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News Education School board off the hook for 25 percent

Superintendent Dr. Chris BaldwinN.C. legislature plans no appeal of court ruling

At Monday night's Board of Education meeting, the board received some clarity concerning an issue that they have struggled with for some time; the selection of teachers who would receive a “bonus” in accordance to criteria set by the board and mandated by the state.

The law passed by the N.C. Legislature meant that teachers would lose their tenure or career status protections by 2018. By the end of the year, districts were to identify criteria for teachers who have worked three or more years, in order to offer 25 percent of teachers a bonus and a one-time, four-year contract. The chosen 25 percent would lose their tenure status, if they accepted the bonus and four-year contract. Tenure is a status granted to an employee, usually after a probationary period, indicating that the position of employment is permanent. Overall, the move that was being attempted by the N.C. legislature seemed unpopular among educators – evident from a meeting held two weeks ago where N.C. Senator Jim Davis met with educators at South Macon Elementary School.

On May 16, in Wake County, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood declared teachers who have achieved tenure status as having a property right to the status.

According to the BOE's legal counsel, John Henning Jr., that means that the state legislature can't just take it away.

“What the court's decision says is that they can't just arbitrarily pull back tenure once it's been granted and therefore the 25 percent selection is not constitutional or lawful, but the court did not go so far as to say that the state can't end the granting of tenure from here on out,” he told the board members. “Where that leaves us is that the understanding is that the General Assembly is not going to pursue an appeal of that like they did with the voucher legislation.”

So as a result of the ruling, teachers who had attained tenure before June 30, 2013, would be able to keep their status, but tenure will not be granted moving forward.

With the 25 percent selection off the table, a list of teachers who were in their probationary period was presented to the board with the understanding that they could not offer tenure, but could offer a guaranteed one year contract.

According to Macon County Schools Superintendent Chris Baldwin, those teachers as presented would be funded regardless of the budget that the legislature ends up passing as a result of a funding cushion that has been created in anticipation of the needed funds.

“But the other openings that we have listed could be in jeopardy depending on which version of the budget is passed,” said Baldwin.

BOE member Gary Shields made a motion to approve the contracts for the teachers.

iPads to replace text books

The board voted to approve a lease with Apple Computer, Inc. that would give Macon County Schools over 2,100 iPads for student use.

Chief Technology Officer Tim Burrell explained the specs of the devices and the way that students would be able to use them. The plan at the moment is for all Franklin High School, Union Academy, Nantahala and Highlands students to have a 32-gigabyte device with a protective case. Upon receiving the device, students can log in to access digital text books. The lease agreement will require insurance to protect from damage or theft and there will be agreements similar to the ones that are used with text books that will hold students liable under certain conditions as well.

“We can also turn on GPS if the iPad is stolen,” said Burrell. “And if someone tries to take it and set it up for themselves, they can't do that without accessing the school servers. It's part of a program that Apple has. So if somebody steals it, it's basically useless to them.”

The students will keep an account with Apple that they will be able to use throughout their school career and after graduation. An orientation will also be given to provide students the knowledge to operate the devices.

The total amount to be paid over three installments will be $496,763.92. As Baldwin pointed out, the devices will be partially funded from the $1.5 million technology fund that is provided by the county.

“These iPads are tremendous devices,” said Baldwin. “The main thing we are trying to do is provide text books which we haven't done in a number of years.”

Though apps will be partially restricted, learning tools will be able to be added like calculators and such. Textbooks will be purchased by the school, but if the students would like to pay for additional tools they will be able to do so.

“The TI calculator that is required in high school costs $120, but you can get the app for $10,” said Baldwin.

If parents wish to look into additional insurance for the devices, school officials will be able to point them in the right direction for that as well.

BOE member Stephanie McCall made a motion to approve the lease with Shields seconding it. The motion passed unanimously.

Other business

The board also approved an increase in the price of school lunches by 10 cents. The move came at the recommendation of Kim Terrell, child nutrition director for Macon County Schools.

“As part of the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act--it says that our average lunch prices have to be compared to the reimbursement rates and using the formula provided, it says that we have to raise our prices by 10 cents,” she told the board.

As a result of this move, students who do not receive reduced or free lunches will see an increase.

“I don’t like to see this because there are so many families who just miss the federal guidelines, but I don’t have a choice,” said Terrell.

The board also voted to approve a contract with Preventative Drug Testing, LLC to provide drug testing to school athletes as well as bus drivers.





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