Rhonda Thurman: Where I Stand And Why

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Where I Stand and Why

1. What is the role of a School Board member?

There are three main responsibilities of the School Board

Pick the Superintendent

The Superintendent is the only employee the School Board has. (School Board also has an attorney.)

Set School Board Policies

Polices are the regulations for the school system and are reviewed and changed as situations in the school system change. For instance, the pandemic may force the School Board to make new policies about student attendance, transportation and employee attendance. 

Vote on the Budget

The Superintendent and his administration set the budget. The budget is then presented to the Board. The Board can approve it, revise it, or vote it down.

2. Why do teachers not get raises when the state sends money for raises?

The state sends money to HCDE based on the funding formula in the Basic Education Program.

The BEP is a funding formula not a budget plan. The state sends money for raises based on the average teacher pay in Tennessee which is $48,330. Hamilton County’s average pay for its 3,226 teachers is $48,391. Based on the BEP formula, Hamilton County has 550-555 more teachers than the BEP says we need for a school system our size. For those 550-555 teachers, Hamilton County taxpayers pay 100 percent of their salary, benefits, and retirement. Also, the BEP does not provide any money for many of our assistant principals. For example, an elementary school has to have more than 880 students to qualify for one full time assistant principal. So, not many of our elementary schools qualify for BEP funding allocation for assistant principals. High schools with 650-999 students get one assistant principal in the BEP formula. Some of our high schools have three assistant principals. Dean of Students, many counselors, administrators and other support staff in HCDE, are not covered in the BEP. For each of those additional employees, HC pays 100 percent of their salary, benefits, retirement. So, therefore, when the state sends money for salary increases, there is not nearly enough to cover the raises for hundreds of additional employees not covered in the BEP. 

The state gives school systems the authority to use the “raise” money to cover salaries of additional teachers and other HCDE employees not covered in the BEP. The money does not have to be used for raises as long it is used for salaries. 

I do have an idea how teachers can get an extra $900 next year. Cancel your HCEA membership. It looks like HC United is working to push them out anyway.

3. Why are you against building CSLA a new school?

CSLA is currently a K-8 school. They want to become a K-12 school. At the present time, HCDE does not need another high school. As a matter of fact, the recent $500,000 MGT report said we have too many schools. It certainly did not indicate HCDE needed a new high school. A new high school would require an entire new staff of teachers, administrators, and support staff (adding yet again, more employees not covered in BEP), as well as added costs for utilities and maintenance. All of these additional costs add to the school system’s budget year after year. CSLA is a magnet school. Therefore, a new high school would do nothing to help with overcrowding in East Brainerd or the downtown area.

I think instead of spending money to build a high school for CSLA, the money should be spent on a new Soddy Daisy Middle School which is a neighborhood school and desperately needs to be replaced.                            

4. Did you say that teachers were not “necessary”?                                                    

No, I did not. 

At a School Board budget meeting a few months ago (when so many people had been out of work for weeks and the tornado had just destroyed hundreds of homes), some board members were pushing to put money back into the school budget for step increases for teachers. I said this was not the time to give an increase in pay to anyone for any reason. I said giving raises in this economic time made us look tone deaf to the public. Someone on the Board said that teachers deserved a raise because they were the backbone of the school system. I disagreed. I said that students were the backbone of the school system because “without them, teachers are unnecessary.” Hamilton County United continues to show a short video clip of me saying “teachers are unnecessary” yet, they omit the first part of my statement “without them (students)”. This is deceit. They also say I said teachers should “live within their means”. I said the “school system” should live within their means. Like I said, deceit. HC United majors in it.

Everything HCDE does should be centered around educating students. Students, in my opinion, are the backbone of the school system and I will not apologize to HC United for saying it.

5. How do you arrive at your votes on the Board?

Before I make a vote on the School Board, I make sure I have all the facts. If I have questions, I make inquiries by text, email and phone calls to administrators for information. I read email, texts and answer phone calls from the citizens in District 1, and others, to hear their concerns. I seek advice from former teachers and administrators. I have one vote on the school board. I do not give into pressure from special interest groups, teachers’ organizations or radical groups whose purpose is to “make people uncomfortable”. I will not be intimidated. I will not go along to get along. I will not be a rubber stamp. Politicians are good for one thing - their vote. I have one vote on the school board and it belongs to students and citizens of District 1. Many times, I am the lone vote on the school board. I do not mind standing alone as long as I am standing in the right place.

6. How do you feel about the School Re-entry and Learning Plan?

I appreciate the work Lt. Col. Brooks and Keith Fogleman and their Task Force Team. It was a very daunting task to put this plan together. However, the part of the plan I have the most concern with is requiring students to wear masks.

I think whether a student wears a mask or not should be a parental responsibility. 

During the School Board’s discussion on Thursday, Dr. Adams said there was no direct evidence that masks stop Covid-19. He went on to say that students wearing masks was not so much to prevent students from infecting each other because a vast majority of children had little or no symptoms. However, he said masks are to keep students from taking the virus home to grandma and grandpa and the elderly with chronic illnesses. It is my opinion, that it is not the school system’s job to protect me from my grandchildren. That is my responsibility.

I also have concerns about the stress wearing masks puts on children. The first thing doctors tell you to do to keep from getting viruses, is wash your hands and keep your hands away from your face. Masks will make children constantly put their hands up to their faces; whether it is to adjust them or remove them for recess and lunch. Then they will have to put them back on.

I also wonder where the masks will be placed during recess and lunch. Will they be hung up or placed in a pile? Who will be responsible for making sure everyone gets the right mask back or will they be issued a new one after lunch and recess? I also wonder about students with allergies who sneeze or have a runny nose. Will they be required to keep the mask on even when it is contaminated with mucus or will they get issued a new one? Dr. Woods did not see this as a problem. However, wearing a mask that has been sneezed in several times is problematic to me. How much additional classroom and principal time is it going to take to deal with “mask duty”?
If this is not about the students, like Dr. Adams said, then why not let the adults take the precautions they feel they need to make to keep themselves safe?

The plan states that face masks are not required for K-2. How is it that the virus is so smart that it knows when students are in grades 3-12?

Students are out all over the county. They are spending hours at the ball field, pool, lake and family get togethers. Why is it when grandma and grandpa get sick, it is because someone did not wear a mask at school?

I have spent a great deal of time reading doctor reports and listening to videos about the value of students wearing/not wearing masks. Doctors do not agree and are all over the map. The one thing they do agree on - they do not have enough evidence to say that masks prevent the spread of Covid-19. They also agree that children are not the super-spreaders they were made out to be in the beginning.

Dr. Johnson said he did not want to make not wearing masks punitive. So, how are teachers going to treat students who refuse to wear masks? Why not let parents sign a paper stating that they accept the responsibility of their child’s health?

I am not trying to be a scofflaw. I just want the rules to promote education and make sense. Right now, some of these rules do not make sense to me. 

Rhonda Thurman

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