Highland Superintendent’s Thoughts On February Meeting
After last week’s Highland County School Board meeting, which featured a heavy attendance driven by concerns regarding out of district student attendance and teacher salary proposals, I had questions about what drove such public interest and turnout. To find out more, I spoke with Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott and members of the Board.
“We always talk about students that come from out of district, something we talk about every year. Historically, we talked about at one time in the spring last year, and before that, it was just more like a brief conversation – it was just kind of a given the students were going to come.”
“This year, it was brought up during when everybody was running for school board. It was a question that was asked, I believe that you may even have asked the question one time, about out of district students, and then it was on the radio, then it was in the paper. So the thought process, I think, was kind of planted there because it kind of brings it back, as in ‘Okay, do we need to think about this again? Do we need to look at that?’
He continued, “It may be revisited more heavily this time again, just with new board members. They may not have heard what we discussed last March. With two new board members it could have been just information gathering. With that, I talked about this with the Board last month. And then I had a parent meeting – I have advisory every Thursday before usually the board meeting. So when I talked to my parent group, again, talked about what’s going to happen – again, just like I did in the meeting, kind of ‘Here’s the pros and cons if students are allowed or not allowed.’”
“You know, my concern, and I believe my job, is to, when I have concerns about if something passes or doesn’t pass that can be catastrophic to the school system, it’s my job to make it public. Like last night’s meeting, it was great to see that number of people out and engaged. And I wish we’d see that number of people in meeting every time. I asked everyone to come to the meeting. I asked the teachers to come to the meeting, mainly for, like the teacher part of it, with the staff and the raise and then extending the scale to 35 years. These are all things that I believe the teachers need to be compensated for what they do.”
“And then the piece like with the out of district kids, and I know that financials is a big piece of everything with that, but like last night when I was saying the academic piece is the more important of the three things we talked about last night – you know, we got the academic, athletic and the financial piece of it. And just to make everybody aware of what was going on, and to hear from the public – and even last year, in March, when we talked about it, we didn’t hear a lot from the public about their opinion one way or the other, and that’s what, you know, last night’s meeting was. When I said before my presentation here, I’m going to present information, we’re going to have a discussion, and then we’re gonna have a vote, and that’s kind of how it took place. And it was just a good way to share information to get people involved with it.”
He stated, “I know people say that I rallied the troops, you might want to say. I did – I did rally the troops, because my concern as a superintendent would be ‘Okay, what happens if I wouldn’t have rallied the troops, and then all of a sudden, something would have passed that was not a good fit for the school or the students. (It) all depends on what the outcome of something that I believe is going to be. Now, am I always right? No, I wish I could say I’m always right. But I have to go by the perceptions that I get from people when I talk to them, what I believe is going to happen, and that’s what I have to act on. That’s my sense of self as a superintendent.”
“Again, many minds are better than one when you have that – many opinions are better than one. Like last night, we had an overwhelming positive reaction to both of the teachers step increase and things that I proposed and with the out of district students. Like I said last night, I’m very biased about this, and I’m sure everyone got my bias when I was doing my presentation with it, because I believe it’s something that should continue to happen. And I know money makes the world go around. But education, we need to fix that, because it’s more about the education, and the kids deserve the best education they can get. And that’s what they get when they’re here. I do believe.”
I asked Dr. Schott if there was a tipping point where the addition of more out of district students could affect the school financially, and he said there was, but he could not say where it is, because it depends on unknown factors. While the fixed costs of brick and mortar, transportation, etc., would not be affected, technology and textbook expansion, cafeteria considerations, as well as personnel additions depending on individual student needs and total number of students could become a factor.
Stay tuned for my conversations with the School Board.