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April 21, 2013

School board split over consent items

MADISON COUNTY — A regular Madison County School Board meeting may last almost two hours or more, depending on how many students are featured in the monthly “showcase” or how many items are on the agenda.

During a meeting’s consent agenda, a group of items “routine in nature are presented to the board in time to review before the meeting and are approved in one motion,” board chair Mona Isaacs says at every meeting.

However, two items met opposition from board members John Lackey and Mary Renfro at Thursday’s board meeting: A technology plan and a “cost-neutral” position change in central office.

Typically, the consent agenda contains approvals for school trips, claims, leaves of absence or the superintendent’s personnel actions.

Renfro said she had not had enough time to review all the items.

“We’re still not getting the reports we need seven days in advance. It happened again this month. This is the third month in a row, and we’re still not getting it in a timely manner … For the ones that really want to see what’s going on, I need to have that ahead of time,” Renfro said.

The claims were sent to the board Friday afternoon, but the rest of the consent agenda items were not made available until Monday afternoon because of an oversight in operating the file-sharing program, said Superintendent Tommy Floyd.

“It's hard to vote when I’ve not had enough time to look at it,” said Renfro, who suggested they just not vote on the consent agenda Thursday night.

“We can’t do that,” Isaacs replied. “We must conduct the business of the board this evening … if there are specific items you’re uncomfortable with…”

Renfro said she was concerned with “different things and contracts that cost lots and lots of money.”

The consent item on the ratification of the “cost-neutral position” change in central office went through several votes before it passed 3-2.

The district saved about $36,000 in central office costs through position eliminations, Floyd said. “I gave the board a complete rationale from Mr. (Randy) Peffer. We broke down how we had eliminated a position in central office in administrative support. We also eliminated another assistant superintendent, which brings us down to three as a district.”

The recommendation is to add part of that savings to the salary of a part-time secondary instructional supervisor (for the five middle schools and two high schools) to make it a full-time position that would pay in the low $80,000s, said Dr. Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent in human resources.

Currently, the part-time position pays around $46,000, he said.

“The position was valuable enough that we thought it worth your consideration and its continuance,” Floyd said.

“The term ‘instructional supervisor’ just seems so amorphous, that it’s maybe something we could just do without,” Lackey said. “Save that extra $35,000. That’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t be put in the consent agenda. It should be put in something else where we can hash things out.”

“I think that’s what we’re doing right now. Discussing it,” Floyd replied.

He never received feedback from the board indicating the position change should not be on the consent agenda, the superintendent said.

“We have had conversations about this,” Isaacs said. The board members received an email a week or two ago about the details of the position, she said. “Everybody got a copy of it.”

Before it passed, Lackey suggested tabling the position change item and only Renfro offered her support. Isaacs, along with board members Becky Coyle and Beth Brock, voted against tabling the item.

The same three board members then voted to ratify the position change.

Later in the meeting, Floyd announced a second central office shift.

Chief Academic Officer Randy Peffer is leaving the district to take a position at the Kentucky Department of Education as a “turnaround specialist” in Jefferson County.

Peffer came to Madison County in 2006 and replaced Floyd, who was formerly the chief academic officer, the superintendent said. “I’ve met few people that care about kids more than Randy Peffer does.” Floyd said.

The district will seek a replacement for Peffer's position, said Erin Stewart, the district's community education director.

Another item Renfro wanted pulled out of the consent agenda was the District Technology Plan because “it had money written all over it,” she said. Lackey also wanted more explanation.

Floyd said the plan was “not a commitment for additional funds.”

The plan is used to report to state and federal governments about what the district is paying for technology, said Bob Moore, the district’s new technology director.

The district receives federal funding from a program that reimburses the school district close to $500,000 a year, he said.

“If we don’t submit this claim, we lose that federal funding. This is a nonbinding framework that we use to plan and implement technology in the district,” he said.

Lackey was satisfied with Moore’s explanation, and the motion carried to approve the technology plan.

Renfro also pointed out money fluctuations in the district’s claims.

However, those amounts are different each month, depending on when the bills are paid for fuel, food or bonds, for example, Floyd said. “There will always be things that go up and down.”

“These are bills that we owe that are being paid,” Isaacs explained. “It’s not a new obligation that the district is taking … it’s kind of like a checkbook register.”

Another item of concern for Renfro was the funding plans for a grant to increase the number of students who take advanced placement courses.

But this too was not a budget obligation, Floyd said. The program is totally grant-funded and there is no cost to the district, except for minimal classroom supplies.

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