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School board discusses budget, buses and security



The Pulaski County School board met Tuesday and opened with a presentation led by Adam Joyce, the Principal of Dublin Middle School. Joyce described how the students at the middle school are being taught the importance of respect for their fellow students and how a Dublin Duke does not miss school unnecessarily. All in all, Joyce described a healthy and vibrant learning atmosphere for the students at DMS.

Budget issues loomed large at Tuesday’s meeting, mostly due to uncertainty regarding next year’s budget. Last Tuesday, the school board made their budgetary requests to the board of supervisors at a joint meeting, but they had not yet heard back as to whether all, or most of their requests will be met.

The board passed a revised Reduction in Workforce policy at the meeting, which could be put into effect if the school system’s monetary allocations are less than expected. According to school superintendent Kevin Siers, five or six instructional positions will be opened up through attrition/retirement and, if necessary, because of lack of funding these positions could remain unfilled.

The Reduction in Workforce policy puts the greatest emphasis on seniority, so that teachers who have been in the system for several years would not face termination.

The school board next passed the New Summative Evaluation Instrument for Teachers policy, which is said to be a great improvement over the old evaluation that was described as confusing.

If a workforce reduction is necessary in the future, the summative evaluation could potentially be used as a secondary consideration relative to seniority in letting teachers go.

Though there was some discussion about releasing teachers, it seems more likely that, if anything, Pulaski County teachers might receive a two percent rather than a three percent pay increase. This would directly affect state funding for teacher salary increases, in that the state requires the county to match its three percent salary increase for teachers for the next school year. If not met, the school system would not quality for matching state funds for a teacher salary increase and would lose that additional money.

Siers met with county administrator Jonathan Sweet Tuesday afternoon but received no specific assurances regarding the school board’s budget. Siers also mentioned a potential reshuffling of monies to fund the school system’s bus system and this led to an extensive conversation about the condition of the school system’s bus fleet.

“Thirty of our busses are over 15 years old, that’s over a third of our fleet,” said school board member Mike Barbour. “Twenty-one busses have over 200,000 miles on them. Just recently, a new bus driver who had a load of kids had the transmission come out of the bus at a busy intersection. She had that bus taken to have the transmission checked twice and was told there was nothing wrong with it. We have a crisis in terms of busses. We’re using busses that were bought in the 1990s so I don’t think there’s an option of foregoing buying new busses.”

“When we had the town meetings for the new middle school, they talked about how bad the buildings were but they also talked about putting our kids on unsafe busses,” said school board member Bill Benson. “That’s what the citizens of what this county are saying.”

“You wouldn’t take your own kids on some of these busses, we take the communities kids,” Barbour added.

The conversation then progressed to school security.

“The big thing that bothered me is that there doesn’t seem to be any concern about funding the SRO’s (School Resource Officers) at the elementary schools,” said Benson. “I think that’s vitally important that they consider outright paying for that.”

Benson mentioned that it would take some time for a deputy to get to Riverlawn or Snowville if there was a security threat at those schools.

“We need an SRO at every one of those elementary schools,” said Benson.

School board member Paige Cash recently returned from a school board security meeting in Roanoke and warned to, “never have the mindset that it can’t happen here.” Cash added that, at present, teachers and administrators who are majority female, are expected to deal with potentially dangerous situations.

The argument was also made that employing SRO’s is a more efficient way of protecting school children than adding expensive security doors and entryways. School officials estimate that hiring five security personnel to work at all of the county elementary schools would cost $250,000.

Lee County faced the same monetary issues and intended to arm teachers and administrators to protect their school children from intruders. This effort was blocked by Governor Ralph Northam who claimed that arming teachers was illegal, leaving Lee County schools unable to legally provide protection by arming school employees. Lee County is currently suing the state in order to reverse that policy.

For their part, when asked, school board members Paige Cash and Bill Benson expressed their opposition to arming school personnel as a means of protecting the student body.



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