Board debating pay increase for academic coaches

The Harlan County Board of Education is exploring the idea of returning at least a thousand dollars per year to the salaries of the district’s academic coaches.

That amount was cut a few years ago as part of the school system’s overall need to reduce expenses as federal dollars in “economic stimulus” funding disappeared, grant money for projects ended, and state dollars declined along with enrollment.

Now that the immediate fiscal crisis to the revenue side of the budget has passed, the board members have been addressing the need to increase supplemental pay to various positions, including coaches.

During their recent board meeting, Janie Torstrick, an academic team coach, asked the board for an “equitable” way to address the issue with them following a recent increase in salary, reportedly for a staff member with responsibilities in athletics.

Superintendent Mike Howard said it would take $16,000 per year “to give back what was cut” and he was more than willing to do that but would prefer the board wait for the next school year to make such changes so as not to increase the expected expenses in the current budget.

This was particularly important, Howard said, in light of the fact the district must now cut more than $76,000 from the current budget to comply with the state’s negative adjustment to their SEEK formula funding.

“I am very supportive of these teams and the job our coaches do,” Howard said. “I was very interested and supportive from the beginning when we started the league. I still attend almost every one of their meets and really do everything I can to support academics and team activities.”

Board members were concerned about the tendency among staff and parents that athletics and academics were comparable in this way, given the fact that academic teams participate in perhaps three matches per year.

The load of work in preparation, practice and competition between sports teams and academic teams remains heavily weighted toward athletics, and the additional funding budgeted by the board for salaries for those purposes must still reflect that reality, said board chairman Gary Farmer.

“We believe it’s a very important activity, but it’s just not a good comparison,” Farmer commented.

Board member Wallace Napier supported additional spending on academic teams and events, noting how the district’s test scores continued to improve and those students need more encouragement and the greater challenges provided by these activities.

“I would certainly like to give those back,” Howard said about the additional salaries, “but with the budget discussion upcoming I would recommend it for a new school year and not make these changes in the middle of the year.”

Board member Pam Sheffield said “the hardest working people” in the district were actually in food service and the custodial departments and if anyone in the system merited more pay for hard work, difficult hours and tough work environments, it was those classified employees.

“We’ve got cooks and janitors working their fingers to the bone in these schools,” she said. “If we get money for raises, if we ever get any, I believe we need to start there.”

Howard will submit a draft budget for the 2016-17 school year at the annual meeting in January and further discussion will be held then.

In other action, the board:

• Approved a workers’ compensation settlement plan submitted by board attorney Johnnie Turner;

• Held a closed-door expulsion hearing for a high school student;

• Approved payment of claims totaling $546.914.64;

• Approved a high school Beta Club trip to Asheville, North Carolina;

• Approved a Rosspoint third-grade trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee;

• Approved a Cawood honors trip to Cincinnati with tentative dates of May 7 and 8;

• Awarded a bid from Smart Temps for a temperature monitoring system for food services;

• Approved FRYSC continuation grants;

• Approved 21st Century grant applications for the high school, Rosspoint, Evarts and Cumberland;

• Approved a reciprocal contract agreement for non-resident students for the 2016-2017 school year with Bell County, Leslie County, Letcher County and Pineville Independent;

• Approved a Delta Dental “Making Smiles Happen” Arts in Education Initiative grant through the FRYSC offices;

• Agreed to declare technology equipment as surplus to participate in a vendor buy-back program;

• Approved participation in an active shooter training program for staff conducted by Kentucky State Police;

• Changed the elementary and middle school athletic policy concerning training for coaches on concussions;

• Approved the superintendent’s report of one certified employment, one resignation, and one retirement, along with 10 classified employments and three resignations;

• Approved a request from the Kentucky Education Association supporting their resolution to the state legislature on the Kentucky Teacher Retirement Systems pension program;

• Approved the contract for the self-insured workers compensation insurance program;

• Tabled for further review a recommendation to rescind a board policy concerning the preschool program.

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