Warren County Board of Education members Monday night approved one-year contract extensions for teachers and central office staff and three-year extensions for administrators.
Supporters say the move provides stability to educators in Warren County, while opponents called the vote little more than political posturing aimed at handcuffing school board members who will take office in January.
During the regular meeting, board members voted on eight different issues:
- renewing teacher contracts for the 2009/10 school year (four "yes" votes, one "no" vote)
- renewing central office administrators contracts for the 2009/10 school year (four "yes," one "no")
- renewing each school administrator's contract for three years beginning Dec. 31, 2008 (four "yes," one "no")
- voluntary furlough for all employees, including administrators and the superintendent, who work more than 190 days (four "yes," one "abstain")
- two board members going over the superintendent's contract with the board attorney to ensure it is in line with the charter system (four "yes," one "no")
- commissioning an independent audit of the school system's academic structure and various programs (four "yes," one "no")
- tentative approval of four policy changes to be voted on next month (four "yes," one "no")
- approval of budget expenditures for August, September and October (unanimous "yes").
But many of those issues should have been tabled for two months to allow the 2009 crop of board members to have their say on the issue, said board member Clara Roberts, who cast each of the "no" votes and asked for the lone abstention.
Nov. 4's election resulted in two new board members for 2009: Vice-Chairman James Newsome was defeated by former Warren County Superintendent Charles Culver, and Robin Johnson's seat will be filled by Cecil Brown.
"I'm very disturbed right now," Ms. Roberts said. "We have a new board coming in January, and I felt this was a decision to block the new board."
That wasn't a factor in the decision, several board members said. Instead, the various contract extensions were aimed at two things: school system continuity and stability for non-tenured employees.
Mr. Newsome said budget tightening and hiring freezes across the state makes it exceedingly difficult for teachers without tenure to go to another system and get a job.
"We don't want our teachers leaving us because they are thinking they won't have their positions," Chairwoman Gwen Tucker said before the vote.
Still, that should have been a decision for the 2009 board, Ms. Roberts said. Plus, she said, no school board renews contracts before the first of the year.
Actually, Warren County school board members did just that last year. Minutes from a December 10, 2007, called board meeting checked by The McDuffie Mirror revealed the board approved providing an incentive package for all eligible faculty and staff members who signed their contracts by January 9, 2008. The motion to approve the incentive package was made by Mr. Newsome and seconded by Ms. Roberts, with a unanimous approval, according to the minutes.
"We had signing bonuses before Christmas last year," Ms. Johnson said Monday. "Continuity in the faculty is important."
For example, continuity in the Central Office staff is essential to helping Warren County navigate the Charter System process, Ms. Tucker said.
"They worked so hard to get this," she said. "We would like to see them carry this to fruition over the next few years."
Mrs. Roberts said she thinks the contracts should not be renewed until after evaluations are completed, especially in the case of the school administrators.
"No one is so good that you hold them for three years," she said. "I think we should have all these people evaluated before they are approved."
Only teachers who are fully-certified and highly qualified were recommended for renewal at Monday's meeting, said Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said. Mrs. Carey said they are waiting for others who need to pass their tests to finish their qualifications before their contracts are renewed.