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Teacher pay cuts off the table

School officials consider county bailout offer

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School board members voted unanimously Monday evening to remove certified staff pay cuts from consideration in the quest to balance their budget, but stopped short of accepting county commissioners’ offer to provide funds for the remainder of the school year.

“We are appreciative of the offer, and if authorized by the board, more discussion would be appropriate in that arena,” said Shelton Jeffries, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools superintendent.

The decision came after a lengthy meeting that overflowed the central office auditorium with teachers, parents and community members, who at times were vocal about their concerns. Several people lined the hallway outside the meeting room. Inside, several people spoke on behalf of teachers and other employees during the time allotted for public input. All speakers requested to speak in advance of Monday’s meeting.

“When I hear what’s going on now and I hear about the shortfall with the budget, it’s not just started. It’s been going on for years,” said Binford Sloane, the former transportation director for the school system, who still has a child attending school in the district. “I may not be here anymore as an employee, but I’m here as a parent. You’ve got to do what is right by these children. You’ve got to start making changes. You’ve got too many people employed in high-paying jobs ...Why is everyone here allowed to take a vehicle home? I’ve expressed this for the 18 years that I worked here. That’s money that you can keep people in classrooms.”

Nationally known blogger Adrian Wood, a native of Nash County, also spoke and read a letter from a current district teacher.

“I’m here because I care. I see all these teachers and I think this should be an impeccable school system. There’s no question that we have good teachers,” Wood said.

The letter Wood read stated in part, “They are always reminding us to be good employees, but central office seems to have forgotten how to be a good employer...I don’t understand why we have a superintendent who does not show up until Tuesday and leaves early on Fridays. Can teachers do that? ...We need a full-time superintendent.”

Following a number of unrelated business items, Jeffries offered his reservations in accepting the Nash County commissioners’ bailout of $800,000 for the remainder of the school year.

The funding advance offer came with several stipulations, including paying back the $800,000 in the 2019-20 funding cycle, committing to a voluntary audit for financial conditions, instructional staffing, central office staffing and an overall evaluation of the district; performing an audit of the fund balance; applying a spending freeze to local funds; removing the system-wide adjustment from future consideration; expediting the construction of a new elementary school with a timeline of a joint meeting in 30 days, a size determination in 60 days, site selection in 90 days and selection of an architect in 120 days.

“We would need clarification on what the spending freeze for local funds would actually mean. Currently, that’s salaries and supplements for staff. Removing the system-wide adjustment from future consideration would mean this board making a binding decision for future boards. The timeline would require some discussion because the board of ed has made commitments via a series of public meetings in those public forums about what that timeline would look like with a level of community engagement,” Jeffries said.

Several board members agreed with Jeffries’ sentiments, requesting time to review the conditions of the loan agreement and, if necessary, call a special meeting later in the month to take a formal vote.

Board member Richard Jenkins said he believed the terms of the agreement to be reasonable but voted with his fellow members.

“Anytime anybody’s going to advance you $800,000, I don’t think these stipulations are that strenuous. The teachers are getting what they’re asking for — no, what they deserve.”

The board did not adjourn the April meeting, instead opting to go into closed session, signaling a meeting will be called to review and vote on the agreement in advance of the regularly scheduled May meeting.