WCS school board opposes proposed state legislation
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
With hundreds of education bills circulating on Capitol Hill, the WCS board voted to formally oppose bills that would relinquish district control over line item budgeting, including the hiring of lobbyists and a bill that enforces textbook review policies.
Although the opposing resolutions passed, a few board members cast dissenting votes concerning proposed textbook review legislation (HB-2321) introduced in the state house by Rep. Glen Casada (R) last week.
“It’s not a perfect bill, but it would start the process. I’m not in support of opposing this bill,” P.J. Mezera, District 3, said. Although he added, “I have a problem with the state mandating policies at a local level.”
Board members Mark Gregory, District 11, and Tim McLaughlin, District 4, joined him in voting against the board’s resolution.
“The process in place is broken or never worked at all,” Gregory said.
Although district policy encourages parent and community input on textbooks, last year and in prior years, residents did not participate in the process.
Board Member Cherie Hammond, District 6, who supported the resolution, said that the proposed law “overrides local control in how we write our policies. If we need to amend or change, it needs to be done within.”
Hammond was also “emphatic” about reiterating that WCS board policy gives parents an opportunity to review textbooks and give their opinion, which she supports strongly.
However, the board agreed that more time allotted to the textbook review process would be helpful for teachers who cast their votes on new textbooks.
The proposed bill follows a textbook controversy in the county last fall concerning an AP Human Geography textbook that some parents believed to contain anti-Semitic rhetoric. After an official complaint was filed regarding the textbook, an ad hoc review committee formally examined the textbook and decided to retain it.
“This new legislation will create a stronger, more accountable textbook review process that ensures our children’s textbooks are factually correct, free from grammatical errors and do not contain bias, and reflect the values of the state of Tennessee,” Casada said in a prepared statement about the bill in January.
The bill makes textbooks under review available online.
The body also unanimously voted to oppose a bill, SB-1935, that would grant local funding bodies line item budget authority over local school boards — specifically board of education services, the office of the superintendent, the office of the principal, and human resources support services.
“This is a change of something that goes back 100 years. This is a huge change from a legal perspective,” WCS Atty. Bill Squires said.
The proposed legislation allows the county commission veto power over specific line items within the school budget.
Also Senate Bill 2525, would grants local funding bodies budget line item power over school districts hiring lobbyists. This comes on the heels of Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney hiring two lobbyists last spring to oppose possible state legislation concerning charter schools and vouchers.
“The thought that we should not lobby is downright irresponsible.” Eric Welch, District 10, said.
McLaughlin said that Looney's time should not be spent lobbying, but emphasized that it is an important endeavor.
“The reason I voted [for lobbyists] last year was so our voice would be heard, and so we could be aware of the bills that could be damaging to the school system,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t want you [Looney] running on the Hill. I want you running the school system.”
The lobbyists also fought for new legislation such as the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act, which served as a landmark victory for high-performing school districts across the state.
The board also unanimously approved three resolutions supporting state legislation that extends school bus use, supports teacher pay based on experience and degree, and the improvement of data accuracy.
Posted on: 2/20/2014