County Middle School consolidation talks ongoing

by Benita Fuzzell

\Members of the Obion County Board of Education convened at the board office Aug. 1, on the eve of the first day for students enrolled within the system for the 2022-2023 school year.

Near the end of the agenda’s listing, board members held discussion regarding a previous meeting’s presentation and topic pertaining to a county wide consolidated middle school campus, to house students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, who had attended Black Oak, Hillcrest, Lake Road and Ridgemont schools. Each of those school campuses now accommodate grades kindergarten through eighth.

Superintendent Tim Watkins provided board members Fritz Fussell, Keisha Hooper, Tim Britt, Barry Adams, Jared Poore, Shannon Hogg and Kyle Baggett with research he had conducted, at the board’s request, as to pros and cons of a county-wide middle school campus.

“The board asked for research. I gathered information from a number of sources, including myself, based on my years in education, as well as my time spent as a middle school principal...I can make an effective argument effectively, ‘for’ and ‘against’,” Watkins said.

He shared information regarding projected enrollment, proposed rezoning for each school campus, budgetary options, cost increases and reductions. Watkins also shared the results from a survey conducted which included questions posed to stakeholders, parents and students regarding the proposal of exploring the consolidated middle school idea.

“Of the four feeder schools, Black Oak would not be large enough to house the approximately 600 middle school students who would attend the consolidated middle school. Hillcrest, Lake Road and Ridgemont could,” he said.

He explained Hillcrest would be more centrally located, however Ridgemont was the newest school facility, which could be more conducive to housing students of the middle school age.

Watkins also reminded the board that in the event one of the existing school campuses was utilized for a middle school, students in grades kindergarten through fifth in that school would require relocating to another school campus. He also stated, while originally it would appear South Fulton Elementary and Middle School would not be impacted by a possible consolidated middle school, in fact, the re-zoning consideration would have an effect on South Fulton, as their zone area would increase to Highway 21, as to students who would then reside within the South Fulton zone, once revisions are made to each school zone.

From a financial standpoint, Watkins said savings could be obtained with fewer salaries paid, there would be less need for coaching positions to be filled, fewer buses would be used for away games, saving on fuel, however each school campus could require an additional bus for transfers.

Academically, Watkins said more variety and higher level curriculum could be available, and athletically, stronger competition on a daily basis could be realized by those involved in the athletic programs.

However, as to cons, he noted county tournaments would no longer be held with a middle school consolidation, and it could allow for less participation from students, with fewer positions available on a team and more competition for those positions.

Watkins said for those who marked the survey favoring consolidation, athletics topped the reasoning, and close behind, academic offerings. Both those categories’ reasonings would also appear as to survey results against the consolidation.

There were 1,499 surveys completed, with a small margin separating those in favor of and opposed to consolidation for the middle school, and primarily, those opposed to the consolidation would object to relocating the kindergarten through fifth grade students from the school campus where they now attend, should that campus be converted to a consolidated middle school.

“Only the Board of Education can have the authority o open, close or reorganize schools,” Watkins.

Board of Education member Barry Adams asked if building a new structure to house consolidate middle school students would be an option.

Watkins and Board Chair Fussell explained funding the construction of a new school would be a matter to take up with the Obion County Commission, beginning with an addressing of the budget committee regarding potential funding.

“To build a school, you are probably looking at about $300 a square foot,” Watkins said.

“I don’t want to drop it. We can go to the county commission and ask. All they can said is no,” Board member Keisha Hooper said. She said as a number of residents had expressed their support for consideration of the consolidated middle school, she said the board as having a responsibility to at least put the idea before the county commission.

“People just don’t want to be rezoned,” she said, adding that if a new middle school could be constructed, the rezoning would not be required.

Hooper made the motion to address the Obion County Commission, and the budget committee regarding their willingness to support a new school’s construction.

“With this vote we are not voting to consolidate, right?” asked board member Jared Poore.

Hooper said the motion would be to only bring the idea before the county commission.

Board members Hooper, Fussell, Britt, Adams, Hogg and Baggett voted yes on the motion, and Poore voted no.

