Many topics explored by Dare school board

Published 10:49 pm Sunday, April 16, 2023

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On the Dare County Board of Education April 17, 2023 agenda are two items that were discussed at the board’s retreat in late March.

The board will take up the five-year capital improvement plan. The proposal totals $2.045 million for fiscal year 2024. That’s $185,000 over what’s currently committed by Dare County.

Director of facilities for the school system Ian Adams described the plan this way: “it’s kind of a fluid thing.”

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Also on the agenda for Monday is a recommendation from the board’s naming committee. At the retreat, the board discussed a request from the community to name the Manteo High School soccer field in honor of Frank Vrablic for his many contributions to the school.

While Vrablic has retired, he is still active as a substitute teacher.

The board’s naming policy declares active staff members, coaches, board of education members or volunteers not eligible for a naming honor.

On April 17, the board will consider erecting a plaque in the area of the soccer field honoring the accomplishments of Vrablic.

The retreat opened with a presentation by the Dare Education Foundation. Presenting were Mary Robinson, chair of the foundation, and Barbara Davidson, executive director of the foundation.

The foundation’s teacher housing in Kill Devil Hills and Buxton serves as a unique model nationwide. With the State Employees’ Credit Union providing an interest-free loan and land available, the foundation built 24 housing units in Kill Devil Hills and 12 in Buxton.

The units have two bedrooms and two baths in 1100 square feet. The units are fully occupied. The rent is $1,050 per month.

At the end of the foundation’s presentation, school board member David Twiddy rolled out a big parcel map of Roanoke Island. He pointed to parcels owned by Dare County Schools. A dozen or more trailer owners pay land rent to the school board. Annually, that rent totals $112,000. The school board pays $12,000 to a rental management company to manage the property.

Twiddy proposed moving the parcels to the foundation and let that agency dedicate the rental income to building teacher housing on Roanoke Island. “We do need teacher housing on Roanoke Island.” He made it clear he was not talking about kicking tenants off the land.

He said “the Board of Education does not need to be in the rental management business.”

Dare school board Chairman Ron Payne brought up several topics. First was a general discussion of essential workforce housing.

Next, Payne said Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) was still on the table. Apparently, only the Air Force would offer the course and only First Flight High, because of its student numbers, would be considered. The board directed the administration to conduct a survey to ascertain student interest.

Payne brought a request from Currituck County to ask the legislature to change math III to technical math to facilitate technical and trades education.

Dare County Superintendent Steve Basnight said Dare County students were having success and meeting proficiency in math III. He said “lots of options already exist to get four math credits.”

For teacher appreciation, school improvement teams will be able to choose food trucks to provide lunch.

For more than an hour, school board attorney Rachel Hitch briefed the board on the status of various legal areas where recent decisions have an impact. Topics covered included free speech rights of students, employees and others for example at public comment; disability and special education; Title IX sex discrimination; transgender issues; and parent rights.

Hitch also reviewed education-related legislation submitted to the General Assembly, particularly HB 219 Schools of Choice. School safety was addressed on topics like high risk electronic platforms, cell phones and metal detectors.

She touched on budget issues, which at that point only Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget was published.

Some 25 bills addressing school calendars have been introduced looking for flexibility and perhaps a tie to the community college calendar.

School board member Carl Woody along with Oliver Holley, director of human resources, brought to the table recruitment and retention ideas. Said Woody, “the more incentives we can provide the better.”

Holley reviewed the current benefits and then brought ideas to the table. He suggested providing dental coverage to all Dare County Schools full-time employees. It can be done for $499,400 annually based on 1,000 employees. Add in current retirees, at the price goes up to $521,014.40 yearly.

If the school system paid the employee portion of health insurance, the employee with a 70/30 plan would pay $25; and the employee with an 80/20 policy would pay $50.

Another suggestion is to pay the $50 joining fee for the YMCA for all employees annually.

Hardy reported in a slide presentation that “vision insurance is not accepted by providers on the beach. This will not prove to be a viable option.”

A 401K possibility was discussed. Woody said “we need to stand out above everybody else.”

Woody also said that salaries for classified employees have not grown.

Twiddy added that coaches have not had a salary increase in 20 years.

Basnight provided a tutorial titled Strategic Planning 101. The school system’s existing plan ends this year. The challenges are to collaborate on mission, vision, goals and values to move the system forward.

Director of secondary education Denise Fallon delivered an in-depth presentation about early college. If Dare County wants to pursue the early college model, the timeline is tight. The state will set the timeline in May. A letter of intent is due June 15. A team works on the application during the summer for submission in the fall. Announcements will be made in spring 2024, with possible opening fall 2024.

Board member Susan Bothwell was concerned about mental health awareness. She asked “what are we doing here in Dare County?”

Basnight reported that the schools are seeing behaviors that didn’t occur before.

In elementary school, students are more aggressive.

Social workers have been working. Some counselors are coming in. For teachers and staff, decompression training was cited.