By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Carter County School Board were in agreement on setting tax rates and approving the amounts for future bonding, but that wasn’t the case for staff dress and appearance policies and transportation policies for extracurricular groups and teams.
They voted unanimously to maintain both the motor vehicle tax rate and the real estate and tangibles tax rates at the same level as last year, or 47 cents per $100 of valuation across the board. They also agreed to adopt a resolution authorizing the issuance of revenue bonds totaling $1,650,000 in bonding capacity during their district financial corporation section of the meeting.
The board disagreed, however, on the content and wording of the dress code policy for staff. Specifically, board members said they had heard of problems with compliance within the first week of school and worried that the policy was not enforceable as currently written.
While the board accepted changes to the policy that allowed the wearing of long shorts – with the advisory council noting that shorts which matched the same length restrictions as skirts could look just as appropriate and professional – they worried that some sections of the policy contained weak language that made the requirements unenforceable.
Board member Chris Perry said he was “not happy with the language,” because it didn’t feel enforceable to him. Perry said the ambiguous language which says staff are “expected” to adhere to the dress code rules, but not necessarily “required” to, concerned him.
One principal said he felt it was something that administrators needed to take on a case by case basis, noting that he would be less comfortable asking a staff member to measure their blouse straps than he would telling them they couldn’t wear a dirty sweat shirt and sweat pants to work. He also noted while jeans and active wear might not be considered professional dress for all staff, they could be for others. Kindergarten teachers who spend a lot of time in the floor with children, for instance, might be better suited wearing jeans or active wear than dresses or skirts.
But while the board acknowledged arguments that appropriate dress could change depending on a staff member’s duties, all staff were expected to “model appropriate dress, hygiene,” etc.
Board president Lisa Ramey Easterling made a motion to change the language of the policy to read “require,” instead of “expect.”
Board member Patrick Ferry, however, voted no, stating he liked the language about setting expectations better than trying to enforce mandates.
The board was also split on transportation costs for extracurricular activities. Perry said he asked to add the item to the agenda because “our kids shouldn’t be begging in the street” to pay for transportation to and from an event.
Perry was asking for the school district to cover the mileage fees charged for extracurricular use of buses for transport.
Transportation director Ronnie Cooley, however, noted that the bulk of the cost for extracurricular programs wasn’t in the mileage charge, but the salary for the bus drivers’ time, including their retirement contributions. Cooley said this is why many teams and groups save money by having a parent or guardian with a CDL drive the teams, because the mileage is actually a low portion of the costs to boosters and students.
Board president Lisa Ramey-Easterling, however, didn’t wish to take any action until the district had heard back from Frankfort on funding for the coming year.
“We’re up against a financial cliff,” she said, advising the issue be tabled until they had more information relating to the district’s funding.
Principals and staff discussed the financial impacts of extracurricular activities on children and families, noting that though they do their best to make sure all kids can participate even if they can’t afford fees, participation might be higher if children weren’t expected to cover the costs of joining.
Ramey-Easterling countered that if the district covered all costs for the 20 percent of students who
participate in extracurricular activities, “what are we doing for the other 80 percent?”
Financial officer Andy Lyons noted that the cost to the district of covering transportation for extracurricular activities would cost the district approximately $60,000 which would have to come from elsewhere in the budget
Perry made a motion to waive the mileage fees, voting “aye” along with Miranda Tussey. Ramey-Easterling voted “no” and Ferry initially abstained, but when he was reminded that an abstention votes with the majority, meaning the measure would pass, he changed his vote to “no.”
Board member Rachel Fankell was absent and did not vote.
In other action the superintendent praised the district for their work during the first week of school. After two years with the district, Superintendent Paul Green said, he’s still “astounded” by the quality of the staff. For instance, he noted that on the first day of school the bus system had an issue with communications going down. Despite that, he said, staff rallied, improvised, and they were able to get all children home within a reasonable amount of time.
Cooley said that at the time he felt like it was one of his worst days on the job, but in hindsight it was one of the highlights of his career, watching staff come together and work with his team for the benefit of the students.
“It really was the entire staff,” Cooley said, including principals, teachers, and office staff working together to communicate information to families and bus drivers.
In citizen communications a woman identifying herself as Melissa Blevins spoke to the school board to raise awareness about issues with bullying. Blevins said some of her grandchildren have had problems with bullies, and while the principals and staff at their schools had worked to address the situation, she wanted to approach the board about offering more training and education for staff and students on addressing and confronting problems with bullying.
Blevins shared that she was the aunt of a student who took their own life as a result of bullying last year.
Ramey-Easterling said the district has looked into additional funding for mental health staff and services, however Carter County was not included in recent funding released by the state school board for those purposes.
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