Turnover, taxes, trust and transparency

Rick Kriesky: Turnover, taxes, trust and transparency

Thursday night, the Lexington Chamber of Commerce held the first candidates’ forum ever for prospective members of the Lexington City Schools Board of Education. For over a hundred years, school board members in Lexington have been appointed by the City Council. But this Nov. 7, the voting public in Lexington will get an opportunity to cast their ballots for all seven seats on the newly formed board.

A hats off must go to the Lexington Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event. It was professional and well run. A very special thank-you must also go out to Belinda Clark, former chairperson of the Thomasville Board of Education, for moderating this important event. Ms. Clark’s professionalism and background in public education helped guide the candidates through the two-hour event. And, of course, a heartfelt congratulations goes out to the 15 candidates who participated in the forum. It takes courage to run for public office in these tumultuous political times. Each of the 15 candidates expressed a passion and a genuine excitement about the possibility of serving the children of Lexington.

During the forum there were scores of positive aspects in the system that were discussed. Diversity, the children, principals and the staff are just a few that were mentioned by the candidates. But, from where I sit, it is the criticism that catches my attention. In a school culture that strives to embrace continuous improvement, hearing the perceived challenges that our system faces by the future members of the Board of Education allows us to see ourselves through the lens of others.

Four areas that were emphasized and articulated by the various candidates were turnover, taxes, trust and transparency. And in a variety of ways these may or may not be interconnected pieces of the same puzzle.

Staff turnover is a crucial variable if school districts are to address the needs of all students with consistency and efficacy. From 2009 through 2013 the staff turnover rate for Lexington City Schools was relatively close to state average in North Carolina. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the turnover rate ballooned upwards by six percent. This increase coincided with the nationwide teacher shortage that struck North Carolina particularly hard. While the local school system has put several new initiatives in place to combat the teacher retention issue. more and deeper studies can be done to try to help solve the retention issue.

One area that is closely related to staff turnover and was discussed at length in the forum is the supplemental school tax that most of the residents in the city district pay. The supplemental school tax is used by the Lexington school district to pay certified and noncertified employees a salary above what the state provides. For certified teachers, the supplemental tax provides an additional 8.5 percent on their annual salary above the state allocation. Many school districts across North Carolina assess supplemental school taxes. When this tax was approved in the 1930s, it was a property tax assessment of 18 cents per thousand. In the late 1990s, the City Council removed 6 cents of the school district’s tax and reduced the assessment to 12 cents per thousand. Several of the candidates at the forum indicated that they wanted to learn more about the tax and possibly support an effort to reinstate the amount that was removed and earmark it to increase staff salaries.

Two areas, trust and transparency, were mentioned by a few candidates as possible reasons for the spike in staff turnover. Several candidates advocated for a more consistent administration of exit surveys and a deeper dive into exploring whether there is a significant trust and transparency issue or not among the staff. While anonymous teacher surveys the past few years have not indicated that these two issues are common throughout the district, the candidates alluded to comments to them from some current and former staff members. This is certainly an area that needs more study.

I believe each of the areas above deserve the scrutiny of a well-organized school board committee. If the school board, the administration and the schools’ staffs are to work collectively as a team, we must discover the details regarding each of the areas listed above. It is important to find out if there are conditions and situations that can be remedied or adjusted to stem the tide of turnover.

The members of the new Board of Education will assume their new roles in December. My first recommendation to the new board will be that they establish three committees. Of those committees, one would review teacher turnover, one committee would examine increasing the supplemental school tax, and one would review the current state of trust and transparency among all staff members. I will also ask the board to publicize and be transparent with as much of the information as legally possible.

From my seat, last night, the prospective candidates outlined what our marching orders for the district should be as we begin 2018.

 

Rick Kriesky is superintendent Lexington City Schools