The Cumberland County Board of Education approved a strategic compensation plan for the 2020-'21 school year and a host of year-end budget amendments during a special-called meeting Monday night.

The items had been part of the May 28 meeting agenda. However, Jim Inman, 1st District representative, requested the board delay action until the items could be discussed by the budget committee. With the board set to present its budget amendments to the county's budget committee on Tuesday evening, the meeting was set on Friday afternoon. 

"I felt very strongly that I didn't know enough about this information, that I needed questions answered before I voted on it in the full board meeting," Inman said. "I think where we have fallen down on this is this is the way it's always been done. I think if we're going to have a committee system, it needs to go before the budget committee first and then come to the full board -- just like we do the athletic committee and the building and grounds committee."

The strategic compensation plan is required by the Tennessee Department of Education to provide a differential pay plan for employees. The approximately $100,000 plan calls for offering stipends to teachers who take on additional work in their school, such as lead teachers or chairmen of certain school committees. 

Inman questioned an incentive payment for teachers in hard-to-staff position. The plan includes payments for the upcoming year, the final year of the program.

Inman asked, "Why are we discontinuing it when we've got hard-to-fill positions out there? I know we've got two high schools that can't beg a math teacher to come in here."

Rebecca Wood, chief academic officer, said the program had not worked as hoped because of the difficulty in identifying the "hard-to-staff" positions.

"It would be different if we had that up-front … there's so many steps in the process, it ended up being either not hard-to-staff or we had moved folks around," she said.

The district had offered $3,000 over three years. Teachers had to meet certain standards for teacher effectiveness and remain employed in that hard-to-staff role for three years to collect the full amount. Last year, the program was used to hire a dual-credit English teacher, a foreign language teacher and a chemistry teacher. The stipend is not available to currently employed teachers.

The school system must have an open position when it offers the stipend. Those needs are not always apparent when the school system attends job fairs or other recruitment activities. 

Kim Bray, human resources supervisor, said the program had also not served to help retain teachers in these subjects over the three years.

"The extra $2,000 has not been enough of an incentive for people to stay the full three years," she told the budget committee. 

Most of the funding, $96,800, goes to pay teachers for taking on additional work, like lead teachers in schools, reading textbook leaders, chairpersons of school improvement teams and the school-wide positive behavior support team. Other roles include district professional development presenters, primarily kindergarten teachers presenting the On My Way to K kindergarten readiness program for families, and portfolio peer reviewers. 

Overall, there are 248 positions paying a stipend of $400. 

Tony Brock, 5th District representative, questioned what qualifies a teacher as a "lead" teacher, noting there are about one lead teacher for every three teachers in the school system. 

Lead teachers include department chairmen, leaders of professional learning communities, or mentor teachers. Assessment leads may develop common assessments for the professional learning communities. 

Inman said, "For extra duties… I don't have a problem with that."

A new position this year is the school IT lead. These teachers keep school websites updated and help classroom teachers set up websites. They don't handle issues with hardware or software, but provide additional support for teachers using new technology. 

Graham said the annual stipends of $400 is not a lot of money, but added, "It acknowledges what teachers are doing above and beyond what others are doing. It's an opportunity to give a little bit of money to thank them for the work that they are doing."

The committee unanimously approved the plan, and it was subsequently approved by the full board.

As the $59.2 million 2019-'20 fiscal year general purpose school budget comes to a close, the board approved a slate of budget amendments that ensure each line of the 28-page budget does not end the year with a deficit. 

Budget amendments on the agenda included a year-end amendment moving $332,467 from various budget lines, ranging from moving $89,000 in medical insurance money to pay for textbooks to moving $15 from health insurance to life insurance premiums. 

Inman questioned several budget moves that added money to salary lines, like $14,300 for the attendance director salary.

Chief Financial Officer Kacee Harris said the budget had been developed when a different person held that position. There was a short overlap for training and transition, but the new person came to the position with more years of experience. Brock questioned if the attendance director receives a supervisor supplement or extended work days. Harris said the position is not supervisory but, as a system-wide position, it did have a $1,000 payment in addition to the teacher salary schedule. 

"It was not a raise," Harris said. "We replaced that person with more experience, more years, who earned a higher salary."

The same was true for $5,000 moved to increase pay for psychological personnel, instructional support and clerical personnel.

"I missed the budget mark," Harris said of the increase to cover the salary for instructional support supervisors. That line pays for the chief academic officer, the pre-kindergarten-eighth grade supervisor and 5% of the special education supervisor. 

There had been a miscalculation in budgeting the longevity pay for some school-level clerical personnel. 

Approximately $15,000 was paid to mechanics in the transportation department for overtime for driving buses as the school system faced a shortage of drivers.

A second year-end budget amendment moved $184 ranging from $173 in contracted services to pay for overages in software, instructional supplies and life insurance. Two of the lines needed $1 moved. 

In the cafeteria budget, which is separate from the school’s general purpose budget, amendments totaled $132,576, including $2,000 in donations and $2,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. The largest amendment, $37,363, moved money from the fund balance to purchase equipment. 

The panel approved the amendments, and they were subsequently approved by the full board in the special-called meeting. 

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, joined the meeting late, stating she was unaware of the meeting until about 3:30 that afternoon. Inman said he had also not received notice of the meeting until someone called and asked him what would happen at the meeting. 

Board members Robert Safdie and Shirley Parris also did not attend the meeting.

An email was sent on Friday afternoon, which the Chronicle reported as part of its initial story on this subject following Thursday's meeting. Information for the Zoom meeting was emailed on Monday morning. Other members of the media were included on the initial Friday correspondence, sent at approximately 3 p.m. Friday. 

Karge said she no longer uses email following a public records request for her email correspondence related to her position on the board, and the secretary had been texting her to alert her of meetings. But she did not receive a text regarding the Monday meeting. 

Graham said there had been a mistake Friday and the notification email went to a list that did not include email addresses for the board members. The Zoom meeting notification was sent to all board members and media on Monday at 11:30 a.m.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.