Bedford County Board of Education voted during a special called meeting Thursday to replace a controversial budget amendment submitted two months ago with a new version that would create three new teaching positions -- an English as a second language teacher, and two positions at Harris Middle School -- by taking $135,000 out of the line item used to purchase new school buses.
The school board is asking the county commission to suspend its rules and pass the amendment at its Oct. 9 meeting.
The disputed budget amendment would have added seven new teaching positions, and when it was submitted in August School Superintendent Ray Butrum said that six of those were definitely needed and the seventh might well turn out to be needed after students returned from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration break.
But the county commission failed to approve the amendment, and the county's financial management committee appointed a special committee composed of four school board members and a county commissioner to review it.
School board member Ron Adcock, who had served on that committee, delivered a recommendation for three new positions, saying that would ensure the county was in compliance with state-mandated student-teacher ratios.
School board chairman Amy Martin pointed out that Harris Middle School has underperformed on No Child Left Behind standards in recent years and said the board needed to be careful not just to do what was required by law, but what would ensure the school's continuing progress.
"Harris Middle School is a place that heavily affects our whole report card," said Martin. "Whatever we do today, I want us to keep that in mind."
School board member Chad Graham, who also served on the study committee, said the committee had been tasked with making sure the system was in compliance and had the understanding that the county is in a tight budget situation.
"There's a difference in wants and needs," said Graham.
School board member John Boutwell asked whether the committee's recommendation was the bare minimum, or an optimal solution, and Graham said it was "adequate," falling somewhere between minimum and optimal.
Harris actually needed only 1 1/2 positions to bring it into compliance; that was rounded up to two positions. Currently, Harris shares a band teacher with Liberty School, and board members said Thursday that they want to make sure that Liberty's band situation is still provided for.
Graham said he had voted for the original amendment in August because, at the time, he had been told it was needed to keep the county in compliance with state law.
School Superintendent Ray Butrum said that amendment was prepared right at the start of the school year. Over the Celebration break, changes were made which kept the county in compliance, but "riding the fence," as Butrum put it.
Money was saved by laying off eight non-teacher employees whose salaries totalled $104,000. If that money can be kept untouched during the school year, it might be put back into the school bus line item, said Martin.
If there are additional changes in school population, it's still possible that teachers could be shifted, but Martin noted that it negatively impacts children, particularly elementary-age children, to move teachers in the middle of the year. Butrum also pointed out that new state requirements for "highly-qualified" teachers mean it's not always possible to transfer, say, a teacher from grades K through 3 into a job in grades 4 through 6.
Graham said the impact of teacher shifts on children was, in fact, taken into account by the committee, which is why it chose not to move two teacher positions from Eakin Elementary.
Changing state regulations have had an impact on teaching at various schools. A new state assessment starting in the 2014-15 school year can only be taken online -- which means that schools have to start this year ensuring that children are taught keyboard skills. The smaller middle schools have found ways to do this with existing programs and staff, but Harris's larger size makes it harder to do that.
After extended discussion, Adcock made the motion to ask for a denial of the original budget amendment, known as amendment #1; to replace it with amendment #3, shifting money from the buses to the three new teaching positions; and to ask the county commission to suspend its rules to consider the amendment on Oct. 9.
A rules suspension is a parliamentary procedure used from time to time by the county commission to consider items that aren't on the published agenda.
This amendment is being submitted too late to include it on the official agenda for the Oct. 9 meeting, so a rules suspension would be required in order for the commission to discuss and then vote on it that night.
A rules suspension, however, will take a two-thirds majority of the county commission. Once the rules have been suspended, it will take only a simple majority to pass the amendment.
Adcock's motion passed by voice vote, with no opposing votes heard.
Under parliamentary procedure, the amendment was the only item that could be considered at Thursday's special called meeting, and so once it was passed the meeting was adjourned.