​School Board Approves Bonuses, Cell Phone Changes

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Nov. 11 meeting, the Franklin County School Board approved bonuses for all support employees and contract bus drivers. The board also approved a revised cell phone policy for the middle schools and high schools lifting some restrictions.

According to the approved bonus schedule, the 218 full-time support employees will receive $500 bonuses and the seven part-time employees will receive $300. The 40 contract bus drivers will receive a $200 bonus provided the contractor employing the driver chooses to pass the bonus along.

Board member Lance Williams voted against giving the bonuses. “We have no control over what the 24 contractors do with the money. The drivers are not our employees.” Williams also observed the contractors would need to pay taxes on the bonus money received.

The school system will pay the fringe benefit deductions applicable to the bonuses the support employees receive.

Board member Linda Jones, who voted in favor of the bonuses, also had reservations. “I have concerns for the teachers who did not receive raises at the beginning of the year and about dipping into the fund balance to pay for the bonuses.”

Director of Schools Stanley Bean, who proposed the bonuses, said the schools finished the year with a $3.3 million fund balance, significantly above the anticipated $3 million. The bonus package will cost $143,000.

The proposal will go before the Franklin County Finance Committee, and if approved by the Finance Committee, on to the County Commission for a vote.

During the summer budgeting process, the Finance Committee rejected three draft budgets proposed by the school system, objecting to the excessive draw on the reserve fund balance. Raises for support employees and contract bus drivers were removed from the budget, as well as raises for teachers except for salary increases based on degree advancement and step increases based on years of service.

“Some of the county commissioners objected to school system employees not getting raises,” noted board member Christine Hopkins.

Middle school and high school principals recommended the cell phone policy changes.

“It gives principals a lot more flexibility,” said Bean.

At the principals’ discretion, students can use cell phones on school property before 8 a.m. After 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., students may use cell phones only when teachers receive permission from the principal to allow cell phone use in their classroom or if a student receives permission from the principal.

“There are classroom situations where cell phones can do what Chrome Books can’t, for example, take good quality photos,” said Franklin County High School Principal Roger Alsup. “It will be a tough sell, though, for me to allow students to use phones in the classroom.” Alsup cited diabetic students using cell phones to monitor blood sugar as another discretionary use.

Although not covered in this policy, the principals also recommended allowing cell phone use on buses, according to Alsup.

“It would give bus drivers one less thing to keep up with,” said Transportation Director Mark Montoye.

Construction Manager Gary Clardy updated the board on the new middle schools. “We decided not to push to get the gyms ready by the first of the year,” Clardy said. Rigid fire marshal regulations would have required a fire watch for the gyms to be used.

“There was a $100,000 savings,” Bean said.

South Middle School construction has exceeded contingency expenses due to a sinkhole, Clardy said. Excess contingency funds from North Middle School will cover the cost.

All furnishings and equipment will be new, Clardy said. “They’re top of the line. They’ll be up to any school in Tennessee.”

The current furnishings and equipment will be made available to the other county schools, and if unclaimed, will be sold on GovDeals.