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District renews funds for 28 jobs

The School Board on Tuesday approved continuing 26 teacher aide or lab instructor jobs and two teacher positions for a total of $448,097.

The board also approved spending another $625,000 to add teachers to help comply with the constitutional initiative to reduce class sizes.

The employees holding the 28 teacher aide, lab instructor and teacher jobs will be paid from a special category of state money known as Supplemental Academic Instruction, or SAI.

Because there is no guarantee the state will approve the same amount of SAI dollars each year, the district approves the SAI positions on an annual basis. So Tuesday's request was a renewal of positions already in place.

The paperwork seeking approval, however, listed many of those jobs as new, which was confusing to the board.

The board eventually asked the district's staff to be sure it is clear in the future that these positions are simply replacements of positions that expired with the last budget year.

Board member Patience Nave had another concern: In nearly every case, the appointment was recommended by a principal, then reviewed by Tom Curry, the district's director of curriculum and instruction. His job is to approve the use of SAI dollars for the position.

The request then goes to the personnel director, the executive director of management services and then, finally, the superintendent and board.

But that executive director is Mary Curry, Tom Curry's wife.

Nave noted that such an arrangement gives Mary Curry supervision over decisions made by her husband, posing a possible conflict in violation of the district's nepotism policy.

Last August, Nave questioned a similar recommendation. At the time, board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick concluded there was no direct conflict. He did suggest there was an appearance of a conflict and recommended that future paperwork reflect that recommendations actually were coming from superintendent David Hickey who, by law, must be the one to make personnel recommendations to the board.

"I just feel a little concerned approving a half-million dollars worth of requests," Nave said Tuesday. "Is this a violation of our policy?"

On Tuesday, Fitzpatrick again repeated that there was no direct violation.

Nave said she hated to ask her questions in public, but noted that no officials were available last week to answer any board member questions.

Hickey has been out recovering from back surgery since early June. Assistant superintendent Linda Kelley is out of the state, and Mary Curry also was taking time off last week.

Hickey and Kelley also were absent from Tuesday's board meeting.

The staff also had prepared to recommend a new guidance counselor position at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute at a cost of $41,942, but then pulled that request from the agenda. The issue will be addressed later.

The staff was granted permission to add a new program specialist of curriculum to oversee the Abacus computer program at a cost of $46,300.

Nave questioned that move; she thought such a job already existed in the instructional technology department. But officials told her the grant funding had run out for that position, so now it would fall under educational services, a different department with different funding sources.

"Abacus is very, very expensive," Nave noted. The board has been pushing for more teachers to use the underutilized software program.

Board members also asked for a report next July that will detail just how much more use Abacus has gotten now that the district has given it a renewed push.

In other action:

The board approved David Stephens, currently the assistant principal at Forest Ridge Elementary School, as the new coordinator of at-risk programs for the district.

That job, with a slightly different description, had been held by Ed Staten until his retirement June 30.

The board approved Fred Conley as the new assistant director for the Withlacoochee Technical Institute.

Conley's is a familiar name for the school. He came to the school in 1986 and worked as assistant director from 1992 until 2001. He has been working since last year as an alternative certification specialist with the district.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendtsptimes.com.

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