Photo by Dan Andrews. Knox County School Board outgoing chairman Mike McMillan passes the gavel to newly elected chairman Doug Harris.

Photo by Dan Andrews.
Knox County School Board outgoing chairman Mike McMillan passes the gavel to newly elected chairman Doug Harris.

By Sally Absher

The Board of Education conducted its annual “reorganization” at the September regular Board meeting last week. Gloria Deathridge nominated Doug Harris (who announced publicly at Monday’s work session he was “throwing his name in the hat” for Chair), and Karen Carson quickly seconded the nomination. Outgoing chair Mike McMillan asked if there were any other nominations, but being none, Harris’ nomination was accepted by acclamation.

Lynne Fugate nominated newcomer Tracie Sanger for vice chair, also quickly seconded by Carson. Amber Rountree nominated colleague Terry Hill, but Hill declined the nomination.

Sanger, Harris, and Carson, in addition to Mike McMillan, are up for re-election next year.  September is voter registration month.

In other BOE business, Wednesday’s meeting began with the recognition of West High School senior Baily Butler for her “First Day” initiative that collects and provides backpacks, school supplies, and clothing to K-3 students in need.

The Board also recognized Pre-school teachers who have become HighScope certified. This certification “recognizes teachers whose practice reflects a high degree of knowledge about child development and skill in implementing the HighScope educational approach and curriculum. Achieving HighScope Teacher Certification indicates that your students receive some of the very best instruction available in early childhood education.”

Once Harris and Sanger were duly acclimated into their new positions, the Board sped through the remaining regular agenda, approving $375,244.55 in various grants and approving of the first reading of Board Policy JCAC “Random Searches for Dangerous Weapons” and the second reading of Policy JB “Attendance.”

The Board also approved a contract with World Travel Service Inc., participation in the State of Tennessee long-term insurance plan (at no cost to KCS), and an amendment to the contract with TRA school software solutions for the provision of school activity fund accounting software. This will allow parents to pay student activity fees online.

There’s a catch to the online fee payment, however. As discussed during the work session, the vendor will charge credit card users a 4% payment fee and a 35-cent transaction fee. Several BOE members voiced concern about the fees, especially when the vendor will offer a rebate based on the total fees processed. Hill asked if there was any possibility that the vendor would charge a smaller fee if the district forfeited the rebate. She said “What concerns me about this is we have parents opting not to pay period, and we sure don’t want to have more of that to happen.”

When students don’t pay their class fees, teachers often have to make up the difference out of their own pockets. $100 in BEP money doesn’t go very far when buying supplies for two semesters of Chemistry. And at most schools, there are no consequences for those students who won’t – or can’t pay their student fees.

The Board approved the premium rates for 2016 KCS employee health insurance plans, including a new “consumer-driven” (aka catastrophic care) health plan coupled with a health savings account.

Public Forum regular Brenda Owensby spoke of her concerns with the loss of experienced teachers in Knox County. She said she continues to marvel at the knowledge and experience of our experienced teachers and the knowledge and experience they share with new teachers.

“Experience is critical to becoming a good teacher. You cannot get the same knowledge from a textbook as you can from experience,” she said, adding, “We need some provision for prioritizing the hiring of experienced teachers.”

Perhaps in reference to recent reports that Teach for America Knoxville is advertising on, she concluded, “I have great concerns about the various programs that think you can take a degreed person and turn out a teacher, after five weeks of training.”

And apparently the school bus situation isn’t improving, at least for one bus route in the Powell area. Powell Middle school parent Robert Roche told the BOE that the first day of school was the only day his student arrived at school and home on time.

Despite numerous calls to the Transportation office, he said, “They are arriving between 45 minutes and one hour late, every day.” This is a continuation of a problem these students experienced last spring. It involves a “double route” bus, which delivers one group of students to school then goes back out for another load.

Dr. McIntyre asked him to speak with Chief Operating Officer Russ Oaks after the meeting to make sure they had all the information to follow up on this situation.

Following a brief break, the Board resumed to hear Stephanie and Matt Anderson’s ADA Complaint ruling appeal. The board unanimously sided with the ruling of the Hearing Committee and Dr. McIntyre against the Andersons. See next week’s Focus for the full story.