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Sturdifen, Honeycutt named Mecklenburg School Board chair, vice-chair

SoVaNow.com / January 30, 2019
The Mecklenburg County School Board elected Dale Sturdifen as board chairman in the trustees’ first meeting of the new calendar year Jan. 22. Sturdifen succeeds Brent Richey who chose not to vie for another term as chairman.

Sturdifen previously served as chairman in 2016 but was replaced by Richey in 2017.

Gavin Honeycutt was elected as vice chairman after Wanda Bailey stepped down from the post, opting instead to serve as parliamentarian. Sturdifen, Honeycutt and Bailey were elected without opposition.

Paula Giammatteo will continue as clerk and Sharon Shuttleworth as deputy clerk.

In other business,

» Trustees approved a $1.4 million lease of 15 additional buses from Sonny Merryman Bus Company. The new buses will replace 13 older buses and add two new handicapped and wheel-chair accessible buses to the fleet.

» Several board members raised questions about an earlier decision by the Board of Supervisors to hire a “clerk of the works” to oversee construction of the county’s new secondary school complex in Baskerville. Rob Campbell called their actions “illegal,” noting that once the money for school construction was appropriated to the School Board, it becomes up to trustees, not the supervisors, to make construction-related decisions.

» A vote on the new random drug testing policy was again delayed after Sturdifen questioned why students participating in band were still exempted from the policy. Assistant Superintendent Abe Jeffers explained again that schools are legally prohibited from using random drug test results to negatively impact student grades.

One of the consequences of testing positive for drugs, under the proposed policy, is to ban student participation in extra-curricular activities. Jeffers said band is a co-curricular activity, meaning that student grades are dependent, in part, on their attendance and participation in activities outside the classroom, such as halftime shows for football. If the student receives a positive result after a random test, and they are no longer allowed to participate in band performances during non-school hours, their grades will suffer.

Jeffers said if trustees want to include band students under the random drug testing policy, their grades cannot have any connection to participation in non-classroom activities.

Wanda Bailey also asked that student drivers be subject to random drug testing since driving is a privilege, not a right.

» Director of Elementary Education Tracey Rogers recommended the purchase of a new math book for the elementary school curriculum, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Go Math book. These were most recommended by teachers and parents who reviewed the books. Trustees were assured that there would be enough books purchased for each student.

No action was taken, but a vote approving the recommendation is expected during the February meeting of the board. Roger said she is still in negotiations to reduce the cost, but the company has agreed to allow the school division to pay half the cost in the 2019 fiscal year and the balance after July 1 during the 2020 fiscal year.

» Director of Secondary Education Jeff Scales provided trustees with a draft copy of the program of studies for 2019-2020 for both the middle and high school students. He noted one notable change in the high school program is the elimination of dual enrollment classes where the school division cannot hire qualified teachers. Therefore, the secondary program will no longer include an option for students to earn an Associate’s degree. Instead they will be offered advanced placement classes.

» Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols said he has been tracking legislation pending in the General Assembly in Richmond that could impact the budget for the coming year.

While Gov. Ralph Northam has suggested teachers should receive a five percent salary increase — a proposal also supported by the House of Delegates — Nichols said he is being told that at most, members of the Senate will agree to a three percent raise for teachers. Nichols said it is his understanding that every school division in Region 8, including Mecklenburg County, is asking for the General Assembly to support the five percent increase.

He noted that Mecklenburg County’s teacher pay scale is also a problem that needs fixing. This problem will not be resolved by offering either a three- or five-percent pay increase across the board. Nichols said he is working on a plan to address the issue, but realizes it will cost the county more to resolve the salary scale discrepancy than it will to offer teachers a pay increase.

He said legislators appear to favor a bill that will increase the number of school counselors. The proposed legislation would call for a 250:1 ratio of students to counselors. Nichols noted this bill would only affect South Hill Elementary School because of its large population.

There is also a bill to further reduce the number of SOL tests that high school students must pass to graduate, and a separate bill that would limit Virginia schools to only one diploma option.

Currently, Virginia is one of seven states that offer more than one diploma to high school graduates. Students who take Advanced Placement classes or who pursue a college-prep curriculum will receive a sticker on their standard diploma. The goal, Nichols explained, is to remove the stigma associated with students pursuing a career and technical education classes.

» As design work for the county’s new consolidated secondary school continues, Nichols said he and a team are focused on the academic and instructional aspects of the new career centers in the new facility. The details of his plan will be disclosed at a later meeting.

» Nichols cautioned parents to limit their plans for spring break — currently set for April 15-19 — noting that the weather this school year has been harsh and unpredictable. “We’ve already missed days in the second semester. If too many others are missed, the time will be made up during spring break.”

Asked whether there are any plans to change the date of the high school graduations, Nichols replied, “No. Graduation has been set and will not be changed.”

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