During the student and staff recognition, Director of Schools Watkins introduced Obion County High School seniors who are Ambassador Club members, as well as Lesa Scillion, Obion County Schools Supervisor of Instruction, as the recipient of Supervisor of the Year as well as the Northwest Supervisor of the Year award.

In the personnel report, listed were resignations from Nancy Spain, teacher at Obion County Central High School, Mary Jane Wiseman, teacher at South Fulton Middle/High, Randy Daily, educational assistant at OCCHS, Tim Spain, bus driver for Black Oak, Andrew Cagel, E.A. at Lake Road, Russ Brown, PE/coach at OCCHS, Wendy Kennedy, bus aide, Curt True Accounts Payable at Central Office, Chelse Lawrence food service at Lake Road, Heather Baker, teacher at Black Oak and Earline Potts, custodian at South Fulton Elementary.

There was one retirement listed, for Assistant Principal at South Fulton Elementary, Lynn Pilcher, and new hires included custodian at Lake Road, Brian Babb, Black Oak teachers Angela Tobian, Samantha Carpenter, Michael Quinton; Ridgemont teacher Lauren Saylor; OCCHS teacher Kendra Meurs; Lanzer Harris, educational assistant at South Fulton Middle/High; Shelly Hutchins, Lake Road teacher, Angie Warner, educational assistant at Lake Road; Misty Evans, South Fulton Elementary teacher, Amanda Sanford, Hillcrest educational assistant, Bailey Wisener, educational assistant at South Fulton Elementary, Lisa Neel, bus driver, Brian Smith, educational assistant at Obion County Central High School; and David Byars, teacher at South Fulton MIddle/High School.

The board, with Watkins’ recommendation, approved the Pandemic Operating Procedures, with Obion County Schools COVID-19 Operational Phases updated to match current guidance from the CDC/Tennessee Department of Health. Phase 1, no change since the end of the 2021-2022 school year, was approved with no restrictions.

Staff Recommendation:

An Amendment to Board Policy #1.102- Board Members, was approved, which will revise the qualifications for school board candidates. State law now requires that candidates be a qualified voter and resident in the county for one year prior to the qualifying deadline for running as a candidate. This provision appears to solely apply to county districts.

Three amendments affiliated with school board members streamlined and limited board members’ requirements for organizational memberships, except for the Board shall maintain membership in the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA).

Approved was Amendment to Board Policy #1.105 – School Board Legislative Involvement, and Amendment to Board Policy #1.204 – Board Member Development.

In consideration of and approval for Amendment to Board Policy #4.101 – Instructional Standards, the Board is charged with selection of the curriculum. No subjects or topics prohibited by state or federal law shall be taught.1

The Director of Schools shall develop administrative procedures to implement this policy.

An Amendment to Board Policy #4.210 – Credit Recovery, was approved in association with the recent realignment of the board’s grading system for students. Students passing credit recovery shall receive a grade of sixty percent (60%) under the state uniform grading system. If the district utilizes a locally-adopted grading scale that differs from the uniform grading scale, a student passing credit recovery shall receive a D, equal to 60%.

As to the Virtual Education Program, Amendment to Board Policy #4.212 – Virtual Education Program allows districts to utilize virtual instruction for up to two days each semester. This option can only be used in certain scenarios (i.e., severe weather, serious outbreak of illness, and assessments like EOC exams and ACT). TSBA has updated policy 4.212 to reflect this option.

J. Consider/Approve Amendment to Board Policy #4.403 – Reconsideration of Instructional Materials and Textbooks. Public Chapter 744, known as the Age-Appropriate Materials Act, creates new requirements for

Boards and requires school districts to: (1) maintain and post online a current list of the materials in the school’s library collection; and (2) adopt a policy for developing and reviewing school library collections. This required policy must contain procedures for developing a library collection, receiving and evaluating feedback, and periodically reviewing the library collection to ensure that it contains materials appropriate for the age and maturity levels of students who may access them and that it is suitable for and consistent with the educational mission of the school.

