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BOE sets virtual day, faces budget challenges

Correction: David Crockett and Daniel Boone High School are the only schools in the Washington County School System with virtual learning days on Wednesdays. Grades K-8 are still operating on a complete in-person schedule. The below story has been corrected to reflect this information.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Wednesdays at Daniel Boone and David Crockett have now become a virtual day.

The school board voted on Thursday, March 4, making Wednesdays a virtual learning day for teachers and students in Washington County’s two high schools.

School board members said having one virtual day a week would help lighten the workload for teachers who are teaching in-person as well as virtual students. Board Member Mary Beth Dellinger, who made the motion, said she felt it would also give teachers more one-on-one time with students who have remained on a virtual schedule due to medical reasons.

“I think all the people who have contacted us on their schedule and how many hours past their normal (amount) they’re working, this is what they think is going to help them communicate with their students,” Dellinger said. “They just need that day.”

Secondary Education Director Ashley Keys said she has seen an increase in teacher fatigue.

“Our teachers are exhausted,” Keys said. “I encourage you to go into the buildings and talk to them. I’ve never seen them like this. They’re just worn out. I’ve been doing observations and they’re trying to tend to the kids who are on the screen while the kids are in class. It’s just too much. They’re being pulled in too many directions.

Keys added that other local systems have addressed the need to educate in-person and online students in different ways. Five local school systems out of 12 are doing virtual days for teachers and pay a stipend on top of that. Johnson City has recruited teachers just for virtual classes, she said.

Board Member Annette Buchanan said teaching both in-person and online students has created after-hours work for teachers since the pandemic.

“What they need, from my understanding, is a little more time to work with those kids who are remote learning,” Buchanan said. “We’ve got math teachers who are doing Google meets on Saturdays with these kids to help them. We have one math teacher that I know of that meets with those kids at 7:30 at night. They’re not just dropping and going home. They’re working two jobs essentially. 

“They need that day to help them get some relief. You’ve got teachers on the weekends answering emails for online students. You’ve just got more and more and more.”

Board Member Whitney Riddle said he was concerned the virtual day could become a day of complacency for some.

“I would like to see an accountability measure to make sure students are getting worked with,” Riddle said. “If they’ve got slack time and they’re not doing anything, they should be working with kids and bringing at risk kids and make sure they’re doing the most to make sure these kids are educated.”

The board also held a budget meeting on Monday, March 8, where board members considered its potential budget items.

Finance Director Brad Hale said revenue numbers are not in yet, while Director of Schools Bill Flanary added that basic education program dollars from the state could be “millions different” as compared to last year’s BEP amount.

That considered, Hale said, even without additional budget items that are often deemed “wish list” items, the school system has been anticipating at least a $2.6 million budget shortfall.

“Based off of rough revenue,” Hale said, “ and with none of these extra (budget) items, we were projecting anywhere from a $2.6 to a $3.6 million shortfall, just depending on where that BEP funding lands.”

In discussing possible budget additions, Dellinger said she felt more instructional assistants could be used in the system.

“I’ve had a lot of people who have contacted me, school employees, and they’re concerned with the lack of help,” Dellinger said. “I don’t think we need 10 (instructional assistants), but I think we need to start making this a priority.”

Meanwhile, Board Member Annette Buchanan said she felt career and technical education programs at the high schools could use instructional assistants to monitor groups of students in the CTE department.

“If you have a class of first-year machine shop students, they have to pass the safety test, but you need to move on with other kids,” Buchanan said. “You have got lots going on there. They need the extra set of hands there. I know Boone is the same way. 

“We have put ourselves behind CTE. We need to move constructively forward.”

The next BOE meeting will be held on March 15 at 4:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.wcde.org.