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School Board members discuss teachers’ compensation, open enrollment at Forum

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By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

Millington’s newly elected school board members discussed teacher compensation and open enrollment last week at a Public Forum in the Harvell Civic Center Auditorium.
The Forum was conducted on Nov. 12 to receive “input” from residents, as well as the teachers, principals and administrators of Millington’s schools, regarding the search for a superintendent.
It was moderated by Dr. Wayne Qualls, owner of TEAMS Inc., who was hired on Nov. 4 by the Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen to assist the school board in that search.
Prior to starting his educational consulting firm, Qualls served as principal of Centerville Elementary School, superintendent of the Hickman County School System, Tennessee assistant commissioner as well as commissioner of education and executive vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Although the city has always been part of a large county school system, Qualls said it now has a “unique opportunity” to be an “integral part” of its own system. He noted that the “key to success” for today’s children is found in the local schools.
“When you have the control,” he said, “and you’re able to make those decisions about what goes on in your local school system and your neighborhood, that makes a difference.”
For 150 years, Qualls noted, school superintendents were elected in Tennessee, and school boards were either appointed or elected. So, that resulted in a “myriad of processes” across the state.
But in 1991, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Education Improvement Act, which requires elected school boards and appointed superintendents.
Qualls said he will help Millington’s school board complete its superintendent search in a “timely fashion,” so all the other necessary things can occur prior to the start of the next school year.
Noting that the job description has been prepared and posted on the city’s Web site, Qualls said he will examine the applications received and recommend a list of four or five “semi-finalists” to be interviewed by the board.
After he prepares an “interview format” from questions submitted by the board members, Qualls will schedule each of the semi-finalists for an hour-long interview. Then, the board must determine which ones it wants to talk to a second time.
“We’ll bring those back for the final round of interviews,” he said. “Then, a decision can and will be made as to who will be offered a contract to serve as superintendent for your school district.”
Noting that the schedule will be posted, Qualls said all the interviews will be conducted in a “public setting.”
Asked if a salary has been set for the superintendent, Qualls said the board members have solicited his opinion and expressed what their “parameters” would be. But he noted that no decision has been made.
Another audience member asked whether teachers in the Shelby County School System will be given “preference” for jobs in the Millington schools where they are currently employed. Position 5 board member Louise Kennon said that will be determined by the superintendent, who has the authority to hire and fire personnel. But she also noted that state law requires the board to give “first choice” to Millington teachers.
“I think you are reasonably secure in your positions in this community,” she said, “because we love our schools. And as far as I know, we like our teachers.”
Qualls said “common sense” dictates that there must and will be “input” from the school board in that process.
Asked about a time frame to interview the superintendent applicants, he said that is “not completely nailed down.”
“I see no problem with us getting this done in a very timely fashion,” he noted, “but we haven’t got any definitive dates set. That’s something that needs to be done when your school board gets seated.”
When an audience member asked how important it is to the school board that the superintendent be certified, Qualls acknowledged that the state law was changed a few years ago. Although a superintendent is now only required to have a bachelor’s degree, he said the board can establish a “preference” for certification, which is listed in the job description.
Asked if the board has given any consideration to teacher compensation, Kennon said she believes that is controlled by state law.
Based on what he has read, Position 4 board member Cody Childress said all employees except the school principals will receive at least their current salaries.
“The principals’ salaries will be open for negotiation,” he noted. “But that’s not to say they won’t get their salary or more.”
Another audience member asked whether the students living in Shelby Forest, Waverly Plantation or Northaven will continue to be educated in Millington schools.
Position 7 board member Don Holsinger said that is currently being negotiated by the city attorneys and the Shelby County School Board.
“When we find out what buildings we get,” he said, “we will also find out what our school attendance zone is going to be. That might or might not be within our city limits or extend outside. We’re also looking at open enrollment for picking up students from those areas.”
Kennon said the board members got the “boom lowered” on them when the county school board recently voted to keep Lucy Elementary School within its system.
“I started my career at Lucy Elementary as a teacher,” she noted. “If you live from Donelson Road to the river or from Tipton County to the Memphis city limits, and you want to come to Millington schools, I think this board would be glad to have you.”
Asked whether clerical workers will have to reapply for their jobs, Kennon said all school employees are required to do so. Because this will be a new school district, she said the state will give it a new “number” that is used with employees’ retirement and health benefits.
Kennon expressed hope that the employees will be able to reapply no later than March 1, 2014.
“In the state of Tennessee, you have something called a continuing contract,” she noted, “but you have to stay within the state and federal law. And because we will not be able to use Shelby County’s records, we have to start from scratch.”
For the most part, Qualls said, clerical positions are predicated on the state’s Basic Education Program, while those above the BEP are at the school board’s discretion. And the BEP will determine the level of state funding that the school system receives.
Mark Neal, principal of Millington Central High School, asked whether the school board is seeking a superintendent who will “micro-manage” the entire district.
When Qualls said the board members can easily ask the applicants if that is their intent, Kennon said she does not think a superintendent has the time to micro-manage.
Noting that the “school business” is like everything else in life, Qualls urged the audience to never lose sight of the importance of “common sense.”
“A superintendent can’t operate a school system without the principals,” he said, “and the principals can’t operate the schools without the teachers and the support staff.”
One audience member said it sounded to him like all the school employees will be “looking for a job” when the superintendent is hired.
Kennon said they will not be looking for a job, but reapplying for the one they currently have.
“It doesn’t mean that these people don’t have a job,” she noted. “They’ll have a job with the consolidated school system, or they’ll have one with Millington. I hope it’s with Millington.”
Holsinger said the board would like to re-hire everyone in the Millington area who is currently employed in the county school system. But there are “procedures” it must follow to do so.
“One of those procedures is an application to apply for the position,” he said. “We’re here to keep this system as good as possible with the best teachers, which as far as we’re concerned, are the ones we’ve got now.”
In response to a question by Ron Williams, a member of the Millington School Transition Committee, Qualls said the most important thing he looks for in evaluating a superintendent application is “the kind of person” the applicant is. And the second thing he examines is the person’s ability to communicate.
“You can’t hire somebody to communicate for you,” he said of the superintendent. “You’ve got to be able to communicate with parents, teachers, the school board and anybody who comes through your door. You’ve got to be able to treat them right, with compassion and justice.”
Millington resident Rhonda O’Dell agreed that the superintendent’s ability to communicate is “very important.”
“But as a parent,” she noted, “I would also like to see a superintendent who is a visionary to take our schools and far exceed everything that happened in Shelby County and Memphis.”
Position 1 board member Greg Ritter said some residents have been “involved in the fight” for about three years, and the Transition Committee has done “a lot of work.”
“So, once we get certified, we won’t be behind,” he said. “We’ll actually be ahead. We have some vision of what we think will be a good school board and where we need to go. So, I think people will be surprised how far ahead of the game we really are.”
While acknowledging that he has participated in many public forums, Qualls said none of the others ever elicited “this much dialog.”
“I’m very pleased that you have this number of people here tonight to support these board members,” he told the audience. “I have the utmost confidence in these people and their power to make the decision that will be right for you in the days to come.”

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