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Teachers urge board not to cut a day from contracts
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer

A motion to cut a day from the 187-day contracts of teachers and others working 240 days failed Tuesday during a vote by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Board Chair Alice Anderson proposed that a day be cut from the contracts of the employees to save money. The 187-day contracts include 296 certified teachers while the 240--day contracts include a variety of personnel.

The district projected to save about $100,000 a year in salary with the cuts.

Anderson was adamant that the board would need to look at either cuts to personnel, which makes up about 83 percent of the district budget, or cutting programs as potential options if it wants to avoid operating in the red as it has in six of the last seven years.

“We can’t continue to go that route,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s motion to adopt the cuts died for lack of a second. In her motion she asked that the number of paid teacher planning days be reduced from two to one as part of the contract. She previously stressed salaries would be virtually unchanged if you take into account the annual step pay increases they receive.

Three teachers and a school counselor all signed up to address the board about the proposed cuts in contract days and previous discussion about possibly reducing extra-duty stipends.

Among them was James Hay, president of the Montgomery County Education Association and a fourth grade teacher at Northview Elementary School.

Hay asked the board to adopt a budget and salary schedule presenting no reduction in days or stipends that values the hard work of educators.
Hay said a reduction in planning days would have no impact on the amount of work teachers will have to do anyway.

“You won’t be reducing the workload of these educators but pay,” he said.

Instead, Hay said you can expect teachers will go about doing the same work, just some of it coming unpaid.

Susan Lewis, vice president of the association and a science teacher at Montgomery County High School, told the board that she was afraid the measures could be part of the trend to take out of the pockets of the teachers who serve the district.

Lewis claims she spends approximately $500 a year out of her own pocket to provide supplies for her classroom that should be provided by the district.

She called the proposed cuts “demoralizing” and encouraged the board to instead show support for teachers amid the uncertainty brought on by the current pandemic.

“Some feel very unappreciated by this proposal,” Lewis said.
Lewis added the cuts would send the wrong message to the classrooms and asked the board to find solutions that reflect community and personal values.

James Grayson, who described himself as a teacher, taxpayer and parent, asked the board to provide the district with the most highly motivated teachers it can.

“This provides the message that we perhaps don’t value teachers as we have in the past,” said Grayson, who teaches English at MCHS.
Janie Robinson, a counselor at Northview and a former MCHS girls’ basketball coach, encouraged the board to pass the balanced budget that was proposed with no cuts in contract days.

Robinson noted that teachers are already suffering through a lot of anxiety currently with the COVID-19 pandemic and now may not be the right time to be proposing cuts.

From a personal perspective, Robinson said she has been doing lots of work outside her counselor’s role helping deliver meals by bus to students during the pandemic. Other staff have been doing the same, she added.

Robinson urged the board to encourage teachers through this period instead.

Board member Sharon Smith Breiner, who at a previous meeting discussed the possibility of reducing stipends, said previous discussion does not mean that the board doesn’t value teachers.
Breiner said the discussion may have led to a misunderstanding that the board isn’t behind them.

“The board does support all the work they do,” she said.
Breiner said the previous discussion reflected the serious challenges the board faces and how it needs to act proactively looking three or four years down the road rather than reactively.

With so much uncertainty, she said the board has to be prepared for what lies ahead.

Anderson also expressed support for teachers, but added that something needs to be done considering the district has already made cuts to preschool, but was still operating at a deficit.
Anderson said during a previous meeting drastic action was required after the district took a loss between $500,000 and $600,000 this past year.

Board member Daniel Freeman asked superintendent Matt Thompson to address some of the cuts that have already been made in the tentative budget he recommended to the board.

He encouraged the board not to make cuts so late in the budget process and look at doing so early in the next cycle, if necessary.
Thompson said the district has reduced the number of positions, some positions are not being filled when they become vacant, has cut costs at the district level and is operating with more efficiency.

He says the cuts have saved the district approximately $1.7 million.
Breiner made the motion to approve the tentative budget with the board agreeing unanimously.

In other action, the board:
• Voted to indefinitely suspend the district’s child care program.
The program, which was offered at all four elementary schools, was initially suspended this past March when the coronavirus pandemic was first reported.

Thompson had suggested suspension of the program at a previous meeting out of the uncertainty surrounding whether the district will be able to hold in-person classes next fall and meeting social distancing requirements.

• In his superintendent’s report, Thompson reminded the board that the district graduation video will be available to the public 7:30 p.m. Friday at www.mocograduation.com.

Thompson also reminded the board that the graduation parade will be held Friday.

Participants will line up at 4 p.m. in the high school parking lot with the parade beginning at 5 p.m. The caravan will be led by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Thompson said the Mt. Sterling Police Dept., Mt. Sterling Public Works, the Montgomery County Regional Jail, Montgomery County Fire-EMS and the district’s school resource offices are all participating in the event.
The district is also compiling a video to honor the district’s recent retirees.

Thompson said the district has served more than 110,000 meals during the pandemic. The district will have a summer feeding program at three locations, but there will be no home delivery, he added.
• Approved a tentative school calendar for the 2020-2021 school year.
Thompson noted that the calendar will likely be revised before the new school year begins.

The calendar, which was the selected preference during a survey of staff, calls for an opening day for staff Aug. 12 with the first day for students Aug. 13.

Court Days/Fall break would be Oct. 16-19. Thanksgiving break would be Nov. 25-27. The last day of the first semester would be Dec. 18 and Christmas break would extend from Dec. 21-Jan. 1.

School would resume Jan. 4. Spring break would be April 5-9. The last day for students would be May 21, barring any makeup days.
Thompson said a committee of district staff is still exploring issues on how to operate this fall and should have more to report next month.
The next regular meeting of the board will be 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, at the Clay Community Center.

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