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Grayson school budget requests include art, pay raises

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Speakers at a public hearing on Grayson’s school spending plan want art classes brought back to elementary schools, laptops for all students and repairs to Fries Ball Park.

By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — The Grayson School Board has been asked to consider including teacher salary increases, technology and facility improvements and the reinstatement of art programs at county schools in the 2014-2015 budget.
Last week, Schools Superintendent Kevin Chalfant made the case for improving technology in the schools in a “digital conversion plan,” which would be “one of five emphases” in the upcoming budget and would improve student and teacher access to online resources.
“Gone are the days when we would give every child a textbook, or five textbooks, they would pack them home and they would read them cover to cover as if everything they needed to know in the world was inside,” he said. “Today we have 24/7 access to the Internet and all the knowledge that it provides.”
Chalfant recapped the many technological advances over the years, especially those since the Internet was created, and played up its importance to the future.
“If our community wants us to educate our children for the 1950s with all the information in that textbook, then we can buy those textbooks, send them home with kids and educate them through a history or a past,” he said. “But if we want our kids to graduate from high school with the ability to be prepared for college, or go directly into the workforce with all the new technology and computers, then we need to move ourselves into this next generation of digital conversion.”
Chalfant continued by saying that every child should be given equal opportunity to succeed, and that it is the schools’ responsibility to give students those opportunities. In a world of haves and have-nots, he said, children who have access to the newest technology are more likely to succeed than those who don’t.
He added that, even with all of today’s technological advances, having qualified teachers in every classroom is still the most important ingredient in a student’s educational success.
The superintendent said he “dragged his feet” a bit on the idea of a digital conversion because he first wanted to see proof that a laptop in every student’s hands led to higher achievement. Through research, Chalfant said he has now seen enough to believe.
“Today, using technology is essential for student success,” he said. “Some of our teachers are transitioning to that new style, teaching using differentiated learning.”
As an example of the benefit of supplying a laptop to each student, Chalfant said he had visited a classroom in which the teacher was working with an individual student, one group of students was reading and another group was working on five or six desktop computers.
“What that teacher really needs is a laptop in every child’s hand so they can use all the different strategies on the device and so that student can take that laptop home, continue to learn, night or day, at his or her convenience, and that’s part of the digital conversion,” said Chalfant.
Two Grayson teachers and one former teacher made comments and suggestions during a public hearing regarding the 2014-2015 budget.

Bring Back Art Classes
Director of Instruction and Assessment Stephen Cornett read a speech prepared by teacher Amy Donley, who was unable to attend.
In her statement, Donley asked the school board to consider bringing back the fine arts program to Grayson’s elementary schools. The program was dropped due to severe budget cuts in the 2010-2011 school year, with the exception of music.
“Human beings are incredibly diverse,” Cornett read from Donley’s letter. “This is no less true for our children. Some will excel at language, some at math, some at science, some at social studies, some at sports, some at music, and some in arts. A very few will excel at all of them. Lots will excel at more than two. But many will really only excel in one area.”
“What a shame that those students who excel at art are not able to demonstrate that excellence,” Cornett continued. “Not to his teachers, not to her parents, not to her peers and not even to himself.”
Studies show students’ academic performance improves when arts programs are included in a public school’s curriculum, Donley’s letter stated.
She said that, while she knew it would be unrealistic to hire a full-time art teacher at each elementary school, she suggested the school board consider hiring an art professional for once-a-week classes.
“There are so many gifted students out there, so let their gifts shine for the world to see,” Donley’s letter concluded.

Survey Results
Salary increases, daily planning periods and the inclusion of a fine arts program in elementary schools were the most desired additions to the 2014-2015 budget, according to survey findings presented by Rebecca Absher, a Grayson teacher and president of the Grayson Education Association.
Absher said she offered the eight-question survey to all Grayson school employees, and stressed the importance of retaining Grayson’s teachers by raising salaries.
“There is a high cost for low salary teachers,” she said. “When the rubber hits the road is where the student and the teacher are interacting in the classroom, and if you don’t have good teachers there, it doesn’t matter what the software is that you’ve got.”
Absher reported the following findings:
• Top priority: 74 percent of respondents to the survey said a salary increase or a step increase for all employees should be the number one priority for the budget.
• Issues/concerns that should be addressed: 70 percent said art should be brought back into all elementary schools, 51 percent said all teachers should be allowed a daily planning period, 35 percent requested air conditioners for classrooms
• 78 percent said teachers and staff should have input on designing the employee evaluation system.
• 44 percent said instructional staff should be required to send detailed lesson plans to their principals; 36 percent answered no.
• 73 percent said they would be interested in in-county recertification workshops sponsored by GCEA.
• 27 percent of employees “strongly agreed” that they felt their job was valued and appreciated; 44 percent answered “somewhat agree.”
Employees were also given a chance to make comments regarding materials that were needed to do their jobs and to make additional comments on what should be included in the budget.
Absher concluded her findings by reading one anonymous comment from a teacher who explained the need for a salary increase.
“‘I know asking for a salary raise seems selfish, but as it is now I can barely make ends meet,’” she read. “‘I’ve been in the county 10 years and I have a master’s degree. Teachers just hired into the county are making as much as I am. I currently cannot afford to purchase health insurance for my family because it would not leave enough in my paycheck to pay my bills.’”

Fix Up Ball Park
Fries resident Mike Phipps pleaded the case for making improvements to the Fries Ball Park with funding from the upcoming budget.
Phipps presented photos to school board members showing the stadium’s rotting roof, falling fences and concession stand building that was partially burned in a fire last year.
He said he remembered when the stadium was first built in the 1970s, it was the “pride of Fries and of Grayson County.”
Phipps reminded the board that it had planned a renovation project that would replace the ball park’s grandstand roof in a meeting last year, but due to several factors including a lack of funds, the project was dropped.
Phipps said John Brewer, owner of a local construction company — and Grayson Board of Supervisors chairman — had since agreed to replace the grandstand roof for free. He said Brewer had received a bid for the supplies, and he had passed on the news to the school board. He said he was then informed the board didn’t have the money for the project.
Phipps pointed out that baseball and softball seasons are quickly approaching, and that the Fries Fiddlers Convention will be held at the park this summer.
“The way I see it, we have one of two choices,” he said. “Fix it, or let it fall in.”