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Community questions Gray School teaching changes for next year

Gray School parent and Bristol Motor Speedway Vice President Ben Trout addressed the board along with Gray School athletes in opposition of the transfer of the school’s teacher and coach, Jennifer Taylor.


Staff Writer

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Two Washington County teachers have received notice that their positions will change at the start of next year’s school year, but during the Washington County Board of Education’s June 1 meeting, the board received notice of the community’s outrage over one teacher’s non-renewal and another’s transfer within the school system.

Before parents and students alike took to the podium to address the board, Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley prefaced the community’s concerns with clarification as to who is able to make any further decisions regarding the contract renewal of Gray Elementary School’s music and drama teacher, Stacia Howard, and the transfer of Gray Elementary School’s physical education teacher and coach, Jennifer Taylor.

“With regards to placement, non-renewals and transfer of teachers and administrators, that is in sole discretion of the director. So this board does not have authority to make decisions regarding transfers and non-renewals,” Seeley said. “I just want to make that clear to the board. I think there may be a little bit of confusion—the public may have a misconception based on the situation we had with the tenured teacher. That’s a statutory process that comes before this board where the board does have that authority.

“But with non-renewals and transfers, again, that lies solely within the discretion of the director.”

Howard, who received a letter stating that her contract would not be renewed on the last day of the school year—the last day of her fifth and tenure year—told the board and Director of School Kimber Halliburton she was perplexed by the non-renewal decision. After saying that her evaluation scores were excellent and that she had never been reprimanded during her 19-year teaching career, Howard asked the board for answers.

Stacia Howard addressed the board regarding her contract non-renewal after receiving notice of the change on the last day of this school year.

“The evidence would suggest that my non-renewal couldn’t be based on my evaluations and teacher effect scores. Likewise, I don’t see a substantial cost savings as a plausible reason due to the fact that I will have to be replaced. Therefore I am at a loss to understand the reasoning behind this decision,” Howard said. “I do realize that even though this occurred on the last day of my fifth and tenure year, there is no requirement that I be given a reason. Regardless of this fact, I feel that the board should want and be giving a reason for this seemingly illogical action. I request that Mrs. Halliburton and the board weigh the reasons against the five-year evidence of my performance record and please re-evaluate this decision.”

Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-301 says the director of schools has the duty to authorize each principal to make staffing decisions regarding administrative personnel for the principal’s school. The code also states that the director can employ, transfer, suspend, non-renew and dismiss all personnel, licensed or otherwise (apart from teachers who received tenure from the BOE) within the approved budget and existing state laws and board policies.

Coach Taylor also falls under this category in light of her appointed transfer within the school system. In addition to being a physical education teacher, Taylor is also the basketball and soccer coach at Gray School. During the meeting, Bristol Motor Speedway Vice President Ben Trout also addressed the board in question of Taylor’s transfer.

“For 12 years, Coach Jennifer Taylor has poured her heart and soul into making our kids better. She teaches, she coaches, she participates and she does it with a passion,” Trout said. “And yet, she’s being removed for nothing better, from what I can understand, is that ‘we’re going in a different direction’—that’s all that was told. What’s your different direction? At Bristol Motor Speedway, when we make a change, we have a plan. So what is the plan?”

Howard and Trout both also mentioned the board’s recent budget decisions in regard to the non-renewal and transfer; during the BOE’s meeting with the commission’s budget committee on Friday May 26, Halliburton said 10 teaching positions and 14 instructional aides would be cut from the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The adjusted budget came after numerous discussions about the county’s slipping student enrollment numbers (that resulted in a $560,000 basic education program funding loss) and a request from Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge for the BOE to balance the budget.

“We applaud your efforts in trying to get a balanced budget for the 2018 fiscal year. But at some point in time, as we’ve all learned, you’re got to reach the point to where you look at quality versus the bottom line. Where do you draw that line? What’s the cost versus the quality of taking somebody that has influenced so many individuals over a period of 12 years and say, ‘You’re being moved.’?”

The BOE will hold a called meeting to discuss the Boones Creek School plans and the board’s budget on Thursday June 8 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Washington County Department of Education central office at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.