Franklin County School Board Criticizes Proposed Legislation

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“It’s a push against public schools in favor of privatization,” said board member Sarah Marhevsky at the Nov. 13 Franklin County School Board meeting reviewing law changes being considered by the Tennessee State Legislature. Board members spoke out agreeing with Marhevsky’s assessment, criticizing legislative proposals to refuse up to $2 billion in federal education funding and to adopt a voucher program that siphons money from public schools.

Supporters of House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s federal-funding proposal maintain Tennessee would not have to follow unwanted federal restrictions if they give up federal funding. The opposition asks why, if Tennessee has enough money to fill the gap, the state is not already putting more money into education. Tennessee “is almost 50” in state spending on education, board member Sara Liechty pointed out, and even without federal funding, the state would still need to comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At present IDEA programs are largely funded by federal money. “[The IDEA] is federal law. We have to meet the needs of those students,” Liechty insisted. “[Federal money] also funds a large portion of our nutrition program. Children need to be fed … [without federal funding] it will fall on the local tax payers to make up those differences.” Currently, the school district spends almost $5 million on special education, said board Vice Chair Lance Williams. “That’s almost 10 percent of our budget.”

The proposed state-wide expansion of Tennessee’s voucher program would help “underprivileged” students according to its proponents. Parents who homeschool or send their children to private school would receive voucher funding. Liechty maintained “The voucher program doesn’t do what it proposes to do.” She cited research showing parents who homeschooled or sent their children to private school could afford to do so and would do so, with or without a voucher supplement. Meanwhile, funding to public schools would be reduced due to decreased enrollment. Liechty urged board members and concerned residents to contact House Representative Iris Rudder and Senator Janice Bowling about the proposed legislative changes.

Reporting on district finances, Deputy Director of Finances Jenny Phillips said the first month of available reporting on the statewide “sales tax holiday” showed school revenue down 2-3 percent compared to last year. “All in all were not doing bad,” Phillips said. “It’s still early.”

Human Resources Supervisor Linda Foster updated the board on staffing. “There isn’t as much turnover as in previous years,” Foster said. Cowan Elementary needed a PE teacher and Franklin County High School needed an English teacher for the spring semester. The district also needed two full-time custodians and bus drivers. “There are always openings for both,” Foster observed, echoing Transportation Department Director Jeff Sons. Sons said he had openings for six bus drivers. The manual and long training process often discouraged applicants, Sons acknowledged, but encouraged interested drivers to contact him.

The board approved Tennessee School Board Association policy recommendations governing fundraising and credit cards. The TSBA recommended Fundraising Policy allowed “crowd funding” if the district had sufficient “internal controls” in place to oversee the practice. Former Finance Director Cindy Latham, who is currently advising the bookkeeping staff, said at present the internal controls were insufficient and advised the district not to allow crowdfunding “at this time.” The new credit card policy allows use of credit cards “maintained by the Director of Schools/designee through procedures maintained by the district office … The School Principal is the only employee allowed to apply for a credit card on a school’s behalf, and only after the Board approves the Principal’s request.”

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