Wake cuts more school jobs
Posted August 2, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County School Board cut dozens of custodial jobs Tuesday night without further discussion. The reduction in force was approved with several other items as part of the consent agenda.
The board discussed the cuts at length during its July 12 meeting.
Last month, Chief Business Officer David Neter told the board they would have to cut another $5 million from the school budget. Neter recommended cutting 70 custodial positions and reducing outside custodial contracts by 35 percent. The cuts would mean classrooms would be cleaned less often, and teachers and principals would have to help pitch in with some of the duties.
While there was no additional conversation by the board Tuesday, a citizen raised concerns about staff and budget cuts during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
“You voted not to ask our county commissioners for more funding,” retired educator Betsy Lovejoy said, “Why would you not ask for more funding for our teachers, for our schools?”
The board also voted unanimously to extend a contract for three graduation coaches for the 2011-12 school year. The $200,000 contract will allow three coaches to continue working with students who have attendance or behavioral problems. The overall goal is to increase student achievement and reduce the number of suspensions. The program is expected to help about 50 ninth and sixth graders at East Wake Middle, Knightdale High School and Millbrook High School.
During the afternoon work session, the school board talked about future school construction, student grading policies and the use of school resource officers.
The board heard results from a survey about the use of school resource officers in Wake County high schools. Some have questioned whether having sworn law enforcement officers in schools can actually create a more harsh environment for discipline.
The Wake County School Board has spent the last few months revamping the student discipline policy with an overall goal of reducing suspensions and keeping students in class more often.
Senior Director of Security Russ Smith told the board that survey results suggest that despite a need for improvement in a few areas, the school resource officer program itself is working well.
Smith said the survey of 167 school teachers and principals showed that staff members valued having officers in the school but suggested two areas where things could be better:
- The integration of SROs as a member of the school-based team.
- More effective communication between the district and SROs.
Smith says they plan to hold an annual meeting with all school resource officers before school starts to help enhance teamwork and communication. The first of these meetings is scheduled for Aug. 23.
Patty Williams, with the group Great Schools in Wake, is among those concerned about the use of SROs. She argues punishments can often be too harsh for students. During the public comment hearing on the topic, Williams told the board students should have been surveyed as well.
"You are missing an important connection with students and their families,” Williams said. “We need to get everybody involved in finding solutions that serve everyone's needs.”
Grading policies reviewed
Ruth Steidinger, senior director of High School Programs, spoke to the board about changing grading policies to make achievement more consistency across the school district.
Wake County public schools' staff reviewing the current system recently found inconsistencies in grading, including differences in the same subject within the same school from one teacher to the next.
Board member Deborah Prickett recommended going back to letter grades for students in third through fifth grades to help better evaluate and place students transitioning from elementary to middle school.
The board is also considering separating behavioral grades from academic grades for middle and high school students.
The board discussed possible guidelines and how things like homework, tardiness and participation would need to be defined in shaping a more streamlined policy.
Board vice chairman John Tedesco raised concern about having behavior considered as part of a student's overall grade.
Board member Debra Goldman said she worries requiring homework to make up a certain percentage of a student's grade may push teachers to issue more.
The board asked for a more defined grading rubric and research on whether there is a benefit in switching from number to letter grades in grades 3-5.. They did not take any action on the policy Tuesday.
Work session focuses on building new schools
Chief Facilities and Operations Officer Don Haydon began Tuesday's work session by telling the board they will need to build 10 new schools by 2015 to keep up with growth. Haydon said the Wake County Schools system continues to grow by more than 3,000 students per year.
Wake County still has about $99 million left from a previous bond referendum to spend on school construction. Haydon said that would be enough to build one small middle and one small high school, or one elementary school and one large high school.
During the July meeting, Tedesco asked the staff to look into reducing the number of existing mobile classrooms before making any final decisions about building new schools.
The conversation was heated at times as the group discussed the status of new school plans. The board voted last year to move forward with pre-design plans for several schools. Board member Chris Malone raised concerns about why those plans have been put on hold and the amount of money that has been spent so far. Haydon said he will have to get back to the board with spending information.
Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said he would like to see the staff consider other construction company options in hopes of building more schools with the same funding.
Margiotta and Goldman also questioned how they can consider future student growth needs in certain areas without a final student assignment plan.
Superintendent Tony Tata assured the board that he will have more detailed information about what the choice model would look like in Wake County within the next two weeks. Tata plans to share information gathered from parental surveys and a test run of the proposed “Blue Plan”
The board will wait for those updates before voting on new school construction.