Epperson attends first board meeting
by Katrina Smith and Danny Wade
The July 8 Humboldt School Board meeting last Thursday was the first of the new fiscal year. But more importantly, it was the first for newly hired director of schools, Dr. Janice Epperson.
For her first meeting, it was also a most important meeting with approval of the 2021-22 school budget on the agenda. But some of the board members were not ready to approve the budget. There were four agenda items that pertained to the budget.
Chairlady Valeria Wedley opened the floor for the first of four, approving the non-licensed salary scale, which includes a 2-percent salary increase through the state.
Board member Leon McNeal said he thought the board should have a workshop before approving the budget. This had been customary over the past several years.
“We have done this meeting in the past, and today I want to get a special meeting to discuss the budget, page by page,” McNeal suggested.
McNeal stated, he wanted to table the budget. He believes this would give them an opportunity to sit down together and discuss everything together, while giving Dr. Epperson a fair chance to see and know what is in the school budget.
McNeal said this is not new, voting on a budget they do not know anything about. He noted in the past the state thought it was a good idea to meet as a group.
Board member Terry Johnson said nothing has changed about the budget and everyone has seen the budget in the board packet. Johnson asked if everyone had received a copy of the budget.
McNeal adamantly insisted on having an informational meeting about the budget.
All of the discussion at this point had gotten off point, since the agenda item was approval of the salary schedule for non-licensed staff.
When the vote was taken, Johnson and Wedley voted to approve the salary schedule, while McNeal and board members Mark Hodge and Wayne McLemore voted against.
McNeal said he is not against the budget or giving teachers a raise, but instead he wants the board to go over the budget during a workshop instead of voting for something the board has not gone over.
The next agenda item was the salary schedule for the licensed teacher. It too includes a 2-percent raise from the state.
The vote was the same as before, failing with a 2-3 vote.
The Food Service budget was next on the agenda and again, there was a little hostility. Johnson motioned to approve the Food Service budget and Wedley seconded. It was opposed by Hodge, McLemore and McNeal. They wanted the budget explained better than listed.
McLemore asked Ginny Hatch, director of food service, if not approving this food service budget today would affect serving the students tomorrow? Hatch said it would not make a difference if they approved it today or next week. She noted the Food Service budget is different than all other budgets because it is run like a business.
“We’ll keep feeding the kids no matter what,” said Hatch.
“I want this on a screen to go over line by line,” McLemore said of the proposed budget. “The previous administration and two of the five board members developed this budget.”
He wanted Dr. Epperson’s input and approval before approving something as important as the school system’s budget.
Wedley stated she was following policy that states the budget committee made up of the board chair and one appointed board member, which was Johnson, and the superintendent develop a budget, then bring it to the full board. Wedley said this is what she is doing.
McNeal said the board is following policy and noted holding a workshop is not going against that policy.
Wedley still voiced her point that the budget was in line with board policy.
When the voted was called for, it also had the exact same results with a 2-3 vote.
The final budget agenda item was approving the school’s budget, but was also based on the three prior items being approved. More of the same discussion continued, over and over.
Finally, the board discussed dates to hold a workshop. Johnson said he could not meet the following week since he was on night shift. McNeal said he was good Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after 5 p.m.
McLemore and Hodge said they were good with any of the days McNeal suggested but Hodge would not be able to do Wednesday night since he pastors a church.
After some back and forth over what day and time would be best for a meeting, Dr. Epperson had a solution.
She stated, “July 13 will be the date for us to meet.”
More back and forth continued what time on the 13th since some could make it during the day and others at night.
“I will accommodate times for everyone since some can meet in the morning and others in the evening,” Dr. Epperson said. “We will meet at 10 a.m. or 5 p.m. You can choose which time is better for you, or you can come to both meeting times if you would like.”
The board agreed and will be attending an informational workshop explaining the budget in details on July 13. These workshops will be open to the public.
After the workshops are over, it may be necessary to hold a special called meeting just to approve the school budget before the state deadline of August 15.
Prior to the budget discussion during the agenda approval portion at the beginning of the meeting, Hodge asked if the agenda could be amended to add discussion on mask mandates for the upcoming school year. He said the board had agreed to revisit the mandate each month.
Dr. Epperson stated that the staff had talked about it a little and informed everyone that when she had reached out to schools in the East Tennessee region, they were following the guideline of stating masks were recommended, but not mandated. The staff would further meet concerning what is best for them and their safety.
Dr. Epperson shared some interesting factors that could affect learning with the smaller kids and physical activity with all students having to wear the masks. She said the very young students need to be able to see the teachers’ mouths as they learn to pronounce vowel sounds and words. Masks do not allow that. Wearing a shield could be an option, Dr. Epperson put out for discussion.
The board decided to keep the mask mandate for now. It was noted that more information and reports would be coming very soon.
Toward the end of the meeting, the board unanimously approved 22 board policy updates. These were necessary updates due to legislation in Nashville and new laws on the books. Typically, policy updates go through a first reading, then a vote the next meeting during a second reading but since the new laws came into effect July 1, the approved all 22 policy updates with one vote.
During the superintendent’s report, Dr. Epperson started out by thanking everyone for their entrustment to lead the school system. She also informed everyone that she and the staff have a 90-day plan in place, which will consist of listening and learning tours. These tours are geared to listen to questions and concerns, and meet the students and the community. The first tour will be from 6 p.m. – 7p.m. at the Boys and Girls Clubs both virtual and in-person.
In August, there will be a tour virtually on Viking On Demand.
Since her arrival, Dr. Epperson has been meeting with teachers getting their perspective on ideas. The teachers will have their in-service meeting at the Humboldt Medical Center Conference Room on July 23. Students will be back in school for a half-day on July 29.
Dr. Epperson has given the teachers and staff a model for professional development.
“I call this development, T.A.C.O.—talent, academics, culture and climate, and operations,” said Dr. Epperson. “If the efforts are not doing T.A.C.O., then we will not be doing them.”
After the meeting was over Dr. Epperson called her first meeting enjoyable, getting to know and see each board member’s personality.
Over the next several weeks and month, the dates, times and locations of Dr. Epperson’s listening and learn meetings will be announced so citizens, student and anyone interested in Humboldt education may attend.