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Board deals with pay raises, modification of lawsuit settlement, and more
During the McCreary County School Board’s last regular meeting of the year (December 12, 2022), school board discussions and actions regarding pay raises, creation of new positions, and whether or not to retroactively modify a prior lawsuit settlement became divisive.
Before proceeding into the main portion of the meeting, Cody Perry, who was elected in November as school board member for Division 3, was sworn in by McCreary County Judge Executive Jimmie “Bevo” Greene. A second new board member will be sworn in during January when Estle Swain replaces Lori Foster as the school board member for District 4.
Although a newcomer, Board Member Perry was not shy about participating in his first board meeting. Almost immediately, he made a motion requesting several agenda items related to financial and legal matters be tabled from the meeting’s agenda and placed on the January, 2023 regular meeting agenda. Speaking as a new member to the Board of Education, Perry explained the delay would give him time to study specific agenda items before casting his votes. School board member Johnny Barnett seconded the motion.
However, Perry’s motion failed when Chairperson Braxton King and Board Members Lori Foster and Stacy Hammons voted “nay.” Board Member Foster then made a motion to approve the agenda (as is). Her motion was seconded by Chairperson Braxton King. The agenda was approved by a vote of 3-2 with Perry and Barnett voting “nay”.
The ‘actions with discussion’ portion of the meeting proved to be the most contentious as the Board dealt with several items pertaining to pay raises, incentive plans, legal settlements, and creation of new positions.
An agenda item calling for discussion and/or action on modification of a settlement agreement previously entered into and signed with a current employee of the McCreary County Board of Education drew heated debate. The particular settlement agreement discussed and acted upon during the December 12 meeting served as part of prior settlement of multiple lawsuits filed in 2015 against the McCreary County Board of Education by four current/past employees, including former/current District level employees. Eventually those lawsuits were combined into one and settled/dismissed in the spring of 2022 via multiple settlement agreements. As part of the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement in question during the December 12 meeting, the employee received a portion of a gross settlement amount of $650,000 and agreed to retire from her employment in the District, effective at the end of the 2022-23 school year. (The lawsuit associated with the settlement agreement in question asserted a discrimination claim against the McCreary County Board after the employee was demoted and her salary reduced at the conclusion of the 2014-15 school year.)
School Board Attorney John Blevins explained Superintendent John Gunn’s recommendation for the Board to rescind and modify the prior settlement agreement. Basically, the requested modification enables the employee in question to continue as an active employee in the McCreary County School District instead of retiring from her District level position at the end of this school year.
A heated discussion ensued regarding the matter.
Board Member Johnny Barnett repeatedly voiced his opposition to rescinding and modifying part of the settlement agreement.
“You are talking about a deal that was made-it was a signed contract that got paid six digits,” Board Member Johnny Barnett stated. “If the employee wants to stay, give the money back. A deal is a deal. If you do it for this one, you do it for all, everyone you’ve ever had a contract with.”
“Is it saying we are just changing our mind because we want to?” Barnett questioned.
“They signed a contract, they made the deal, they got the money,” Barnett continued. “Give me six figures and I won’t come back-I promise you! It’s tax dollars, it’s our kid’s money. We paid the insurance premiums and those premiums are paid with tax money. Plain and simple-it’s not right. Absolutely, not right.”
Board member Stacey Hammons seemed torn about her decision.
“My initial thought was, ‘A deal is a deal,’ but I don’t know the extent of what happened,” Hammons said. “If Dr. Gunn feels this person can help bring our kids forward, I’m willing to overlook the fact that I might have been a little begrudging over the fact that money was given to people. Maybe, they were wronged. I’m OK with it (settlement modification), personally.”
Referencing the failed motion he made earlier in the meeting requesting that the agenda item to modify the agreement be tabled until the January meeting, Board Member Cody Perry remarked,
“This is one I would have liked to have had time to dig into more.”
Board Member Barnett again expressed his opposition to modifying the settlement agreement.
“It’s not the person,” Barnett said. “Let me make that clear. It’s the situation. It’s a contract. When you sign one, you don’t break it. It was paid in full. The deal was done. They accepted it and signed it. It was done for a reason.”
In addressing the board, Attorney Blevins explained how the agreement came about.
“There were four lawsuits combined into one,” Blevins said. “The four went to mediation with a set strategy for goals they wanted out of it. It was very much four people working and rowing the boat in the same direction when we had these discussions. They came in with things they were willing to do and unwilling to do.”
Barnett summarized his opinion about the matter as he looked at those sitting in the audience during the meeting.
“I’m not a griper, but I stand for what I stand for,” Barnett declared. “If this goes through, it goes through. However, right is right, and wrong is wrong.”
