Dade Schools Superintendent Jan Harris shows the board of education a chart of "school climate ratings," a gauge of how safe and happy students feel at school. Dade Middle rated worse than the elementary and high schools but Dr. Harris said in any case her goal is to get them all up to 5, or perfect.
The $18,133,590 budget for fiscal year 2017 proposed by the Dade County Board of Education at its regular July meeting Monday night includes an additional $10,000 of funding for the Dade County Public Library but stops short of restoring the B of E’s full share of support.
Prior to former Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin’s 2012 decision to yank all funds from the library, the board of education had for decades shared local support of the library with the other two local taxing authorities, the Dade County Commission and the Trenton City Commission. But there was no legal agreement in effect and when money got tight, Tobin received the board’s stamp of approval to dump the library,
The board later dumped Tobin, but the harm was done: With roughly a third of its local funding zeroed out overnight, the library closed all but three days a week and laid off staff, including a 20-year veteran employee.
Since then, the county and city have struggled to take up the slack, and in fact slightly increased funding from those sources enabled the embattled little library to open a few hours on Saturday. And this year, the library had an additional $10,000 to spend on community programs thanks to prize money it was awarded when named one of the top three small-town libraries in America.
For fiscal years 2013 and ‘14, the Dade Board of Education paid nothing toward the library’s support, but under Tobin’s successor, Cherie Swader, the school board finally reinstituted a fraction of its original $37,726, paying $10,500 last year.
Now, under the new superintendent, Dr. Jan Harris, another increment of $10,000 has been restored. The Dade Planet checked in with library manager Marshana Sharp Tuesday—fortunately, one of the library’s open days—for reaction to the news. Ms. Sharp said she was pleased.
“We’ll take anything we can get,” she said.
Ms. Sharp said she and the library board of directors had not in any case expected to be reinstated all at once into the board of education’s budget. “We have to take steps to get back to where we were at,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Asked what the library would do with the additional funds—could it open an additional day, perhaps?—Ms. Sharp said she expected the subject to come up at library board’s meeting this Thursday at 4 p.m. “That’s actually what we were talking about,” she said.
She added that part of the money would probably go toward more after-school library hours or the story time and other youth programs the library historically does. “We do want to do something for the students,” she said.
Other budget highlights mentioned at the Monday night meeting by Paula Stallings, the board of education’s finance director, included $425,000 from the state earmarked to supply a 3-percent raise for all school employees. “Gov. Deal has warned the school districts to utilize this money for salaries and not divert it to other uses,” she said. Dr. Harris said she was delighted the employees would have their raise.
Ms. Stallings discussed ongoing austerity cuts that continue to pinch the system and warned that health insurance rates were going up. That said, this year’s school calendar includes a full 180 days of instruction. Ms. Stallings said the board will set its millage rate when the county tax digest is complete. Currently the rate is 15.083 with a mill equaling $376,000, she said.
Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held at the school board’s office in front of Dade High on Highway 136 East at noon on July 25 and at 4:30 p.m. on August 15. The board is scheduled to vote on the budget at its Aug. 15 meeting.
Another subject Dr. Harris brought up before the school board was how to discourage both teachers and students from playing hooky. “Attendance matter,” said Dr. Harris. “It’s important.
Missing as little as two to three days a month can keep third graders from learning to read properly, said the superintendent and two co-presenters, and can later lead them to drop out of school.
As for teachers, if one is absent 10 days a school year, said the presenters, that can also be disastrous for student outcomes. Furthermore, teacher absenteeism costs the school system big bucks, said Dr. Harris. She cited last year’s total of 2,197 days of sick leave systemwide. She said substitute teachers cost the system more than it was reimbursed for by the state, the net difference last year being a $34,895.90 loss.
What Dr. Harris recommended for both teachers and students was the carrot rather than the stick. She proposed giving a $200 bonus to teachers who did not take sick leave—a former math teacher, she assured board members the numbers would work out in the system’s favor— and rewarding students for perfect attendance in nine-week intervals with ice cream, pizza or passes to local attractions. The nature of students’ rewards will be determined by polling them as to their preference.
“Our students will be the number-one beneficiaries of this plan,” she said. Teachers, she added, will reap the benefits, too, when unused sick time is converted to additional benefits at retirement.
The board heard an update of physical upgrades to the schools including sidewalks, tiling and air conditioning. Dr. Harris announced the school system would be adopt the “Infinite Campus” student information software this year. The board also heard a description of the benefits of a learning-skills-deficiency assessment computer program to be adopted at Davis School.
Dr. James Cantrell proposed spending $141,419.77 for job-skills equipment, which he pleased the board by having procured a $175,000 grant to more than pay for.
Dr. Harris announced that Dade’s nutritional program would be among five Georgia systems participating in the state’s “Georgia-grown Test Kitchen” inititative, which a state website says will “promote local and healthy eating in schools across the state through supplying school nutrition directors with healthy recipes using Georgia-grown commodities.”
Dr. Harris announced that back-to-school open houses would be held on Aug. 9 at Dade Middle and Dade High and on Aug. 10 at Davis and Dade Elementary, in all cases from 4:30-6 p.m. She said school supply lists, summer reading lists and other important information can be found at the school system’s website, dadecountyschools.org.
If parents have a new student to enroll, “Please come by and prove your residency early,” said Dr. Harris. “Don’t wait until the first day of school.”
For students, that dark day is Aug. 11.