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Bad news day for school board

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By Jeremy Evirs

The new school year is set to begin, and the School Board of Levy County finds itself facing some fearsome challenges. Administrators are trying to maintain a disciplined, yet nurturing, learning environment, while dealing with looming budget cuts, the possibility of severe weather, and the ever-growing possibility of an outbreak of H1N1 — Swine Flu — virus.

Jeff Edison, director of administration, recounted his recent meeting with the State Health Board on the flu issue, and what steps will be taken to avoid any outbreaks of the illness.

Edison said the importance of hand washing was stressed, and telling educators to stay home if they or their children are ill. “I have had meetings with the county’s school employees to discuss the things we need to be looking out for, and what measures and protocols are to be taken to avoid or contain the spread on the flu,” Edison said.

Edison also touched on the issue of the possibility of severe weather and the SBLC ‘s preparedness in the event of a major storm. During a recent meeting with the Red Cross, Edison helped to lay out a new operations plan and shelter system to allow things to run far more smoothly in the event that the area schools need to be utilized as shelters.

After the briefing on the flu and severe weather, the board was primed for Superintendent Robert Hastings’ discussion of the education budget.

Having lost $147 million in the state revenues for this year, the SBLC finds itself $3 million behind where the budget stood for the 2008-2009 school year, despite receiving “stabilization funding” from the federal economic stimulus bill.

Hastings again brought to the table his proposal of bringing retired teachers back to work at “base pay, plus benefits and retirement salary”, a practice the teacher’s union has countered with threats of litigation.

The dilemma comes down to a motion to amend School Board Policies 6.06 (4) and 6.36 (1), which will change a decision made during the August 4th SBLC meeting. The outcome of the proposed changes would have returning teachers sign a declaration of prior experience in order to be considered eligible for experience credit in their salary.

Originally the code allowed employees to voluntarily waive experience for salary purposes, but did not allow credit for prior experience if the returning employee had collected retirement benefits.

The matter is now tied up in several legal actions between the school board and the union, and the attorney’s fees are money Hastings says “could and should be used to pay employee’s salaries or buy much needed equipment and not to attorney fees.”

Cindy Roach, of the Levy County Educators Association, agreed that she wished that these issues could be resolved out of court, with greater ease, but that it “just can’t be done without cooperation from both sides of the table.”