Greene Co school board handles varied items

Principal salary, teacher grievances, construction class and more

The Greene County Schools board of education was in what board president David Ohrt called a “lose-lose” situation at its regular meeting July 19 when it considered increasing middle school principal Shawn Zanders’ salary based on two additional grades moving into the building.

Ohrt said the recommendation for a $1,000 salary increase is a compromise. “We realize it doesn’t compensate for the added responsibility, but it does say we acknowledge it’s there,” Ohrt said.

Zanders will also get the same 1.68 percent increase on his base salary as the teachers.

Board member Sam Harding asked if the salary would be reduced if grades at some time moved out of the building, and said he preferred to keep administrative salaries based only on years of experience. “I hope this doesn’t get us into some kind of precedent years down the road,” he said.

Teacher Sean Thompson was at the meeting. He asked if teachers would be compensated more if students were added to their classes. He added that more students make more work for secretaries and custodians, and asked if they’d get wage increases, too.

“The general consensus is this is a challenging thing.  Are you going to base salary on enrollment? If you do it for principals, do you do it for teachers, too? With the new system all we have to negotiate is base salary,” superintendent Tim Christensen said. The district could set a salary based on a particular number of students in a classroom and then pay teachers more or less, depending on their student count. “That’s a dangerous thing….. That’s why the ‘lose-lose’.”

Zanders had asked that his salary be reviewed because he hired to be principal in a two-grade building, and with the closing of the intermediate school in Grand Junction, he’ll have four grades and all their teachers under his supervision.

A motion to increase his salary was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Teresa Hagen casting the dissenting vote.

The board expects to take a similar action on elementary principal Scott Johnson’s salary at the August meeting. Fourth grade is being added to that building. He will receive a $500 increase.

More than a dozen teachers attended the meeting, which began with an airing of teacher concerns over events of the past year.

Iowa Education Association UniServe director Cindy Fitzgerald used the open forum to read a prepared statement from the Greene County Education Association.

The teachers named three specific concerns, although details of the alleged events weren’t provided.

First, the teachers are concerned about the recruitment of an employee for a position that wasn’t vacant. The staff should know of any positions available, the statement said.

Second, the teachers are concerned about board members “wanting to publicly discuss employee performance, or ask out in the public if a coach or a teacher is good or bad.”

“The role of the school board is not to evaluate employees. That is the role of the administrators that you’ve hired,” the letter stated. The teachers reminded the board there are procedures outlined in the teacher contract and handbook to help when there are performance issues, and asked that if board members hear of performance issues they discuss it with the individual teacher first.

The third concern was of board members listening to and acting on public complaints about employees rather than reminding the complainant to follow the board policy that sets the procedure for dealing with such complaints. “Not all public complaints warrant action against an employee. In fact, board members shouldn’t even know about the complaint until the person making the complaint has gone through the proper channels,” the statement said.

“We realize people have a right to question things that have happened. We’re asking you as board members to please follow the correct protocol in dealing with these situations when they occur.”

Matters raised in the open forum are informational and are not responded to nor acted on by the board.

In old business, Christensen recommended no changes to the board’s policies dealing with a substance free workplace and camera surveillance.

A parent had addressed the board in June asking why teachers are not subject to random drug and alcohol testing like bus drivers, and claiming there had been a complaint of a teacher using substances at school. Christensen said then he would get more information and review current policies.

At the July meeting Christensen reported that according to legal counsel, the “reasonable suspicion” needed to require a drug or alcohol test would be firsthand knowledge and the knowledge base of the witness. He recommended no change to the policy.

The same parent alleged that the surveillance cameras in schools violate her children’s right to privacy and she was concerned about administrators viewing surveillance on cellular phones away from the school buildings.

Christensen said at the July meeting that there is no expectation of privacy in a public place, and that if an administrator shared surveillance inappropriately it would be a fire-able offense. He said in an emergency situation like an active shooter it would be imperative that the surveillance be available outside the school building.

Construction class – The board approved allowing the construction class to start another house even though the house built during the 2016-17 school year has not been sold. Seven Greene County students are enrolled in the class and five Southeast Valley students will be in the class. Christensen hopes Jefferson can be a site for an Iowa Central Community College regional academy, and said building a house would benefit that effort.

The class will also work in a renovation of the second floor apartment above Prairie Lakes AEA’s building in the 100 block of E. State St.

Other business – The board approved bids for milk and bread for the coming school year; increased substitute teacher pay from $105 to $115 per day; approved student/parent and employee handbooks for 2017-18; approved a change order for a net increase of $3,551 for the elementary school addition; revised the school calendar making Jan. 22 a day of no school for all students; approved agreements with Iowa Lakes Community College for the Student alternative Vocational Education (SAVE) program and with Iowa Central for the Early Bird classes; and selected legislative priorities to suggest to the Iowa Association of School Boards for the coming year.

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