Superintendent seeks additional money

Published 9:56 am Friday, August 1, 2014

FRANKLIN—Hitting the ground running, new Superintendent Willie J. Bell saw an immediate need to get some of this upcoming year’s carryover money now in the amount of $119,000. Under the current budget, the Franklin City School District is anticipated to carry over $389,081 into 2015-16.

When he started on July 1, one of the first things Bell did was take a step back and look at what was needed in the system. He also had to look into how to best get ahead of the Memorandum of Understanding and the Corrective Action Plan.

“We wanted to make sure we addressed the Corrective Action Plan before we go before the board of education in November,” Bell said.

He was requesting $44,100 of future funds to pay teachers for work they did over the summer updating the curriculum.

“We need to massage and improve our curricular guidelines, and it needs to be aligned,” Bell said.

The other $75,000 would go toward professional development, which was oft-cited as lacking in the system by the Virginia Department of Education reviews.

“We are looking to have consultants come in and continue work throughout the school year,” Bell said. “You put these two things together, and the students will benefit from these funds.”

At the city’s regularly scheduled council meeting, Ward 6’s Frank Rabil asked Bell if these consultants were in addition to what VDOE and the lead turnaround partner Catapult Learning are providing. Catapult is involved at S.P. Morton and J.P. King.

“Yes sir, we are making sure that we have what we need and that the teachers are trained properly,” Bell said.

Ward 3’s Greg McLemore questioned the need for consultants.

“Why do you need consultants to tell you what to do if you are doing what the Department of Education is telling you to do?” McLemore asked.

Bell said VDOE’s roll is mostly in enforcing the essential actions of the Corrective Action Plan. The consultants, on the other hand, would be spending time in the buildings and classroom to work on furthering the education of the teachers.

“The consultants will have more impact than the Virginia Department of Education will,” he said. “We need to make sure that before we go back in November and report to the state board, that the actions are being addressed.”

Ward 1’s Barry Cheatham, who is also vice mayor, in his questioning went right to the budget aspect.

“Why do you want the $119,000 front-loaded on the budget, instead of end-loaded, when year after year, you have $300,000-plus in excess?” Cheatham asked.

Bell said that based on needs and fulfilling obligations to the CAP, he couldn’t wait until the end of the year. Cheatham asked why not just alter the current budget to spend the $119,000 elsewhere, and ask for additional money if needed closer to the end of the year?

Bell said that he was not responsible for that budget, and that had he been on board, he would have made sure that the money was loaded toward the beginning of the year instead of toward the end.

“If I were to try to find that money in the budget, it would mean I would have to go back, break laws, cut contracts to find ways to slice and dice that money,” he said. “It was not my budget.”

Ward 2’s Benny Burgess also said that Bell should think about the bigger picture. Burgess referenced last year’s school board wanting to give raises to teachers, and taking this money now may affect that.

“I understand deadlines and they have to be a priority, but sometimes you have to keep an eye out for the bigger picture,” Burgess said.

“Yes sir, I am a global thinker,” Bell responded.

Board members also wished to let Bell know that they appreciated him coming, including Ward 4’s Mona Murphy.

“I appreciate you coming and jumping in on day one in taking assessment of what needs to be done,” she said. “Supporting the teachers and students, that is what is most important.”

After this discussion had gone longer than budgeted for, Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn called for a motion, which was moved by Ward 5’s Mary Hilliard and seconded by Murphy.

During the questions segment, Burgess asked if voting yes would be detrimental to the city’s budget.

Martin said that three years ago a similar request was made and granted, so there is a precedent for it. He also added that the money is already accounted for from the city’s end, so that as long as the school board’s budget comes in with at least $119,000 left over at the end of the year, it will be fine.

“I think this will be more of a test for the school system than us,” Martin said.

The board passed the budget request unanimously.

In regular school related budget carryover items, as the system’s fiscal agent, the board also unanimously approved a carryover of unspent Medicaid funds from 2013-14 in the amount of $198,941.46; $73,399 from Franklin Southampton Charities; $917,335 to reflect federal appropriation balances remaining at June 30; and $1,112,678 in the school’s capital project fund.

The Medicaid money relates to funds that the district was able to recapture to help special education students. The federal appropriation will go toward math intervention programs, books, instructional software, as well as additional professional development, such as sending teachers to national conferences. Bell also said they were considering a book club.

The Franklin Southampton Charities funds will help fund clubs, such as Robotics and DECA. It will also be used to create a health occupation program and installing a pre-school appropriate technology lab. The capital funds relate to the capital improvement plan, as work is still continuing on some of the projects, including the J.P. King roof replacement.