D29 budgeting for more teachers to improve student achievement

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Managing Editor

Williston District 29 hopes to add three teaching positions and give some employees more days in their contracts next year.
Those extra expenditures were discussed during the May 20 meeting as the school board held the first reading of its 2014-15 budget.
Superintendent Dr. Tom Siler said an additional second grade teacher is needed based on enrollment projections. The other two new positions would be middle school science and social studies teachers. With state mandated testing in the works for middle school students in those subjects, Siler said the teachers would help improve scores in areas that have typically been low.
While eligible employees would receive a step increase, the district wants to increase the number of days one employee works at each school to allow the schools to be open all summer. "I believe schools need to be accessible in the summer," said Siler of how usually it's just the principal working at each school.
All three guidance counselors along with the food service director and transportation director would receive compensation for more days as well to pay them for work they do in the summer.
Pay for bus drivers would increase to $10 an hour in an effort to be more competitive in attracting drivers. Siler said hiring more drivers would help reduce the amount of overtime they currently pay.
Besides overtime, the district is also planning to decrease spending in other areas, including utilities, contracted services, printing costs and unemployment compensation. They also could save $96,079 if they do not fill some vacant positions, according to budget documents.
To balance the budget, the district is considering using $343,886 from its fund balance. The district has been adding to the fund for several years. The fund has $2,403,038 in it, which is well over the $1,150,000 the board policy requires it to have at all times. Siler said they may not need to use the fund balance, or at least as much, by the time they get better funding numbers from the state and finalize the budget.
In addition to the budget, the board approved several personnel changes for next year.
Derek Youngblood was named the new athletic director and head football coach. He will take the place of Dwayne Garrick, who is leaving after this school year for a job in Lexington County.
Youngblood is currently a sixth grade teacher, offensive coordinator for the football team, and assistant athletic director. He came to Williston in 2008 following three years teaching in Florence.
"He has been part of our storied football program with a record of 65 wins versus 13 losses since joining the Blue Devils. He is a perfect fit for us moving forward. He knows how to relate to his players on and off the football field and the families of the community we serve," said Siler.
Youngblood officially begins his new duties July 1, but is currently working with players and coaches during the transition.
Other new hires include Fred Orr as a math teacher at Williston-Elko High School and Kimberly Ray as a resource teacher who will work with students at multiple schools. The board also accepted the resignations of high school math teachers Carol Free and Karen Zeigler, elementary art teacher Kia Valentine, and high school principal Dr. Brian Newsome.
In other news:
Loana Cooper Bennett, whose children attend Williston schools, spoke during public comment to encourage the board to reevaluate the student discipline policy, which she said is heavy on suspension.
"It may not be the best thing," she said, citing how keeping students out of school for minor offenses hurts them academically.
In a nurse's update, Tina Craig, one of the district's two nurses, said a company has donated two epinephrine pens for each school. This comes after the board adopted a new policy concerning the pens. "We hope we'll never have to use it," Craig said.
The district is preparing for a visit by an accreditation team with AdvancED, a globally recognized accrediting body.
There are many things to be done before the team visits, which will likely take place in October 2015, including surveys of various stakeholders. The district is currently doing its own review process to see what they can improve upon.
The board recognized tennis coach Bernard Walters and his players for being region champs this season.