By Sally Absher

By Sally Absher

Community Meeting for KCS 2015-2016 Budget TONIGHT.

KCS is presenting a Community Forum regarding the fiscal year 2015-16 budget process on Monday, April 6 at 6 p.m. at Amherst Elementary School (5101 Schaad Road). The meeting will be streamed live at and broadcast live on Comcast Channel 10 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99.

Kindergarten Round-up will be held Tuesday April 7 at all KCS elementary schools for the upcoming 2015-2106 school year. Children should be five years old by August 15, 2015, and parents are asked to register their child at their zoned school. See for more information.  KCS is also taking applications for Voluntary Pre-K and Title 1 Preschool beginning April 13. See for more information.

Community Meetings for Year Round School.

The final Community meeting to discuss “balanced calendar” will be on Thursday April 9, 6 pm at Ridgedale School (in conjunction with their Open House).

Additionally, there are two meetings scheduled this week for Day Care Providers to discuss the calendar options KCS is considering: Tuesday April 7, 6 pm at West High School; and Thursday, April 9, 6 pm at Central High School.

KCS scheduled a series of meetings during February and March. But many people did not hear about the meetings. Revising the calendar could entail a major investment (between $0 and $20 Million). This will impact every citizen in Knox County whether you have kids in school or not.

KCS is considering a 9/2 or 9/3 calendar. In both cases, students would have four 9 week terms (as in the current calendar) separated by either two or three weeks of break or intercession. This would reduce summer vacation to 8 or 5 weeks. The intercessions could offer intervention or enrichment for struggling students. But attendance would not be mandatory. Are we being sold a program to help struggling students that will never materialize, but will leave us on the hook for $20M?

So far the meetings have raised more questions than they have answered. There is no information about actual cost, transportation, or childcare. There is broad support for a full week for Fall Break. Beyond that, it depends who you ask and what questions you ask. The devil is in the details.

The process for vetting year round school is beginning to look like the process KCS used to push through the 2020 strategic plan. Most people in Knox County never heard about it. The biggest group of stakeholders – the taxpayers – is not being informed.

Russ Oakes, KCS Chief Operating Officer, said there will be a detailed survey that will be emailed out to  the KCS email list, students, daycares, Chamber members, and community leaders. Hopefully the survey will also be available on the KCS website, and include ALL options: the current calendar; the current calendar with one week for Fall Break; the 9/2 and the 9/3. Each alternative must have a detailed fiscal note attached. There should be no predetermined outcomes.

What Happened to the APEX Bonus?

During the budget discussion at last week’s BOE work session, there was much talk about teachers not getting APEX bonuses this year. Under Race to the Top, KCS received a portion of TNDOE’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant and Innovation Acceleration Fund (IAF) grants in the spring of 2011.

In the fall of 2011, KCS implemented the Advance-Perform-EXcel (APEX) program, a performance-based bonus strategic compensation system. Teachers meeting the criteria received a bonus of $1500 – $2000.

To promote financial sustainability after the grant expires, the grant guidelines required an annual local contribution to fund an increasing portion of the strategic compensation budget beginning in the first implementation year, with grantees eventually providing half of the funding for the program by the end of the grant (2014-15). KCS planned to use a combination of First to the Top funding and funds allocated from the district’s general operating fund to sustain APEX.

So, what happened? This is the last year of the grant. Teachers should receive the bonuses for this year in the fall. But Dr. McIntyre’s draft budget eliminates the APEX bonus money in order to pay the County’s portion of the 4% raise promised by Gov. Haslam.

Why is KCS paying part of the pay raise promised by the state? A 4% raise for all KCS teachers will cost $10M. Teachers deserve this raise – they were promised a raise last year and the state reneged. But the state doesn’t pay the whole 4%. The 4% raise applies only to the BEP portion of the salary, and only for BEP allocated teaching positions, providing about $4.3M of the $10M. Which leaves Knox County to cover the rest.

Dr. McIntyre says there isn’t money in his budget proposal to cover both. Teachers who have jumped through hoops all year to earn the bonus should get it. A raise will benefit all teachers and have long term benefit. KCEA President-elect Lauren Hopson said, “KCS needs to back up its commitment to both and stop hiring layers of upper management we don’t need, and stop spending money on the latest shiny initiative until it has met its obligations to staff.”

She adds, “I asked the superintendent years ago how he planned to sustain APEX when the grant money ran out, knowing the conservative nature of this community. He just seemed to think the money would come. I, for one, don’t appreciate being used as a pawn in a battle against the Commission. This predicament could have and should have been foreseen and dealt with before now.”