BLOUNTVILLE - As Sullivan County Schools contract negotiations got in full swing Monday, student discipline was the first issue under debate.
Chief negotiator Ruth Williams said 91 percent of the Sullivan County Education Association (SCEA) membership that returned surveys cited student discipline as their number one concern. She said that many mentioned the need for an alternative school as part of that concern.
"We're talking at least 10 years that we've been discussing this (alternative school)," Williams said. "The members said they feel like we've really done our part … and now we need a commitment from the Board (of Education) and a commitment from the Central Office on this issue."
Jim Jordan, Tennessee Education Association (TEA) adviser, added that 63 percent of new teachers in Tennessee leave within the first five years of teaching, and the number one reason cited is lack of administrative support, such as in the area of discipline.
Williams said teachers are concerned about this issue both from a personal perspective and also to make sure students get the best education possible. SCEA negotiators said repeat offenders end up either as continuous problems in the classroom or, in the case of a zero tolerance violation, out for the year and losing credits.
Sullivan County Board of Education chief negotiator and Assistant Director of Schools Jack Barnes said the BOE had asked for more definitive figures on the cost of an alternative school, number of personnel required, grade levels and how the school would operate.
Barnes said the location could be another problems, since some Blountville Middle School classes had been moved to Gunnings School.
"The concern they have is how long it will take to fix Blountville," Barnes said. "That in turn affects when Gunnings would be available. Right now I don't know of any other locations that would be available. That's something we'll have to consider in the short term anyway."
Negotiators said previous studies on the possibility of an alternative school provided a model for up to 50 students, who would be phased in over time. The school model showed strict guidelines with parents applying for students to attend, as well as agreeing to provide their own transportation and other terms.
Board attorney Pat Hull said this was an issue that cannot really be negotiated by the committee.
"We can't agree to anything except just to remind you all to not let this die," Hull said. "Everybody is interested. … (But) to a great extent we're as powerless as anybody else.
Williams responded that the SCEA was not asking for the negotiators to approve an alternative school, but simply for either a commitment to move forward with the school or for other viable options.
"We're asking that either the board and the Central Office make a commitment to this alternative school or they come up with some other option," Williams said. "We want you to understand how important it (alternative school and student discipline) is to everybody. … I think teachers are feeling helpless."
Both sides agreed to gather more information, including past BOE minutes, to bring to the table before looking at options.
Athletics was the other issue of the evening. BOE negotiator and Assistant Director for Human Resources Evelyn Rafalowski said the Sullivan County Athletic Committee recommended several athletic personnel changes and additions that have been approved by the BOE. Monetary supplements for those positions were up for debate Monday. The committee recommended the following changes with regard to supplements:
•Adding an assistant basketball coach with a base supplement of $850, and an assistant baseball coach and assistant softball coach at the middle schools, both with base supplements of $600.
•Move boys and girls high school head basketball coaches' base supplements from $3,100 to $3,600.
Negotiators agreed to the proposal as presented. Total cost across all schools will be $27,200.
Williams said the SCEA would like to see this type of increase continue for different sports each year.
The next meeting for negotiations will be held April 3 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 212 of the Sullivan County Central Office building.