School decisions put on hold awaiting state budget funding

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By Geoff Hamill

The Washington County School Board had several key issues before it Monday night, but few decisions could be made because of money concerns. The local school system, like others across the state, is awaiting word from the state legislature on funding for its schools. With no choice but to play the waiting game, the board decided to table a decision on many staffing issues.

One decision the board was able to make was to not continue funding instructional assistants at each of the local schools.  Currently, each of Washington County’s schools has funding for one instructional assistant, with the exception of Washington County High School, which has two, including an extra assistant for its library media center. These five positions were adopted last year, but the board decided to not fund the positions again for the 2010-11 school year.

The board was considering three options, including continuing to fund a whole position at each school, fund only a half of a position at each school or not fund the board of education allocated instructional assistant, which has been done in the past.

Board member Pat Clements made the motion that the board should not fund any of the positions at this time given the unknown financial future.

“I don’t see how we can make a decision on any of these,” Clements said. “I think we have to put it off. I don’t see that we have a choice. We don’t know if we’re going to have the money to pay you, so it’s kind of hard to make that job offer.”

Board member Nora Hatton seconded the motion, and all members voted unanimously in favor of the decision.

With no guarantee for those positions, the board decided to put off a decision on two other staffing issues, which included funding another instructional assistant. Three tenths of that position would be allocated for another instructional assistant at Washington County Middle School, and seven tenths would be allocated as a library media center assistant for the middle and high schools. Also delayed was a decision on hiring a district-wide technician who would work 220 days per the district’s salary schedule. Both items were removed from the agenda with no action being taken.

With representatives from the family resource centers of the local schools present, the board next looked at possible salary schedule changes for those positions.  Currently, the resource center directors are paid as certified salary staff members, but the board considered a few options, including the option to change that status to classified. Other options included leaving the positions as certified and placing a cap on the salary with no additional step increases for time served, or continuing as certified employees with the board supplementing salaries with general funds.

The family resource centers are operated by grants, and funding for salaries also comes from the grants. One resource center serves North Washington, while another serves the Springfield campus, which includes the county elementary, middle and high schools.

From that funding, the Springfield campus center, which is operated by director Barbara Pettus, has about $15,000 remaining to use for programs for students. The North Washington Center, operated by director Donya Stevens, has no additional funding, and the approximately $50,000 granted for that center is used entirely for salaries of the center’s staff.

Jason Simpson, who oversees extended school services for the county and is the resource center district contact person, told the board that he had received a call from a regional representative who wanted to have a meeting to discuss all options.

There is no guarantee of any solution, but Simpson said he felt it would be worth meeting with the representative and gathering more information before making a decision.

“It’s a tough decision, and one that’s going to affect some people,” Clements added. “If there’s a way, I think it behooves us to try.”

Clements then moved that the issue be tabled until a meeting could take place with the representative to discuss other options. Hatton seconded the motion, and the board agreed unanimously.

Other staffing concerns on the agenda were for the high school athletic department, and included the discussion of filling a vacancy for a previously existing fifth assistant football coach, as well as continuing to fund a strength and conditioning coach. The strength and conditioning coach had originally been funded by a grant, but was paid by a stipend from the board’s general fund in recent years.

In addition to these existing positions, a request was made for a freshman volleyball coach, as well as an athletic trainer for all WCHS sports.

Board chair Patsy Lester said the salary for the assistant football coach is $3,714. She added that $5,405 was the salary for the strength and conditioning coach, which totals $9,119. In addition, the freshman volleyball coach, if hired, would be paid $1,250, for a total of $10,369. That total could be allotted toward the cost of a trainer, which was estimated to be about $15,000 per year. The discussion of a trainer drew favor from some board members.

“I’m in favor of an athletic trainer if we had the money,” board member Mike McCain said. “One of my own children was injured in a football game, and it cost quite a bit of money. If some child was to get killed or permanently damaged, I’m afraid we would be in serious trouble, like what happened in Louisville. If we have to do away with an assistant coach, and I don’t want to eliminate any of them, but the one thing that would be the most advantageous if we’ve got to choose, I think would be the athletic trainer.”

McCain’s reference to what happened in Louisville was to the death of Pleasure Ridge Park High School football player Max Gilpin, who collapsed and died after running at a football practice in 2008.

Washington County head football coach Mark Perry attended the meeting, and he said he would prefer an athletic trainer to an additional coach.

“If they are going to be present at all the practices, I’d rather have an athletic trainer,” Perry said.

Hatton asked Perry if he could speak for all coaches, and although he declined to do so, Washington County Interim Principal Paul Terrell said he has spoken with several other coaches, and they had expressed interest in having a trainer as well.

See the complete story in the print edition of this week's Springfield Sun!