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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Schools decision draws criticism

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two members of Bedford County Board of Education criticized School Superintendent Ray Butrum and school board chairman Barry Cooper on Thursday night for committing to an educational software package prior to final approval by the board.

The board was asked on Thursday night to approve a three-year agreement with Curriculum Advantage Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., for its Classworks software for grades K-8. The bundle includes practice and review software, assessment, managed services and professional development, and technical support. The contract will total $503,289 over a three-year period.

Early payment

The software package had been mentioned at previous school board meetings, but not formally voted upon. Butrum said the school system had been preparing to adopt the Classworks package for the next school year and the next fiscal year.

But the company told the school system that if it could make a payment during the current fiscal year, training for teachers could start immediately. State approval to allow line-item shifts in the county's Race To The Top budget, as well as a refund from the county's previous software provider, provided enough money to go ahead and make that payment.

Because the agreement was a contract for more than one year, it had to be approved by the county, not just the school board, and so Butrum began the process of taking the contract before the county's Financial Management Committee, the finance department and the county commission.

The county approved the contract, and it had already been signed prior to Thursday night's board meeting, which did not sit well with board members Diane Neeley or Chad Graham, both of whom said the school board should have approved the purchase before it was finalized. Graham noted that the board hasn't even seen a proposed 2012-2013 budget yet from Butrum's office.

"We have not spent any money yet," said Butrum, but he admitted that a contract had, in fact, been signed. He said if the board were to vote the expenditure down he'd have to talk to the company about releasing the county from the contract. Butrum said the county had been paying an equivalent amount to its previous provider.

Couldn't respond

Cooper said that he'd sent an e-mail to board members about the purchase and had received no response to it.

"Nobody said a word," said Cooper.

If board members had responded to Cooper's e-mail, they might have been in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, which requires that debate and discussion take place during open, public meetings.

"We can't do business through e-mail, I don't believe," said Graham.

Graham also said that notifying the board of the purchase is not the same thing as receiving approval from the board.

Board member Amy Martin said the board was well aware that the Classworks software was being considered and said she is not an expert in educational software.

Board member Andrea Anderson said the purchase "could have been handled a little differently," but that it needed the board's approval.

The Classworks project was approved 7-0-2, with Neeley and Graham abstaining.

In another, less controversial, purchase, the board approved the use of BLI Messaging's PowerAnnouncement platform for parent notifications. BLI was not the low bidder, but was called the best bidder because of its integration with the Pearson PowerSchool student management software already being used by the school system.

Mobile health unit

Graham also objected to a memorandum of understanding between the school system and Primary Care and Hope Clinic, a Murfreesboro-based clinic affiliated with Middle Tennessee Medical Center. The clinic has offered to bring an MTMC-owned mobile unit to Learning Way Elementary on kindergarten registration day, May 2, to provide screenings and vaccinations for those who can't afford them.

Graham said the agreement was an affront to local physicians who might have provided the same services and who contribute to the school system in various ways over the course of the year.

Butrum, however, said he'd discussed the project with Dan Buckner of Heritage Medical Center in Shelbyville, and that Heritage Medical Center will be a part of the project and will be recognized in signage there. He said the key factor was the mobile unit, which provides space and medical facilities to do the vaccinations and screenings.

Graham, however, continued to object to the project as an inappropriate use of out-of-town doctors in place of local ones.

Board member Ron Adcock moved to approve the memorandum of understanding contingent on confirming the involvement of the local medical community. Butrum repeated that he'd already confirmed this. The motion passed.

Energy grant

The board approved acceptance of an energy efficient schools grant for East Side Elementary School, Liberty School, Southside Elementary School and Thomas Magnet School. The school system has previously implemented energy efficiency programs at Cascade High School and Shelbyville Central High School and has just completed one at Eakin Elementary School.