Model policy 4.403 contains the process for handling complaints about textbooks and instructional materials. Please note that Boards may revise these policies to align with local standards. TBSA encourages reaching out to your local board attorney if there are legal concerns. Additionally, we expect the state Textbook Commission and Instructional Materials
Adoption of New Board Policy #4.4031 – Library Materials, addresses the same process as to materials within the library of each school. Public Chapter 744, known as the Age-Appropriate Materials Act, creates new requirements for Boards. This Act requires school districts to: (1) maintain and post online a current list of the materials in the school’s library collection; and (2) adopt a policy for developing and reviewing school library collections. This required policy must contain procedures for developing a library

Amendment to Board Policy #4.406 – Use of the Internet addresses Complaints alleging a violation of the internet safety measures shall be submitted to the Building Principal. All complaints shall be reviewed to determine how to appropriately respond. The amendment was approved.
Amendment to Board Policy #5.200 – Separation Practices for Tenured Teachers and Amendment to Board Policy #5.201 – Separation Practices for Non-Tenured Teachers were both approved.

Due to the increased vacancies across the state, the General Assembly passed Public Chapter821 – allowing an additional option for employment of retirees to fill these roles.Public Chapter 678 requires districts to include additional information when providing notices of non-renewal in certain instances. If a teacher is non-renewed due to the lack of funding for the position, the non-renewal notice must include that information as the reason for the nonrenewal.

Approval was authorized by the board for Amendment to Board Policy #5.701 – Substitute Teachers

Due to the increased vacancies across the state, the General Assembly passed Public Chapter 821 – allowing an additional option for employment of retirees to fill these roles. Retired teachers may substitute one-hundred twenty (120) days per year without loss of retirement benefits and may substitute for additional days if the Director of Schools certifies in writing to the division of retirement that no other qualified personnel are available to substitute teach.7
In consideration and approval of Amendment to Board Policy #6.200 - Attendance, Per Public Chapter 878, state law no longer permits the denial of a driver’s license due to poor student academic performance. Accordingly, TSBA has updated model policy 6.200 to reflect this change. In order to qualify for reclaiming a driver’s permit or license, the student shall return to school and make a passing grade in at least three (3) full unit subjects or their equivalency at the conclusion of a subsequent grading period or become eighteen (18) years of age

Amendment to Board Policy #6.409 , Public Chapter 841 narrows the category of individuals who must receive training on child abuse. In the past, state law required all school personnel to receive this training, but moving

forward, this training will only be required for employees working directly with students. TSBA has updated model policy 6.409 to align with this revised standard. Additionally, Public Chapter 781 allows employees to first report to the Department of Children’s Services and law enforcement if an alleged instance of child abuse involves someone employed by, previously employed by, or otherwise affiliated with the school district. The district’s Child Abuse Coordinator must still be notified; however, in those particular instances, they are not required to be notified until the other entities are contacted

If personnel know or have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect, a report shall be filed immediately with the Coordinator, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), and law enforcement. 18 4 When alleged abuse involves someone employed by, previously employed by, or 19 otherwise affiliated with the school, the report may be made directly to the DCS and law enforcement prior to notifying the Coordinator.

Individual item Janitorial Supplies Bids for the 2022-2023 School Year were awarded, with all four companies submitting bids on each item, awarded for some of the items listed. In addition to advertising, bids were solicited from J.D. Distributors, Central Poly, American Paper and Twine, Staples, and BR Supply for the purchase of janitorial supplies for the 2022 – 2023 school year. Funds will be budgeted in the General Purpose School Fund for the 2022 – 2023 fiscal year for these purchases.

Bids were received from Staples, American Paper & Twine and Central Poly.

An updated listing of school support organization now in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-604 and 49-2-605 was provided, regarding organizations’ ability to conduct fundraisers. Watkins said only Ridgemont PTO and Obion County baseball organizations are still lacking the completion of paperwork needed for compliance.

The board approved an increase in adult/staff/visitor lunch meals at school campuses, from $3.50 to $3.75 for staff and from $3.75 to $4.25 for adult visitors for lunch. Watkins reported a la cart prices will also increase.

Obion County Central High School cheer uniforms no longer in use were authorized for surplus, with any funds generated, if sold, to be returned to the cheer program there.

In his Director’s Update, Watkins reported 3,100 students enrolled in the Obion County School system, with students scheduled to report for class on Aug. 2.