At the monthly school board meeting on Tuesday, March 5, many teachers and several community members were present to voice their opinions on the annual school budget.
Darlene Stanley, a previous member, began by thanking the Board. “First of all, I want to thank you all for what you do for the students and the teachers of Craig,” she said. “I really appreciate you.”
She proceeded with her interest in the areas of school safety, raises for the teachers, having the BTEC program not only continued, but the student’s tuitions paid for as much as possible in addition to continuing the purchase of new buses and maintaining the Driver’s Education program.
Superintendent Jeanette Warwick noted that the school provides the Drivers Education program, but the parents or students pay for the behind the wheel training.
Marsha Burton, a middle school teacher, asked that the Board consider moving to the PTO (Paid time off) structure as an alternative for teacher compensation. She suggested to base the compensation on years of service at the school as an incentive to their loyalty to the school system. “It would be something we could provide that would attract and help maintain quality applicants as well,” she added.
Burton further explained, “A PTO system does not mean more days off, instead it would show that you trust your employees to use their earned days wisely regardless of illness or need, monitoring extended days with doctor notes or equivalent as you see fit.”
She also noted that choosing the PTO system could save the teachers missed days. “We could take shorter increments of time-off needed, instead of taking a half day if only an hour or two is needed. It would no longer require employees to differentiate between sick or personal days when using their already earned and deserved time off,” Burton said.
Geoff Boyer, a high school math teacher, took the floor and stating that he had good news as he handed out papers to the Board members which showed comparisons of teacher’s salaries within the state over the last three years.
The comparison showed that though Craig County teachers’ salary standings dropped in rank from 2016-17 school year to 2017-18, they came back up even above what they were three years prior. Case in point. For a teacher who had ten years of experience, Craig ranked 117th in 16-17, then dropped to 123rd in 17-18 before coming up to 102nd during the 2018-19 school year.
“That is a significant increase that we have had over this past year, and I know that it has been a decent amount of time that we haven’t had such an increase, so I’d like to extend compliments to the Board for making this happen,” Boyer said. “What we are doing is closing the gap of the disadvantage that we were at and we need to continue to see this happen because if we stop this, obviously we will take a step backwards again and fall behind. We would just like to see this progress continue.”
Another high school math teacher, Donna Deplazes, added, “We do appreciate the raises that we got last year as it had been a long time coming. There was a ten year stretch that I think we only saw a ‘one step’ raise.”
Deplazes emphasized that this year, there is a significant amount of money on the table in the state budget that is for salaries.
“I know in the proposed budget, you have a step raise which is 1.7 percent and it’s not that we are ungrateful for that at all, but with some other things that are coming up, like the four percent raise in insurance will supersede the pay raise,” Deplazes said. “I wish to implore the Board to see if you can find two steps of maybe 2.5 percent, something that would at least not make our paychecks go down.”
Deplazes also addressed the suggestion of the Board submitting the proposed budget to the teachers with a longer timeline to view it.
“There are many of us here who feel that we are really vested in this county, the children and the school system,” she shared. “In fact, many of us spend more time here a day than we do at home with our own family therefore, we would honestly like to be involved more in the budget process. Again, we thank you so very much and I wouldn’t want to be in your seat.”
Superintendent Warwick shared that she appreciated the suggestions of the staff having extra time and will correspond with them, so that it can be reported back before the final budget is voted on.
Warwick proceeded with a power point to provide a budget overview; however, the Board will not be voting on the budget until April, she noted. “I will be glad to make myself available to answer any questions as well.”
She started the presentation by explaining the picture of a graduation cap and a diploma, which she put on the first slide of every section.
“When we prepare the budget, we have a goal in mind that we are going to graduate every student that walks in the door,” she shared. “Graduation happens in preschool. Research shows that if they lose interest in school early, and are not on grade level by third grade, the chance of being a dropout drastically increases.”
Warwick encouraged every department to support the vision of “every single student” to walk across that stage and become productive citizens, regardless if they go into the workforce or to higher education.
She also reported that they will be requesting level funding from the county. “We were cut two years ago by $70,000 and asked for that to be restored last year but it hasn’t. This year, we are requesting level funding.”
Warwick went over each category, handing out sheets for people to follow along, noting that the largest part of the budget is salaries and benefits for their employees.
The cafeteria recently received a Federal program monitoring audit concerning meal charges, policies and procedures which is done every three years.
Warwick reviewed the current meals served at CCPS. “Our process has not changed that was previously agreed upon, where all students receive a hot lunch – they are never given an alternative lunch,” she said before noting that many of the things the audit required, CCPS had already initiated and been implementing.
“We got a lot of kudos from them as Sherry does a great job in our cafeteria,” Warwick said. “They were kind of shocked and expressed just how happy they were that we were not making kids have an alternate meal or ‘tagging’ the children who could not afford a meal. That is not our philosophy as we have to take care of our kids.”
Pat Myers, Board Chairman, posed the question to Sam Foster, the Director of Instruction and Technology, of how many students attended BTEC (Botetourt Technical Ed Center).
Foster reported that 35 students currently attend, with the possibility to increase as there are currently 30 rising juniors and seniors also interested in the program.
Warwick added that the new school counselor, Evelyn Steege, is meeting individually with each student, assisting them with an education plan, having one to one discussions and encouraging parents to participate. “Before this, students would not even consider applying due to the BTEC cost, especially if the child knew their parents could afford it.”
Warwick plans to share this information with citizens of the community, hoping to “brainstorm some ways” to obtain financial assistance for the students.
March is Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM), and Alyssa Schulke had her choir sing, “A Million Dreams” as part of The Greatest Showman performance at the March School Board meeting. The ladies were: Abby McAlwee, Ashlynn Stanley Sidney Sirry, Brittany Ledford and Samantha Sarver.
Warwick presented Schulke with a bouquet of flowers and an appreciation certificate. “She does a lot and goes above and beyond her call,” Warwick said. She also presented the choir with a big box of sweets she said they could eat tomorrow. They all gave her a look that seemed to say, “it won’t last until tomorrow!”
The next School Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the Media Center. All citizens are encouraged to attend every monthly meeting and be an active part of supporting the students and school staff of Craig County.