By Pam Danz-On Thursday (Dec. 12) the Buncombe County Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting. At the outset the usual December meeting was described as the best meeting of the year in reference to the presence of the TC Robertson Chamber Choir, which received a standing ovation for its highly professional performance of seasonal choral music. However, by the end of the evening the tenor of the meeting proved to be mediocre at best. The meeting included news of growth and accomplishment interspersed with a series of tense exchanges about Board communication policy.
On the more cheerful side, Chairman Bob Rhinehart and Vice Chairman Chip Craig were seamlessly reelected to their respective positions, the Eblen and Koontz Elementary Schools’ construction projects were reported finalized, and architect Mike Cox expressed himself pleased that each of the schools had received coveted Silver Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certificates from the US Green Building Council.
Dr. Tony Baldwin’s Superintendent’s report included the news that next fall the Buncombe County Schools would be hosting the annual World View Global Education State Seminar. He anticipates an even larger turnout than that of last year’s successful Safe Schools Symposium. He also stated that several schools are participating in the activities of International Computer Science Education Week. Also, the Buncombe County school system has met all of its Title III district objectives in helping limited English proficiency students.
In addition he announced that as per The Excellence in Public Schools Act, the new law passed by the General Assembly this past spring, he will be required to identify the top 25% of the teachers in the newly expanded pool of certified staff. That pool now defines as “teacher” staff like councilors, media coordinators, and school psychologists. He must identify the 25% who will be eligible to receive pay based on performance. The bonus will consist of $500 a year for four years beginning next fall.
A motion to approve the purchase of additional smart boards, BENQ projectors and Lady Bug document cameras was passed unanimously. This 1.4 million dollar expenditure is part of a three-year program to bring every classroom up to standard in digital learning equipment.
In discussion of the proposed Series 2000 policies concerning Board Operations the mood of the meeting began to become more contentious. Board Member Lisa Baldwin objected to the wording in proposed Policy 2122. She thought the assumption that board members would disseminate “inaccurate or incomplete information” was insulting to the individuals on the Board, but acknowledged that since the Board members would be limited in their ability to obtain information according to the next policy, policy 2124, the wording might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both policies were accepted by the board with only Lisa Baldwin voting against.
Lisa Baldwin also objected to the wording of Policy 2220. She said it gives the Superintendent power to “micro-manage the school board when we (the School Board) are elected to represent the people… The assumption is made in here that we don’t know what we are doing, that we will make inaccurate and incomplete statements to the media and will need to be corrected by the Superintendent. There is no visa-versa here. If the Communications Department puts some spin on something we are not allowed to correct them.”
Craig pointed out that a staff member might receive three or four email inquiries a week which could be confusing and time consuming for them and not allow them to do their regular work.
Superintendent Baldwin entered the board’s debate to point out that he runs the 11th largest school system in NC and he still makes it a priority to respond to inquiries in a timely manner.
Board member Dusty Pless said he did not feel restricted and that instead of trying to play “Gotcha!” Board members ought to extend professional courtesy to all.
Lisa Baldwin requested documentation concerning any examples of incomplete and inaccurate statements and was abruptly cut off by the Chairman who then called for a vote on the policy. It passed with only Lisa Baldwin voting against.
During the Public Comment period four concerned citizen spoke out against the new federal Common Core Standards (CCS). However, the Board had removed the anti-CCS resolution proposed by Lisa Baldwin from the Action Agenda for that evening so the board did not vote on the issue. The Board had removed the resolution, privately, at its Policy Work Session held at 3 pm that same afternoon. Rhinehart announced that a special work session to discuss the CCS would be held sometime after the first of the year. The resolution would have required a moratorium on the implementation of the full CCS and assessment program to allow time to study the effacacy and desirable of the program.
The objections to the CCS raised by the parents and neighbors who spoke ranged from fear of a federal take-over of our state standards to the inadequacy of the CCS to prepare students for the global economy in which they must live after graduation.
Also during the Public Comment period 13-year teacher Paula Dinga spoke against merit pay previously discussed in the Superintendent’s report. She felt that the competition involved in vying for the bonuses would destroy the carefully nurtured collegial relationships existing now among teachers.