Hiring a new director and deciding on scheduling for high school students top the agenda for the Wilson County Schools board of education Monday.
During a work session Thursday, several board members expressed a preference for what is known as block scheduling. Under the system, high school students take three or four classes one semester and three or four different classes the next semester. This school year, the high schools are on a schedule where students take seven or eight classes, but they run the whole year. The move to the new schedule after years on a block schedule was adopted by the board last spring as a cost-saving measure. The move eliminated the need for 41 teachers, saving $2.6 million.
Board members Carrie Pfeiffer, Kimberly McGee and Jamie Farough all expressed an interest in returning to block scheduling, a method WCS Director Donna Wright also said she preferred.
“I feel block scheduling gives more opportunity for all students,” McGee said, adding that much of the academic achievement of the districts’ high schools and high school students occurred under block scheduling.
“I’m looking at what this does ... to those kids looking for early college opportunities,” Pfeiffer said.
Wright said, “I’m a big fan of block scheduling,” but reminded the board of the cost of going back to that system as well as a space problem at Mt. Juliet High School and Green Hill High School, both of which are housing middle school students as the district works to rebuild/replace the tornado-destroyed West Wilson Middle School. “We’ve agonized over this,” she added.
Wright and board Chairman Larry Tomlinson talked about the budget crunch the district is potentially facing. Last year the district decided against $1.2 million in textbook purchases, delayed a $3.5 million transfer to the employee health insurance fund, and asked the county to assume $1.9 million in debt payments. Much of those expenditures cannot be put off again. And, Wright said, the board is going to have to look at increasing pay for support staff.
“Are we willing to go across the street and ask for more money,” Tomlinson said, referring to the Wilson County Commission, which controls the district’s budget. Last year, the commission told the board to produce a “status quo,” or flat, budget.
Farough expressed some frustration with having to make a decision on scheduling before getting details on the district’s next budget. “This is why I asked in October to start budget meetings,” she said.
Pfeiffer shared in that frustration. “This is a decision that has to be made before we have all the information we need to make this decision,” she said.
The scheduling decision has to be made so students can start registering for next year’s classes and administrators can determine course demand and staffing needs.
Of the seven board members, Pfeiffer, Farough and Jon White were not on the board during last year’s budget process. The three were elected in November.
The board also discussed the search for a replacement for Wright, who is scheduled to retire in June.
White and board member Bill Robinson were tasked by Tomlinson with exploring how to conduct that search. They said there are three options. One, the board hire an outside consultant to conduct the search. Two, the board hire the Tennessee School Boards Association to assist with the search. Or three, the board and HR staff conduct the search themselves.
The board was clearly not in favor of hiring an outside consultant because of the cost. Some members appear to be in favor of an in-house search and others see benefits in using the TSBA. Because of the quality and reputation of the district, members feel that the job will draw national interest, but they also indicated a hope strong internal candidates step forward.
“I’m hopeful that there’s people within our system and I feel like there’s several people that may be highly qualified and do a good job and make a school director and I hope they’ll apply,” Tomlinson said.
Monday’s school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. It will be conducted virtually and it can be watched through the district’s website — wcschools.com.