have got their back."

The "perception problem," he noted, should be addressed.

Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, explained that one problem lies with all the state mandates handed down. In turn, the district has less staff shouldering more responsibilities.

"We continually look at ways to reduce the workload on teachers," he said.

He commended the teachers and staff in the school system. Unfortunately, he said, the gauge used to measure school effectiveness remains the same. Even if a tornado were to blow through and destroy three schools, he said, the bottom line would be how much students achieve in the classroom.

"In the spirit of what criticism we may receive sometimes, we have some of the hardest working people I have ever seen," Taylor said.

And while the district continues to endure budget setbacks, which show no sign of relief in the near future, the superintendent said he doesn't know how long he can stave off cuts to staff. There aren't enough reductions to paper and supplies that can be made to absorb all that is earmarked for personnel.

"I don't care how bad the budgets get," he said. "We're not going to close schools."

Board member Arnold Flowers said he would like to see such entities as the county commission and state legislators place more emphasis on the importance of education.

He cited a recent work session of the commission, during which the board discussed $64.8 million for a new jail and another $4 million for a 100,000-square-foot shell building.

"My recommendation in this -- I have (sat) on that seat on the board of commissioners -- that's a complicated thing because the state mandates down to Wayne County as far as the jail and what they're going to do for prisons," he said. "It's not like we really decide on that."

In his opinion, though, he said the state has set the standards too high.

"I feel like it's such a large amount of money," he said. "We could build two schools for that amount of money."

Flowers suggested there be more citizen input directed to the commission and state legislators.

"I think I can speak for the county and you citizens out there, if you disagree with me, call me and let me know," he said.

He said he feels taxpayers would prefer improvements be made in schools rather than to prisons or building a new shell building. Such decisions by governing bodies have been detrimental to education and as a result, he said, school facilities have suffered.

He maintained that if more priority was placed on having better schools, there might not be as much need for additional prison space.