Several weighty issues were taken up at last night’s Cumberland County Board of Education meeting – among them the attendance policy, TN-Ready testing and the ongoing school-renovation projects.
After lengthy discussion, the Board approved the controversial new attendance policy on its first reading. The vote was 5 to 3 with one abstaining. Board member Josh Stone was one of the three voting against the policy. “It’s punishing the many because of the few,” he said. “I do not like the thought of punishing every family in this district because of the habitually truant families.” Board members Shirley Parris and David Bowman also voted no. Board member Aretie Patterson passed on the vote.
Stone said he’s gotten complaints from parents who’ve received notices after three excused absences. “One case of the flu’s gonna put you out five days,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to go to a doctor for that.”
Attendance Supervisor Bo Magnusson said the intent was to remind people of the importance of regular, consistent attendance. “I know it’s inconvenient,” he acknowledged, adding the revised policy means the school system is “going to be held accountable for excused absences.”
“What we have is a step in the right direction on the importance of attendance,” Board member Don Hassler said at the end of the discussion. “I’d like us to go ahead and vote on it.”
Seven other policies were up for a first-reading vote. The Board voted unanimously in favor of all seven – regarding emergency closings, naming of facilities, application and employment, personnel records, retirement incentive: retiree health insurance, discrimination/harassment of employees and ethics policies. Eleven policies gained unanimous passage on second reading. These included policies on dress code, college-level courses, special programs, graduation requirements, graduation activities, grievances, alternative school programs, medicines, glucagon and diazepam gel, opioid antagonist and head lice policies.
Architect Kim Chamberlin of Upland Design Group presented a status report on several school projects. A pre-construction meeting about the CCHS football-field project was due to convene this morning; work is officially set to begin Monday (April 30, 2018). “We’ll see work on that starting soon,” Chamberlin said. However, with the recent spate of wet weather, the actual work could be delayed a few days. “The field, earthwork, drainage lines [phases] are weather sensitive.” Approval of $1,500 for environmental permitting passed unanimously. Bids for the stadium project are due Tuesday, May 22.
Drawings for the Crab Orchard Elementary School project are complete and have been submitted to the fire marshal’s office. Bids are being sought and will be opened May 24 at 2 p.m. Environmental permits will be required because the project disturbs more than an acre of land. A motion to obtain the environmental permits passed unanimously.
Chamberlin recommended doing the CCHS reroofing project all at once, with the project being awarded as a single contract. He recommended bids be opened in July, so the project would come in under next year’s budget.
CCHS bathroom-renovation bids were opened Thursday afternoon (April 26, 2018). The renovation was expected to cost about half a million dollars. The low bid, from FTM Contracting in Cookeville, came in at $293,000. The Board unanimously approved the bid. A formal response from the contractor, accepting the renovation project, is expected sometime today.
In the most heated and contentious debate at last night’s meeting, the Board took up the issue of the validity of TNReady test scores. The board voted 5-3 with one abstention to – provided the state leaves the matter in local hands – “hold harmless everyone we can hold harmless.” That would include the district, the schools, the teachers and the students.
Dr. Rebecca Wood reported final state-level decisions haven’t been made yet, but things are in flux at the moment. “We don’t have the official legislation,” she said. “You had been hearing that students would be held harmless with TCAP [scores, but] last night the legislature changed gears.”
All indications had been the state would move to “hold harmless” everyone regarding this year’s test scores. “All the way down: Districts, schools, teachers and students… all of that is held harmless,” Wood said.
Superintendent of Schools Janet Graham said she’s seen evidence from other school systems across the state regarding major issues with the testing. “Superintendents are outraged – they’re absolutely outraged,” she said. “It’s been outrage in the state. In Cumberland County we have not been impacted to any great degree.”
Dr. Wood said issues within the Cumberland County schools have been few. “It is our technology department and it is our schools and our testing coordinators. They have absolutely knocked it out of the park,” she said.
Wood said they were going to ask that test scores for grades 3 through 8 not be included in the students’ final grades on their report cards. Still, she said, she’s “pretty confident” in the high schools’ test results.
One concern mentioned was that if the high schoolers’ test scores were counted, all students’ scores would have to count – scores are valid for the 2017-2018 school year, system wide. If the scores for students in grades 3 through 8 are discarded because of testing issues, all test scores would necessarily have to be scrapped – which some attendees said would be unfair to students who scored particularly well. And then there would be the question of what to do about test scores for those students who graduated mid year.
If the state does decide to set aside test scores for 3rd through 8th grades, the local school systems’ hands would be tied, Graham said. “Everything that could be done in Cumberland County has been done, by our administrators, by our technology people, by our testing coordinators… We can’t help what has happened. If the state ultimately says they don’t count, they don’t count.” she said.
Board member Jeff Freitag asked, “What guarantee do we have that the state isn’t going to hold teachers accountable for that? If the district and teachers and administration are going to be held accountable, then the students should be held accountable as well.”
“That ‘hold harmless’… that still caused some damage,” Wood said, explaining some students have taken a ‘who cares?’ attitude regarding the testing, having heard of all the problems with the testing.
“Kids are accustomed to it bombing,” Graham said. “This is not the first year we’ve had a fiasco.”
Stone agreed. “The entire system went down today; that’s an issue,” he said.
“I thought the big issue was whether or not our school system would count their scores as part of their final grades,” Board member Robert Safdie said.
Board Chairman David Bowman suggested tabling the matter, pending additional information. Graham said a decision would need to be made before May 22.
Quiet through most of the debate, Board member Aretie Patterson spoke up. “It seems to me the whole thing is messed up,” she said, suggesting taking up the matter again next school year. “The whole thing has been compromised.”
In the end, the Board decided on the hold-harmless solution.
Junior Beta, Jets & Panthers Recognized
The Stone Elementary School Junior Beta Club and the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Cumberland County and Stone Memorial high schools were recognized at the meeting.
The Lady Jets were District 7 champions and District 7 AA tournament champions.
“Thank you to… everyone who supports athletics in the community,” said Lady Jets Coach Radhika Miller, who was honored as District Coach of the Year. “There’s a lot to be proud of in Cumberland County.”
The Cumberland County High School Jets were undefeated at home and in district play. They were also District 7 champs and District 7 AA tournament champs.
Stone Memorial High School basketball teams were likewise honored.
The Lady Panthers ended their season at 22-8 and were District 6 AAA regular season tournament champs.
Stone Memorial High School Panthers went 18-14, with lots of young players. They were District 6 AAA tournament champs and District runners up.
“We’re very young and to be able to get to the sweet 16 and not lose anybody, we’re very proud,” said Panthers’ coach Mike Buck. “I’d like to thank the support of our administration as well.”
Cumberland County High School Winter Guard was to be acknowledged for their 4th-place finish, but they could not attend, as they had gone to participate in another competition.
Other Items Addressed
The board also took the following actions:
- Voted unanimously to approve a brick sign project for Pine View Elementary School.
- Approved a two-year contract with Board Attorney Earl Patton.
- Voted unanimously (after hearing the first two items of the Chief Financial Officer’s report) to approve all remaining line items on the report (community donations, maintenance of plant, transportation, debt service, Pleasant Hill archery funds request and Stone Elementary archery funds request).
- Unanimous passage of all 21 items on the Consent Agenda.
The budget committee scheduled a special called work session Thursday, May 10 at 6 p.m.
Finally, Board member Patterson mentioned Cumberland County drivers may now request a special “Helping Schools” license plate when they renew their license tags. She said, “Every penny [of the special tag fee] comes back to Cumberland County.”