After the emotional discussion, Co-chair Lori Foster made a motion for the board to take action to modify the settlement agreement in question. Chairperson Braxton King seconded the motion. The motion to modify the settlement agreement passed 3-2 with board members Barnett and Perry voting “nay”.
The Board also discussed and/or acted on agenda Items related to the creation of new positions, including:
-The creation of a Career & Technical Education (CTE) Supervisor/Director position, funded totally through Carl Perkins Federal Grant funds. According to Superintendent Gunn, the position is needed to oversee expansion of the High School Vocation/Technical program. Expansion of the program is expected to include the creation of new programs in areas such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. The Board unanimously approved creation of the CTE position.
-The creation of an additional full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) position, making a total of six SROs in the District. The Board unanimously approved creation of the additional SRO position.
–Creation of a Director of Facilities position with a salary of approximately $85,000 annually. The Board took no action.
The Board also dealt with the following items regarding pay scales.
-A revised pay scale for bus drivers was unanimously approved. The new pay scale increases the overall pay of drivers through step increments; however, it does away with extra pay based on number of miles or number of routes. The Board did not take action on a bus driver incentive program.
Another pay-related agenda item focused on percentage amounts of pay for extra service duties for directors at the Central Office.
“I really would like the Board to consider these positions be changed to 20%,” Gunn stated. “Reason being, simply a recruitment tool to be competitive. The increase will allow directors to make a tad more than principals.”
Currently, with the exception of one position (Director of District-wide Services) which was recently adjusted to 20% by the Board, all of the impacted Central Office positions receive a 10% rate. According to Gunn, increasing the rate to 20% would cost the District a total of approximately $44,000 annually.
District 5 Board Member Johnny Barnett voiced his objection to the increase.
“We’ve given a lot of raises in the last year,” Barnett, who opposed adjusting the Director of District-wide Services position to 20% earlier this year, stated. “Just because you all hired one at 20%, I don’t think we should move eight more people up and give them 10% more. Why don’t you take one down to 10% and make everyone equal?”
“I’d like to bring everybody up to make us competitive,” Superintendent Gunn replied.
“We gave bus drivers, cooks, and aides $1.00 per hour pay increases,” Barnett said. “It is not fair-not at all fair to the ones who deal with kids hands-on.”
During the discussion, it was mentioned Central Office directors previously received a 22% rate several years ago. However, approximately eight years ago, those percentages were slashed to 5 and 10%.
During discussion, Board Members Stacey Hammons and Cody Perry both said they would feel more comfortable looking at the increase of percentages for Central Office directors at a later date. Board Member Lori Foster noted there is currently an educator shortage and that offering a strong salary is a recruitment tool. Agreeing with Foster, Dr. Gunn noted 28 teachers currently in McCreary County are non-traditionally licensed. Chairperson Braxton King asked Board Members if they might be comfortable increasing the percentage rate to 15% instead of 20%.
“You’re talking about educator shortages, when we’ve got $500,000 + in ESSR funds that we are losing this year,” Barnett objected. “We could lose 14 positions. Next year, we are set to lose $800,000. You are giving money away, and the people who are going to get cut are not these people. It’s people who are hands-on with kids. I got a message from someone in my District. They asked why we don’t give more supplies to classrooms instead of 20%.”
In the end, the Board took no action on the percentages.
In additional business, the Board acknowledged a first reading of the school calendar for the 2022-2023 school year. Although the Board unanimously acknowledged the first reading, Board Member Perry did suggest that scheduling April spring break at the same time as opening week of turkey hunting season might improve student attendance since older students sometimes miss school during the openings of hunting seasons.
“I know that sounds redneck,” Perry said. “But I’ve always wondered why we can’t schedule spring break that week.”
In other business, the Board:
-Heard an update on the McCreary Middle School Renovation project.
-Approved a change order for the Middle School Renovation project (at no cost).
-Heard a review of the Gifted/Talented program.
-Heard Mitzi Stephens review an attendance incentive plan to encourage staff to be present each day. In the plan, there will be monthly drawings of $100 attendance prizes for one certified and one classified employee at each school. Classified staff from the Bus Garage, Central Office, and Maintenance will be included in drawings at the school levels. There will be an annual drawing in May for a grand prize surprise trip.
-Heard Becky Blakley give an update on the Impact Aid Grant status.
-Heard a parent address the Board regarding an issue at one of the elementary schools.
-Recognized outgoing School Board Members Sherry Duncan and Lori Foster for service and dedication.
-Recognized students from McCreary Central High School including Humanities students, Madrigals, Performing Arts, and Lillian Fee, who led the Pledge of Allegiance during the meeting.
The next regular meeting of the McCreary County School Board will be Monday, January 23, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. at the McCreary County Board of Education’s Central Office.