By John L. Ross
A freeze concerning employee pay raises has apparently been thawed out, at least, temporarily.
During a four-hour special-called meeting of the Knox County Board of Education Tuesday at the Knox County Middle School’s old gym, school employees were unanimously granted a retroactive 2 percent pay raise by board members.
This raise will go back to Jan. 1 and go through the end of the school year, June 30.
The next-to-last item on the board’s approved agenda was to “discuss/take action on the two percent pay raise for Knox County employees.”
That was item “X.”
Item “I” on the agenda was to “approve revised salary schedules for 2012-2013.”
That item was moved by vote to be discussed toward the end of the meeting.
After board members went into a 90-minute closed, executive session to discuss pending litigation, they reconvened in open session.
With virtually no discussion, Board member Dexter Smith motioned to approve the two percent raise, with a second from Board member Charles Merida. Both board members also motioned and seconded to approve the revised 2012-2013 salary schedule. Both decisions were unanimous.
During the January meeting of the board, Board Chair Carla Jordan said a letter was received recommending a “feasibility study” be done to see if the school’s financial situation could handle the raise.
Vice-chair Sam Watts motioned to freeze the raise that night, and it was seconded by Jordan.
The vote that night was unanimous.
The raise was originally approved in December by a 3-2 vote.
Several people were on hand at that meeting who were against the measure to freeze the raise, however, no one was given a chance to speak that night.
Daphne Goodin, with the Kentucky Education Association, told board members after the January meeting their decision was “a slap in the face” for the teachers.
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 would come directly from the district’s “rainy day” fund, which was estimated at about $1,074,006.
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 January’s meeting, said then he would contact the State Attorney General’s office to determine “the validity of rescinding the raise.”
“I don’t believe Kentucky statutes allow (the board) to rescind a raise,” Crawford said.
He further said the 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 had not seen in seven years.
In other board business:
— The board agreed to accept the sole bid received for the board’s audit.
During the special-called meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Walter Hulett explained that White & Associates, PSC was the only group to enter a bid. That agency is based in Richmond.
Hulett added that the board could still “submit or request” bids, but that “this quote is in.”
Vice-Chair Sam Watts motioned to accept the bid, but Board member Merrill Smith felt the board should seek additional bids for the audit to get “the lowest possible” bid.
“We tried once,” Watts said. “It didn’t work out so good.”
Board member Dexter Smith agreed with Merrill Smith.
Watts then rescinded his motion. Merrill Smith then made a motion to seek more bids for the next board meeting, and Watts seconded that motion. The board was unanimous in its decision.
— Larry Mitchum, along with two others, came to the board representing Mountain Valley Insurance. Their hope was to become the insurance agent of record with the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust (KSBIT). They have a branch office on Terrell Lane in Barbourville.
Finance Officer Gertrude Smith explained that the unless the board named an agent of record, the board would be limited in which company could bid for their insurance business.
She said the schools have “gotten quotes ahead of release.”
She added insurance administrators “haven’t followed protocol” and that it made it “really unfair to other agents.”
She also told the board “they give the bid to the first-in (bidder) unless you provide an agency of record.” The current policy expires July 1, according to Smith.
Board chair Carla Jordan was concerned that naming Mountain Valley their agent of record would pose another unfair advantage. “It would block everyone else out,” she said.
After some discussion, including being clear on the problem, a final decision was not reached. This is expected to come before the board during its next meeting.