From contracts to job postings, members of the Cumberland County Board of Education expressed concerns with personnel matters during the Nov. 20 meeting. Principals are currently working without signed contracts and job postings were not made in accordance with policy for the past year or longer.
The first item came during the school system's compliance report, required by the state to ensure the school system is in compliance with all state laws and regulations.
"Are we meeting that standard?" asked Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative.
Schlafer read TCA 49-1-303 which requires written contracts between the director of schools and the principals. Those contracts outline duties, performance standards, evaluation requirements, consequences for not meeting performance standards, and reasons for non-renewal. Contracts cannot be for terms that extend beyond the contract term of the director of schools.
Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said she did not know if principals had signed contracts recently.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews said the standard was not being met and that he had not signed contracts with principals.
Schlafer said, "That's a matter of state law. Obviously, he said we're not doing that and have not done that for the past 17 months."
He asked that be added to the compliance report.
Some board members questioned if the school system had been out of compliance on this issue for a number of years.
"The last contract was probably signed by Mr. Jim Hall," said Jim Blalock, 8th District representative.
Schlafer said, "I know Mrs. [Aarona] VanWinkle [previous director of schools] had contracts. Those would have run out when she left office. It's not been years. It's been 17 months."
Other items addressed in the compliance report is the school safety plans, with an action plan to review policies. State law states safety plans are not open to public inspection but the policy in place refers to distributing emergency plans with faculty, staff, parents, and the public.
"We want to make sure our language matches what the state says," Wood said.
The other item is the observance of Women in STEM month in August. The school system missed that observance this year. Wood said she will begin advertising the observance in May to supervisors in instruction, principals and the Career and Technical Education supervisor so that they can think about activities and be ready to launch that month when school begins in August.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, moved to approve the compliance report with the three items, supported by Don Hassler, 5th District representative. The motion passed unanimously.
The school system has until Dec. 15 to submit the plan. Wood told the Chronicle she anticipates having contracts signed with all principals by that time.
The second item came under discussion of a change to school board policy regarding recruitment of licensed personnel. Assistant Director of Human Resources Christie Thompson had asked for a change to post job vacancies online at the Cumberland County Schools website. The policy currently calls for posting of vacancies on a bulletin board at the central office and, during school, on bulletin boards at each school.
When discussed by the policy committee, concerns were addressed that people might not know about a professional opportunity if it were only on the website. The committee added a requirement that a mass email be sent to all employees with email addresses regarding the opening. Licensed personnel are required to check their email daily.
Schlafer said, "Email is not foolproof."
There was also concern that many noncertified school employees do not have email through the school system.
Shirley Parris, 3rd District representative, said teachers and other employees didn't have time to check a website for job openings during the school day.
"They're too tired when they get home. If they glance at a bulletin board in passing and see something, they can go home and check it out. I think we should continue to post. The expense is not that much" she said.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said most school systems he checked with did not post jobs to bulletin boards. Most use a website while the larger systems use hiring agencies.
"In this day and age, we talk all the time about wanting technology in the classroom. It's 2014. People can log onto a website. Email, yes there can be problems there but those kinks can be worked out," Stone said.
Thompson said 201 positions had been filled in the school system since she assumed the post in July. For many years, it had been the practice to post job openings on a bulletin board at the Central Services office and interested persons would write their name and phone number to be considered. That practice had been stopped some time before Thompson began leading the HR department due to concerns of confidentiality. That bulletin board does state vacancies are posted online. Those with questions or needing assistance using the website can speak with Central Services staff. While the online application process is encouraged, as well, paper copies of applications are also available.
All positions, both licensed and non-licensed vacancies have been posted online, and that has been the case for some months. Thompson said there were three positions the school system was having difficulty filling: chemistry, math and special education. Those positions have now been advertised on the state's website, as well.
Thompson said, "We get a better response electronically because it's going out everywhere."
Schlafer asked school board attorney Earl Patton if the school system could be exposed to possible litigation because those 201 positions had not been posted in accordance with the policy. Of those 201 positions, 87 were filled in July when school was out. Email notifications began following the meeting of the policy committee Nov. 3.
Patton said, "I would be hesitant to say we have legal exposure unless I knew of a specific instance."
Patton said someone would have to prove they did not receive proper notice of a vacancy.
"Proper notice could be defined as what's in the policy," Patton said.
Schlafer said, "I think it's paramount for us to be transparent in employment opportunities for anyone who wishes to apply."
The policy change was approved on first reading with a 5-4 vote, following the recommendation of the policy committee. Voting in favor were Janeway; Stone; Hassler; David Bowman, 7th District representative; and Jim Blalock, 8th District representative. Voting no were Jeff Freitag, 1st District representative; Parris; Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative; and Schlafer.
Policy changes require two successful readings by the board before they take effect.