Virtual School, Policy Issues Cause Discussion, Lead To Workshop

By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
At the June 3 School Board meeting, the Edgenuity contract for virtual schooling services was pulled off the collective consent agenda and placed on the regular agenda for individual discussion.
School Board member Karen Pickles expressed concerns about the fact that the contract, which would cost $125,000, would serve only 6th through 12th grade.
“As a school board member, I have to be concerned about how we spend our tax dollars for the whole student population,” she said.
James Mills, Chief Academic Officer for Madison County School District, explained that the 6th-12th grade service was an attempt to capture those students who would otherwise drop out of school entirely or go through another online service like Florida Virtual School.
“It was to avoid losing FTEs (Full Time Equivalents),” he explained.  Every student lost through dropping out or going to another virtual school environment would mean the FTE money for that student would be taken away from the Madison School District; meanwhile, Mills stated that he was exploring other avenues as well.
School Board member VeEtta Hagan picked up the “other avenues” thread and asked what other avenues Mills was referring to.
“Show us all the ‘other avenues’” she said.  “We’re the ones who make the decision.”
Some discussion ensued, with Mills and School Superintendent Doug Brown inquiring as to whether Hagan wanted all the information on every curriculum policy decision or option that was brought before the district.
“You’re deliberately misunderstanding me,” Hagan said finally, addressing Mills.  “Give us the ‘other options.’  Our schools are in a pitiful mess because of somebody wanting to do something and giving us the information piecemeal.”  Pointing to fellow school board member Pickles, Hagan added, “She is an expert (on the virtual school issue).”
“In the future, you want all the information on every curriculum option?” Brown asked.
“I want to know what other options he’s exploring for K through 12,” Hagan answered.
 Mills added that enrollment in the virtual school through Edgenuity would save FTEs and pay for itself in one year.  “I would like to start July 1 to capture those enrolling in summer school.”
Pickles asked about the success rates, and board member Kenny Hall also expressed concerns about the price tag.
“You want us to spend this amount of money at the end of our budget year before we’ve had a chance to look at the next budget year,” he said.  “But I understand the need to start by July 1.”
Brown stated that the district was required to offer students multiple delivery options so that their school of choice was available.  There was one more regular school board meeting before July 1, so Brown asked that Mills bring all the requested information back to that next meeting when the board would vote on the matter.
On the subject of the Madison County High School renovation project, Brown told the board that he had been talking to the Marion County School District about acquiring 16 or more used portable classrooms at $2200 each, a substantial savings over buying them brand new.  The units had been well taken care of and were in very good condition, and the next step was to get them up to Madison County ASAP.  The cost would cover disconnecting them at their present location, but not transportation and hook-up here.  The board members will look into the matter and vote on whether or not to purchase them at the June 17 meeting.
The district’s grading policy, or rather, the lack of a uniform grading policy used consistently by each school saw  Mills back at the podium to answer questions and discuss getting all the district schools in line with the district.
Still, there was no language regarding grades in the school district’s policy handbook.  Several board members indicated that they thought this needed to be changed.
Board member Bart Alford disagreed with the truant policy that allowed studenst to miss as many classes as they wanted without making below a 50.
“We want children to be there to learn,” he said.  “But they know how to play the game.”
It was particularly problematic where the industry certification programs were concerned, he believed, where holding students to a lower standard of attendance than an industry training program or a college technical program was not realistic and certainly not doing the student any favors.  “We’re supposed to be training people,” said Alford.  “We should be as strict as the college at least.”
“As a board, we need to make sure we address that,” said Pickles of the truancy issue, which is not dealt with in the student progression plan, nor in the district’s policy handbook.  “We don’t have a policy in place, and we need one.”
The board agreed to look at how other similar-sized school districts handle the issue, not only of  excessive absences, but also other areas where Pickles noted that other districts have detailed, clearly spelled-out policies, while the Madison school district has “only a vague sentence or two.”
The board members agreed upon a workshop Monday, June 9 at 6 p.m. in the school board meeting room, to go over the district policy issues and discuss any necessary changes.
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Lynette Norris

Written by Lynette Norris