Tuesday, August 7, 2012

School Board/City Council discuss start date and facility use

Assistant Superintendent Curt Baker compairs teacher pay.

Roanoke City Public Schools start classes August 20 this year but it is debatable whether they can start before Labor Day next year. Unless the General Assembly works some magic in the 2013 legislative session, the city is tied to Roanoke County’s fate.

The complicated legislation is dependent on the adjacent locality’s missed days due to snow. No snow means the county’s exception expires this year.

Roanoke city council held their joint meeting with the Roanoke City School Board Monday. The agenda was packed with teacher pay, school fees, VHSL, facility usage and student/teacher ratio.

School Board Chairman David Carson said, “school facilities are for students first and they’re for schools second and when uses by the community don’t interfere with those two then we want to encourage use by the community.”

There were over 400 uses by the community last year said Carson. “We’ve got to be mindful that it’s a balancing act – we really have top notch facilities … the principles take pride in protecting their schools.” Non-profits and school groups are not charged a fee.

Councilman Sherman Lea said people have complained to him that since the new schools have opened the exterior grounds were not accessible – like the tennis courts. Lea went on to say at one time citizens felt connected to the schools but now they find themselves locked out. “We put schools in neighborhoods so neighborhoods could use the schools,” said Lea.

Carson said, “it’s a fine line in protecting facilities versus making sure they’re available to the community.” Superintendent Rita Bishop said she would check with the principles of William Fleming and Patrick Henry. Anita Price wanted to ensure that both high schools were being utilized equally.

Bishop in answer to Lea’s question about the availability of the inside track said, “it could be done by request but the problem is the security of the school and the gym floor … it would still have to be unlocked and monitored.”

Lea persisted saying he hears that “it is locked down and it isn’t as open as the old schools use to be.” Carson said “if we’re going to err – we’re going to err for protecting stuff for the students.”

Legislative plans for the next session of the General Assembly include beating the drum for state funds and school start dates. Lobbyist Rob Catron will help beat that drum said acting city attorney Tim Spencer. Carson said he’d be willing to “storm Richmond.”

Joint meeting RCPS Board and City Council at Patrick Henry High School.

Bishop shared with city council that the current student/teacher ratio in the high schools is 18 – 19.8 per class – figuring in special education it falls to 16. The middle school ratio is 17 with special education bringing the number down to 14. Elementary schools are at 17 falling to 12-13 when factoring in special education.

RCPS benefits from Title I funding because of the high number of students on free or reduced lunch. The temporary meals tax increase helped in retaining teachers.

Carson said the Governor’s School was an incredible program. Of the 250 students enrolled over 100 are city students. Since RCPS is the host system students are able to start in the 9th grade but some may have to be relegated to a waiting list until the 10th grade.

VHSL is now organized in districts by size and both Patrick Henry and William Fleming are AAA and must travel extensively to compete. That has changed for this school year. RCPS got what they asked for when they pushed to be organized geographically. Carson was fine with competing at the district level but said when it comes time for playoffs he thought they could then compete by size.

Now VHSL has implemented levels from 1-6 with one being the smallest school size. William Fleming is level 5 and Patrick Henry is level 6. Carson pointed out, however, that a school is not required to play another school separated by more then two levels. That means that a school geographically that is a 3 or below does not have to play Patrick Henry. Cave Spring and Hidden Valley are level 3 schools. Carson asked council’s help with that expected challenge.

Assistant Superintendent Curt Baker answered city council’s question regarding teacher compensation comparisons. Baker said the pool average was calculated by averaging five comparable school systems – two of which were urban. Each year of service produced a step in pay and though RCPS is on the low end of the comparable in the first years, compensation met and exceeded the comparable by the 18th year of service. That same scenario plays out for all levels of education said Baker. Adjustments were made in step grade and a one-percent increase has mitigated the gap in the early service years. “This addressed 40 percent of the sag,” said Baker.

It was wrong the way a post card sent to parents from Patrick Henry was worded said Bishop. It implied that the student’s schedule could not be picked up without paying dues. “That’s really wrong.”

Bishop admitted that notifications to parents should say what school the fees went toward. She promised that the breakdown would be on the schools website immediately. “You can never withhold grades or a diploma because someone has not paid,” she said.

Every parent at Patrick Henry received a clarifying letter. “The real problem was that one implied statement,” said Bishop. The difference in fees between school systems was because other localities charged separate small fees where at RCPS one fee covers all items ($30 and for seniors $50). The pool of dues is audited she said.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Education, Politics, Roanoke City Politics, Roanoke City Public Schools

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