2015-05-06 / News

School Board ponders new exec, keeps student fees mostly flat

By Michael Buettner

The fees and charges high school students must pay for materials and supplies for some courses will mostly remain the same next year, but students in a number of career and technical courses will have to pay more.

The School Board last week voted to approve the annual adjustments to the costs students are required to pay for a variety of classes to help offset the school system’s cost of providing materials, equipment and supplies – for example, rentals for musical instruments for band and orchestra classes or consumable items to be used in culinary courses.

The good news is that outside of career and technical education, only two existing programs saw fee increases: a new $15 charge for an elective honors class in aerospace engineering and an increase to $2 from $1.50 to pay for safety goggles used in science classes.

For students in the county’s two career and technical schools, those in about a dozen courses will see cost increases, some of them fairly steep. But the costs will actually decrease for a few courses.

• The biggest increase is an overall jump of $190 in the fees charged for the two-year firefighter course. Currently, students pay a $60 fee in the first year; the course is new this year, so no second-year fee had been set. Next year, the first-year fee will increase to $150, and a $100 fee will be charged for the second year. The fees cover the cost of uniforms and personal safety gear.

• Students in the pre-nursing program will see their first-year fee double next year to $150 from $75. The increase is needed to cover the rising cost of lab supplies and other expendable items.

• Fees for the culinary arts program and the baking and pastry arts course will go up $55 from $125 to $180. Officials attributed the increases to higher costs for consumable items and materials used in the classes.

• Students in the criminal justice program currently pay no fees, but next year a $50 fee will be imposed to pay for materials to be used to create student portfolios. (Students also pay $116 in charges for lab materials and uniforms, which will remain unchanged; school officials list “fees” and “charges” as separate categories.)

On the other hand, students in the mechatronics program at the new Career and Technical Center @ Hull will no longer have to pay the $50 fee currently collected in each year of the two-year program, and the total of $92 in charges will be cut to $65. The course is new this year, and administrators now have better information about the actual costs.

Students who can demonstrate economic hardships can apply to have some fees waived or reduced.

New high-level exec?

Also last week, board members expressed support for a plan to reorganize the school system’s management structure, including creation of a chief operations officer position.

Lyle Evans, assistant superintendent for human resources and administrative services, explained that at present, the assistant superintendent for budget and finance “is responsible for seven departments and about 1,000 school division employees.”

That much responsibility for one executive may be too much, and some recent unfavorable audit results may be a reflection of that overload, board members agreed.

Dale District representative David Wyman said the school system has done a good job of maintaining 21st-century standards in instruction but “on the operations front, we probably haven’t made as much progress.”

With an ambitious school revitalization program underway, the operational side is critical, he said. “The last six months, in the implementation of some of those plans, I think we’ve struggled a little.”

Matoaca District board member Tom Doland said the school system has been understaffed in the area of operations. “We have greater needs than we have resources in this area.”

Under the proposed reorganization, a new chief operations officer would report directly to Superintendent Marcus Newsome. The directors of new construction, facilities, student transportation and food and nutrition would report to the new official.

Other school officials who currently report directly to Newsome – including the chief academic officer, the assistant superintendent for business and finance and the assistant superintendent for human resources and administrative services, will continue to do so.

Approval of the plan had been scheduled for last week’s School Board meeting, but the board decided to remove the item from its consent agenda to have more time for discussion and to give school division staff time to include more detail about the pay scale for the new position. The current thinking is to pay a salary equivalent to an assistant superintendent, which ranges from just over $100,000 to around $170,000 a year.

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