I am not an educator, and I don’t really have the best educational ideas. There are a lot of good educators in the Rock Hill Schools, and they have a lot of better ideas. Tonight Rock Hill School Board Chair Jim Vining pointed out that their job is to dream and come up with big ideas, and thanked them for doing so. But a lot of them went home disappointed, because part of the board’s job is to figure out what we can afford, and tonight that meant going more slowly on some dreams and stopping some altogether.
Probably the most people were disappointed with the board’s 5-2 vote against purchasing more iPads for the coming year. Let me say right now, I like iPads and I like our schools moving toward one-to-one computing. I just want it to go slower and produce results we can brag about. I also think using iPads exclusively is limiting Rock Hill students, and I can’t justify borrowing on a five year bond for an item expected to last three years. Board members showed no antipathy toward one-to-one, and most of us would like a more robust program, but have too many concerns to feel good about borrowing the money right now. Other concerns mentioned were single-source supplier, need for more versatile (and more expensive) devices, need for more hard evidence (rather than anecdotal evidence) that the devices have helped students. I hope people will take heart, because we will become a one-to-one district, and are just taking a little longer to become one.
One of the happier moments came when Mikki Rentschler, President of the Rock Hill Schools Education Foundation, addressed the board during the Citizen Participation agenda item. Ms. Rentschler is a great supporter of the schools, and was formerly a School Board member. The Foundation will continue to underwrite the iPad fees for those needing scholarship, which has helped a great many students already. In addition, the Foundation has made a commitment to support the Professional Development needed by our teachers for iPad use, which will be a great boon as we seek to expand the program using good data and information. The Foundation helps the schools immeasurably, and all involved deserve the thanks of the entire Rock Hill community.
I surprised my self by changing my own vote on the Late Start professional development days. After many requests, the board has still received little information or data about what is happening on Late Start Days, and how it helps. Again, the reasons given have been anecdotal: people who like them telling us how useful the days are. I was prepared to vote against Late Start Days, since many parents, students, and teachers say they are not useful, and the whole community is inconvenienced by them, but Superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew explained that she intends to use Late Start Days to work on schools and their data. This is a new idea, so I voted with the majority to keep them one more year.
Associate Superintendent Dr. Luanne Kokolis clarified that no busses have been rented without board approval. It is a shame, but she has to refuse to rent when people make their requests too late. I hope they will begin making their requests sooner, so she can rent to them.
I ended up voting for the changes to school buildings, which will be funded through the bond approved tonight. Associate Superintendent Mr. Anthony Cox assured us that the changes to schools will be in keeping with the facilities long-range plan. The board will have a discussion about the direction the facilities plan should take, especially given the continued cuts to our budget from the state. As I said in a previous post, a lot of money can be mis-spent when the goal is not clear. I hope the board discussion about direction for facility use is soon.
The budget was approved as presented, and it is, as discussed previously, not balanced. Most of the questions concerned the enormous increase (a 20% departmental increase) in Exceptional Student Education. Most of this is due to being understaffed, and most of the increase will be used to add personnel. Almost all the rest of the budget increase is due to state required teacher raises and accompanying benefit increases which they did not fund. Other items were increased, such as raises for other staff and increases for electricity, but the administration cut budget for many items and intends to cut more. Again, a shame, but with budget cuts from the state we have little choice.
The board approved changes to salary schedules for a few employees, on the advice of a consultant who showed that our pay scales are out of line in some cases. The board did not approve a step schedule for everyone. The state has set a “step” salary schedule only for certified teachers, and most years the legislature requires the board to give teachers a “step” increase in pay, for another year’s experience. The state is supposed to supply the funding for the step, but as mentioned above, they don’t always do so. For employees not on a step schedule, the board has approved a pay range schedule. Those employees are originally hired at a minimum, medium, or maximum salary level, depending on experience and qualifications. When the board gives an increase, it is in the form of a percentage, and each non-step employee gets that percentage increase. The administration proposed a step schedule for everyone, with the new step schedules for currently non-step employees being in line with their current pay levels. This would probably simplify things, but it also creates the expectation of a raise annually for everyone, a commitment the board is not ready to make. I want to add that these salary schedules have a maximum amount, and our most experienced employees do not get any raise at all most of the time.
Finally, the board will not have a July Work Session, but will meet again on July 28 for a Business Meeting.