, Corbin, KY

January 23, 2013

School employee raises on hold

Final action of Knox Board of Education meeting concerned freeze approval

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

“It’s a slap in the face.”

That’s what Daphne Goodin, with the Kentucky Education Association, told the Knox County Board of Education members after the adjournment of a nearly four-hour long meeting Tuesday.

The final action of the meeting concerned approving a freeze on the impending 2-percent raise for all school system employees approved in December by a 3-2 vote of the board.

Prior to that agenda item, board members retired to a closed session to discuss “pending litigation and personnel.”

After a 45-minute closed session, attendees were informed “no official action was taken” during the session, and board members reconvened to vote on the measure.

Newly elected Board Chair Carla Jordan said a letter had been received recommending a feasibility study be done to see if finances could cover the raises.

With that information, board members made the vote. Newly elected Board Vice-Chair Sam Watts motioned to freeze the raise, have the study done and review feedback.

Jordan seconded that motion, and the board unanimously voted to freeze the raise.

Goodin, who has been involved with the Knox County school system for 54 years and taught for 30, said she and others heard praise for the teachers “all night” and was not happy with the vote.

She explained that the school system has the funds to cover the raises. During the December board meeting, Finance Officer Gertrude Smith explained money for the raises will come directly out of the district’s “rainy day” fund. Smith said last month the amount in the fund was estimated at about $1,074,006.

No one in the audience spoke Tuesday against the measure.

“We had no chance to speak,” Goodin said. “I consider it a slap in the face.”

Goodin stood and approached the board members as they were getting ready to leave to confront them about freezing the raise. She raised her voice over the din of the room and expressed her “disappointment” with the decision. Jordan “promised” Goodin that if the completed feasibility study came back favorable, the board would “put it back.”

Board Member Merrill Smith said he “understood her disappointment” but said the raise could cause a loss in teaching staff.

“I still consider it a slap in the face,” Goodin said again.                                                                                           

Former Board Chair Ken Crawford, who chaired the board in December when the raises were approved, said “no way that any sort of justification can be made to rescind these (raises).”

Crawford, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he plans to make another call to the State Attorney General’s office today. He wants to know “the validity of rescinding the raise.”

He said besides the Attorney General’s office, he also spoke with the state Department of Education concerning this issue.

“I don’t believe Kentucky statutes allow (the board) to rescind a raise,” Crawford said.

He further said that Tuesday’s requested feasibility study was completed while he was on the board.

He explained the state requires a 2-percent contingency fund be set aside annually — and currently he said that fund sits at 2.4 percent.

Which he says is plenty to cover the raise — a raise which both certified and classified employees haven’t seen in seven years.

“If not now, when?” he asked.

Goodin agreed, saying this information was presented to the board in September.

“We analyzed this budget a long time ago,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Prior to the closed session, an agenda item to lift a hiring freeze was briefly addressed. Watts motioned to lift the freeze, with a second from Jordan. However, the three newest board members, Merrill Smith, Dexter Smith and Charles Merida, all voted against the measure. Merrill Smith said people would better understand the “nay” votes “later in the meeting.”

“If you’re not going to allow the raise, then you can’t lift the freeze on hiring,” Crawford said, adding he felt lifting the hiring freeze would allow Superintendent Walter Hulett “to hire people at will, probably for political reasons.”

He said retaining quality teachers will help further the school system’s goals.

“Part of investing in a better education system in this area (is) that you have to pay (for good teachers),” Crawford said, noting that during the meeting it was learned at least 25 percent of the teaching staff doesn’t have tenure. “The reason we have so many teachers without tenure is we’re losing them to other, better-paying school systems.”

Crawford also said he requested to speak to board members during Tuesday’s meeting, but was not permitted. No public input on any agenda item was heard.

“It is shameful that we will not spend the money to do this raise,” Crawford said. “(We need) to give these hardworking teachers — who we heard them bragging on all night — the (money) to get them somewhere.”

The next regular meeting of the board is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the Knox County Board of Education Annex building.