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FCBOE tables employment guidelines vote

By Staff
Kim West
The Franklin County Board of Education voted 4-0 to postpone amending a portion of its employment guidelines policy in a regular meeting Tuesday night.
The policy, which has been in effect for the past 26 years, includes specific language directing the board on its objective employment guidelines for instructional, administrative and support personnel.
The changes would include amending the opening passage of "The following objective and subjective guidelines are used in selecting new professional personnel …" to "The following objective and subjective guidelines may be used in selecting new professional personnel …"
The other change would apply to the passage on hiring administrative personnel, which states that guidelines "shall apply to selection of administrative personnel," and those guidelines include the number of years of administrative experience in Franklin County and any other district and the classification of school in which any experience was attained. The new policy would be worded as "may apply to selection of administrative personnel."
Superintendent-elect Gary Williams, who officially starts his four-year contract Jan. 1, requested the changes, which were not supported by the Franklin County Teachers Association, Alabama Education Association and Franklin County Educational Support Professionals for varying reasons.
Williams said adjusting the policy would allow the board more flexibility in hiring employees based on subjective standards, such as interpersonal skills and competence.
"I haven't spoken enough about this policy, and I think there's some qualifications and character of people you can't put on this (policy)," he said. "Qualifications that you can't measure, including interpersonal skills and how they get along with people.
"I don't want someone who isn't qualified, and we don't have any hidden agenda here. There's nobody we're trying to get out of hiring. We just want options, and we don't have options with this policy."
According to Williams, the FCBOE's employment guidelines are literally interpreted by the AEA and doesn't allow the board to consider subjective qualifications as well as objective ones.
"With the AEA's interpretation of the policy, the board's hands are tied (in making hiring decisions), and that's what we have to go by," he said.
The AEA, represented by UniServe Director Clara Watts, opposed the change based on the belief that the current policy is effective and that it would cause a predicted overload in applications for positions.
"This is a policy that has been in effect since 1982, and only one grievance has been filed during that time," Watts said. "I feel like it has been used in most of the board's hirings and if there were times it wasn't used, then it wasn't disagreed with (other than the grievance).
"If you remove 'are' and 'shall,' I think applications will skyrocket whether they are qualified or not because it will be left to the board to decide."
The FCTA, which has a voting representative for every 10 teachers at each school in the county, voted 10-3 by secret ballot against the policy change.
"I'm here to represent the viewpoints of the teachers," FCTA President and Red Bay teacher Jacqueline Parsons said during the meeting. "We think this policy is effective as written … and we feel the interview process is appropriate for subjective criteria such as interpersonal skills.
"We have confidence in Gary Williams, but we're not sure what a different board or different superintendent would hold for us (if the policy changed)."
The FCESP declined to offer its support and voiced its concerns about not being contacted about the policy change by Williams.
"We would like to officially say that we felt slighted because we were left out of the policy change (process)," said Ann McMahan, FCESP president and a Belgreen High School bus driver. "We're an active organization with about 150 members from bus drivers and lunchroom workers to secretaries and janitors – anybody that's not a teacher.
"Since we are employees, we thought we should be included because we answer to the same superintendent and we do hold a seat on the policy committee."
Williams said he believed he was following procedure and didn't intend to leave any organization out of the discussion about the policy change. His offer to meet with the association was accepted by McMahan.
"I apologize and didn't mean to not send a letter," he said. "This board and I have talked about changing this policy for a long time, and we talked to Mrs. Watts and Mrs. Parsons.
"I also talked to the FCTA before I talked to the principals … I thought I was following procedure and advisement, but I should have included you all and talked to everyone."
Williams also addressed the system's financial situation after Gov. Bob Riley announced Monday a 12.5 percent proration for state schools in 2008-09. Statewide, schools boards initially received only 75 percent of their state-allocated funds in October and November, which has caused many school systems to borrow money to meet monthly payroll and operating expenses.
Riley plans to withdraw $218 million of the $437 million available from the constitutional rainy day fund passed by voters statewide Nov. 4, which would cause proration to drop to 9 percent, which is closer to the initial percentage expected by school administrators but still the highest number in Alabama since 1960-61 when 14.14 percent proration was declared.
In response, the board unanimously approved securing a $1.5 million line of credit at the best lending rate available.
"We've talked to our principals all year about the cuts we're going to have to make," Williams said. "It's going to be tough, but with this line of credit, we'll make it through this."
The board also approved the annual superintendent salary for Williams at $110,782.72 with a yearly expense account of $4,800, effective Jan. 1, 2009.
T.J. Bragwell, vice chair of the board, said Williams, who previously worked as the Franklin County Schools assistant superintendent for the past four years, was given the same salary as retired Superintendent Bill Moss.
"This is not a raise," said Bragwell, who served as acting chair in the absence of Board Chair Randy Hester. "This is the same salary that Mr. Moss was making."
In other business, the board:
The next regular meeting will be 9:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 30, with a work session at 9 a.m.news