Council reappoints Jester, Hall-Leonard to school board

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Franklin’s City Council voted unanimously to reappoint Rebecca Jester to the ward one seat on the city school board and voted 5-2 to reappoint Andrea Hall-Leonard to the ward three seat during their meeting on Monday evening. The dissenting votes on Hall-Leonard’s reappointment came from Mayor Frank Rabil and Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham.

The council also decided to table its scheduled vote on the Franklin City Public Schools’ budget for the 2017-2018 school year pending the completion of a joint work session with the school board that began one hour prior to the start of the meeting and was continued on Tuesday evening.

The council made two amendments to the city’s budget for the current fiscal year, both of which passed unanimously. Budget amendment 2017-15 appropriated $568,500 in state funds to the division’s operating fund, $110,000 in federal school food service funds to the division’s cafeteria fund and $50,000 from the division’s fund balance to its textbook fund. Budget amendment 2017-16 transferred $35,000 from the city’s reserve for capital expenditures to its electric fund for the purchase of a service vehicle. The department’s current vehicle is in need of repairs estimated to cost approximately $7,000, and was deemed not financially worth repairing given the vehicle’s age.

Councilman Greg McLemore initially objected to the purchase, saying, “We just finished having a conversation about how to pay our teachers more [during the work session], so buying a brand new service vehicle seems a little excessive.”

However, City Manager R. Randy Martin told McLemore that these funds could not be appropriated for the education fund and that they were limited to the electric fund. McLemore ultimately voted for the transfer along with the rest of council.

During council and staff reports, McLemore also briefed the council on his progress in pursuing his “solar city” idea and clarified that at the moment his only goal was to secure sufficient votes from his fellow council members to conduct a feasibility study via a committee. He also reported that he had recently attempted to intervene on a citizen’s behalf with the Western Tidewater Free Clinic.

“Some of these organizations, we need to make sure they are making their services available to members of our city before we start funding them,” he said.

Rabil cautioned McLemore, however, that if and when council members attempt to intervene with private organizations on behalf of citizens, they should do so as private citizens and not as members of council with the ability to determine how much funding these organizations receive.

During the work session, Interim Superintendent Kelvin Edwards Sr. presented the council with the division’s official budget request for the coming school year, which now specifies level funding plus an extra $100,000, which he said would be used to give all personnel a 2 percent raise starting in September. Edwards cited the division’s high attrition rate as the reason for the raise across the board.

“We’ve been losing about 22 of our teachers [each year] and it’s hit S.P. Morton [Elementary] particularly hard,” he said, and added that the division is estimating to lose approximately 17 percent of its teachers again at the end of the current school year.

However, Councilman Benny Burgess said that, based on data that Edwards had provided to him on teacher turnover going back to 2007, it looked like recently, the division’s attrition rate had gone down in recent years.

FCPS Interim Finance Director Sheila Minor responded, “You’re still losing one in five teachers and that’s a high attrition rate for any organization.”

Edwards also read a quote from a recent exit interview where a teacher had said, “I can go work in another division, work less, and receive more compensation.”

McLemore asked why teachers at FCPS were doing more work for less pay. Edwards answered that the reason teachers at FCPS are working more is because they often need to use their daily planning periods to attend meetings on improving the division’s SOL scores, instead of planning lessons.

By the end of the first work session, not every member of council appeared convinced that the additional $100,000 was necessary. Rabil was concerned that teacher attrition rate was the same reason the division had given the council three years ago when they had requested an additional $150,000. Burgess said that the council was still paying for a loan that was supposed to be used to purchase new computers for the division, but was ultimately used to purchase furniture.

“We’ll be paying for that for the next 10 years, so it’s not like we’re just saying no, we’re still funding things that were said one way but are now another,” Burgess said.

According to Martin, the council might vote on the school budget at the conclusion of their joint work session on Tuesday evening.