Franklin County Schools: Spending Decisions

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the December 13 meeting, the Franklin County School Board approved increasing Extended School Program (ESP) employees’ wages by $2 per hour, and after long debate, nonunanimously approved ESSER 3 spending for a $4.4 million Wellness Center. In other business, the board agreed to an MOU with “iteach” to foster teacher recruitment and reviewed a plan for increasing teacher retention.

Justifying the need for a wage increase for ESP employees, ESP Coordinator Kim Nuckolls said staffing shortages had forced her to close ESP locations. All the neighboring school districts paid ESP employees more than Franklin County where the staff earned just $10 per hour and site directors earned only slightly more, Nuckolls stressed. Area fast food restaurant employees earned $12-$13 per hour. The self-supporting ESP used less than 40 percent of its budget in the past two years, Nuckolls noted. “The money is there” to pay for the raise.

Appealing to the board to approve the federal Elementary and Secondary School Extended Relief (ESSER) 3 spending plan, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said the state had approved the application and required board approval to release funds. Board member Sarah Marhevsky questioned “how well the plan meshes” with the school system’s commitment to address teacher retention and recruitment. Board member Sara Liechty said, “Big question marks” surrounded the proposed $4.4 million multi-purpose facility. “There’s a lot of discontent … I’ve had a good many people contact me and say they are not at all in favor of this and not one contact me and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’” The people Liechty’s heard from wanted to know why, where, how the facility would be staffed, future plans for maintenance, and when and how it would be available to the community.

Bean said the facility proposed for the Franklin County High School (FCHS) campus would offer a location for elementary basketball games, special education activities, cheerleading, wrestling, physical therapy, teacher in-service, science fairs, STEM fairs, and art exhibits. In addition to an indoor turf area the size of one-third a football field, the facility might also include a walking path if funds allowed. Bean said currently six or seven student groups often struggled to share gymnasium space. The facility would be available to all county schools and would provide an opportunity for sports teams to raise money with tournaments. Maintenance would fall to FCHS and perhaps scheduling, as well.

Liechty cited ever-increasing material costs and asked what would happen if the cost exceeded the budget. “There could be a need to downsize,” Bean acknowledged and said the turf area would be downsized first.

Liechty suggested a public information campaign and community meetings before the board voted. “The community does not have enough knowledge,” she said. According to Federal Projects Supervisor Jenny Crabtree, the two surveys conducted showed 76 percent of 129 respondents and 55 percent of 27 respondents approved of the proposed facility.

Explaining the urgency of voting that evening, County Finance Director Andrea Smith said the federal government had set a Dec. 31 deadline for ESSER 3 spending decisions.

Bean recommended approving the plan and making amendments as needed going forward. He insisted the directors immediately preceding him “cared nothing about sports.” While the plan also contained funding for school capital improvements ($180,000) and technology ($1.24 million), Bean argued, “spending $6 million on capital improvements and technology would be a huge waste.”

Board member Linda Jones pointed out ESSER funds could not be used for teacher salary increases.

The board approved the ESSER 3 plan, with Liechty and Marhevsky abstaining.

In discussion about the MOU with “iteach,” Board Chair CleiJo Walker noted the cost of the program fell entirely to the applicant. The “iteach” program provides a pathway for community members with four-year degrees to teach while pursuing certification.

Following up on the recent workshop discussion about teachers’ reasons for wanting to leave the profession, Bean identified five areas needing addressed and said he would create committees to devise action plans targeting the issues. The committees will consist of administrators, teachers, parents and community members. Bean will ask the committees to report to the board in February.

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