Board splits on administrators' travel policy

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Board of Education narrowly approved amending a school policy that will require BOE approval for travel requests made by the system's director of schools and other system supervisors.
   The board voted 3-2 Thursday evening to modify the existing travel and expense policy after removing the issue from the May board meeting agenda. Under the revised policy, the director of schools and system supervisors must have prior approval by the board of directors for travel.
   Board members Catherine Wooten Armstrong and Judy Richardson said the policy change simply gave the board the ability to review and approve travel by administrators.
   "I think it would be a positive change," said Armstrong. "It would give me more insight in what conferences they are going to."
   Richardson said the amendment did not change the system's existing policy on travel and expense for administrators, teachers and support staff. The policy permits the director of schools to grant travel authorization provided the travel expense has been incorporated into the operational budget of the program involved in the travel. The school system's FY 2004 budget cut $13,000 in travel expenditures from the general fund budget.
   Board member Bob Berry felt the modification smacked of a mistrust of system administrators.
   "I think you think our people are out messing around," Berry told Armstrong.
   Director of Schools Dr. Judy Blevins said a potential problem of the policy lay in the timing of when administrators planned and secured their attendance at education conferences and monthly board meetings.
   "A lot of times they sign up to find out they can't go, then a slot opens up and the board meeting has happened," said Blevins.
   Dr. Jonathan Bremer joined Armstrong and Richardson in voting yes for the policy change while BOE Chairman Dr. Bob Sams and Berry voted no.
   John Hutchins, principal of Harold McCormick Elementary, also spoke to the board regarding the status of mandates set down by the federal "No Child Left Behind" law designed to make school systems more accountable.
   Hutchins and West Side Elementary principal, Rick Wilson, were briefed about the latest version of the law at a principals' conference held June 9-10.
   Under the law, school systems are held accountable for students academic proficiency. Each school system is assessed under "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) made by students. Students are scored at below proficient, proficient and advanced.
   A system's students may be divided in up to nine different subgroups, ranging from all students and economically-disadvantaged students to special education and English language learners. Each state is required to propose a minimum number of students in a subgroup -- Tennessee's number is 45 students per subgroup. Schools can move freely as long as each subgroup tests at the proficient level. If a school system has one subgroup failing to meet the proficient AYP, that school is placed on "the list".
   Hutchins said an additional indicator for elementary schools is the attendance rate. "If your attendance level is below 93 percent, you are on the list," he told the board.
   The law requires systems to have a 95 percent participation rate in math and reading tests. Schools must also have 95 percent participation in each subgroup with 45 or more students.
   "There are millions and millions of dollars coming to the state," said Wilson said, "but along with these millions of dollars, there are steps going to be attached to that."
   Hutchins said the most difficult aspect of preparing for NCLB requirements was how frequently those requirements change.
   "That was what we knew at that time," he said after the meeting. "It may have changed again by now."
   The board also voted 5-0 to approve a one-year agreement with Wellmont Health Systems to provide rehabilitative medical services for city school students.