The travel reimbursement rate paid to Cumberland County School employees has fallen far below that paid in other school systems and even the amounts paid by Cumberland County government. The policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education has proposed increasing those rates over the next two to three years.

"When the county looks at the budget and we show an increase, one thing we'll be increasing for is to get the school system closer to the county. I don't think anybody can fuss about that," said Don Hassler, 5th  District representative.

Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said, "Look at how far behind we are. When we're that far behind what the county itself is paying, who can argue? We need to catch up."

The school system currently reimburses travel at a rate of 40 cents per mile and reimburses meals at a rate of $28 a day, with $6 for breakfast, $8 for lunch and $14 for dinner. Receipts are required for meal reimbursement.

Cumberland County government pays mileage at 56 cents per mile and reimburses meals at a rate of $46 per day, at costs $10 for breakfast, $13 for lunch and $23 for dinner, with no receipt required. 

"We can't take this jump in one year," Travis Isaacson, chief financial officer, said. He proposed a two- to three-year increase in travel reimbursement, beginning with the 2015-'16 fiscal year. 

Last year, the school system spent $110,824.72 in general purpose travel, which includes mileage for those traveling between schools as well as travel costs for attending conferences and training. The federal funds budget spent $73,492.79. Isaacson noted the general fund travel expenses were higher than anticipated last year because a number of Career and Technical Education program clubs competed at the national level last year and the school system supported the travel costs. Isaacson feels the increased reimbursement rates would add around $30,000 to the budget.

The committee agreed to recommend increasing mileage reimbursement to 46 cents per mile and meal reimbursement to $36 per day. Per meal prices of $8 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $18 for dinner were recommended on days when employees were not staying overnight; otherwise, a simple per diem payment would be permitted. If attending a conference where meals are provided, additional meals would not be allowed.

The policy committee said it would review the policy again the following year to see how costs are coming in and see if it is possible to increase rates closer to the county rates at that time.

"This coming budget year, I'm also going to ask for more defined plans on travel from staff," Isaacson said. 

The BOE will consider first reading of the policy at its November meeting. 

The board will also consider a recommended change to the recruitment of employees policy to allow for electronic posting and notification of job openings.

The policy currently states personnel vacancies are to be posted on a bulletin board at Central Services and, while school is in session, on a bulletin board in each school. The committee approved a recommendation to post vacancies online at the Cumberland County School's website. 

Christie Thompson, assistant director of human resources, said job postings had been made online. At the Central Services office, the bulletin board directed those seeking job openings to the website, and personnel were available to assist those who might not have Internet access with the application process.

"The job applications are online, as well," Thompson explained. "We've had great success in people applying for jobs, so I know they are looking at the website."

The change would reduce work on the part of principals and save paper and printing costs. Committee members were concerned some might miss a posting that would interest them, however, if there was not bulletin board postings. That could be alleviated by a mass email to all employees via the school system's email system that notifies them of a new job opening.

"If you're looking for a job, you're checking all the time," said Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability. "If you're not, you might miss out on an opportunity because you're not actively seeking something else."

Jeff Freitag, 1st District representative, said a complaint he'd heard was that sometimes people were not made aware of other openings in the school system.

"If there is a mass email, then there's no excuse," he said.

The policy also discussed the need for a policy to govern sick leave for non-certified employees. Thompson was asked to bring a recommendation to the committee next month that would address how non-certified employees accrue and use sick leave. There have been cases of individuals being granted all their sick leave time up front upon hire, taking the leave and being paid for it, and then not returning to work. 

Also discussed was the need to seek guidance from the Tennessee School Boards Association on the vacation and holiday policy, which had been approved following changes in state law. Currently, only 12-month employees earn and accrue vacation time and are paid holidays, such as the Fourth of July. Danielle Brown, with the Central Services office, explained the policy stated support personnel, but that the personnel handbook defined support personnel as any non-licensed personnel. The policy could be interpreted as allowing those individuals to earn twice as much personal leave time as they currently do and add 12 paid holidays, which could have an impact on the budget. 

The committee will hear a report on the issue at the next meeting of the policy committee.

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