By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The March 4 Cherokee School Board meeting was called to order by Chairperson Charlotte Saunooke at approximately 4:45 p.m. Those in attendance at roll call were: Chairperson Saunooke; Vice Chair Gloria Griffin; Jennifer Thompson, Secretary; board members Karen French-Browning and Issac Long; Superintendent Dr. Michael Murray; Assistant Superintendent Barbara Payne; Deborah Toinetta, HR Director; Howard Wahnetah, Finance Director; and Sunnie Clapsaddle, School Board Assistant. School Board member John Crowe came in later in the meeting.
The meeting business began with the Consent Agenda. By the time board members had made amendments to the agenda, only one item had remained for a vote. The Board approved the Cherokee High School (CHS) Travel Club and Health Science students for travel to the Galapagos in June 2020. Then, Chairperson Saunooke brought each of the six items that were on the Consent Agenda back on the floor for individual discussion. A request for the CHS Travel Club and Health Science students to be permitted to go to Australia and New Zealand in June 2021 was also approved. These trips were not funding requests but to go as authorized school trips.
A personnel request for a salary upgrade was tabled for further discussion. The request was for a special education position to be moved from an 11-month contract to a 12-month contract.
Joshua Welch and Craig Barker were approved to become CHS Softball Volunteers for the 2018-2019 season. Sauna Amezcua was approved to fill a receptionist position at Cherokee Middle School and Sharmon Howell was approved to fill a teacher assistant position at Cherokee Elementary School.
In old business, Dr. Payne advised that the Administration was resurrecting a process that involved revisions to the school’s policies and procedures. She stated that she hoped to provide a draft of the documents in May to the Board so that they could review it for a possible vote in June, at the pleasure of the Board. Vice Chairperson Griffin asked if the law firm representing the School Board had been involved in the current revision process.
Dr. Murray commented, “I talked to Chris (formerly a member of the law firm) today. We are not really following your School Board attorney’s advice on the policies anyway. What we are doing is looking at the National School Board Association. Your policy book is nine years old. The policies were in our lap to either mesh with Tribal policies and try to figure out a common ground. I would rather have policies approved that we know the National School Board Association is using and has vetted and looked at and say it is fine, than to have nine-year-old policies that are dated, so our goal is to move forward with this process and then have personnel and other places where (the Tribal and School policies) don’t mesh start looking at how we can do Tribal law, then I will pull the attorneys back in and let them do some research.”
Vice Chairperson Griffin suggested that they should mirror the Tribe’s policies where possible and Dr. Murray agreed. Dr. Payne provided the Board copies of the existing school policy. The Board agreed with the timeline established by the Administration to get the draft to them, as well as a potential vote in June.
Two “walk-in” requests were presented and heard — both involved baseball. After a closed session discussion, Gary Maney was approved by the Board to serve as an Assistant Baseball Coach and Jamie Oocumma was voted to be Scorekeeper/Pitch Count Coach.
Chairperson Saunooke reminded the Board that the annual joint school board meeting between Cherokee Central and Swain County would take place March 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Cherokee Elementary School Green Room.
Under New Business, the Board was provided a copy of the interagency agreement between Cherokee Central Schools and Cherokee Boys Club that is on the table to expire and will need to be renewed in June. The new school calendar for 2019-2020 was approved by the Board. The Board also entertained a request from HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) Club and approved a $500 donation toward their June 18-24, 2019 conference.
Dr. Payne made the Board aware of an EBCI Public Health and Human Services request for Youth Risk and resiliency data to be used in a public service announcement. She stated that requests like this come in from time to time and she recommended that the school publish the entire 2016 and 2018 reports to the CCS website so that the public has access to the information if they need it. The reports contain aggregate data and include no personal student or employee information. The Board approved the release of these documents.
Board Member Karen French-Browning was recognized for an item of discussion. She stated, “I have had numerous calls and texts about our ball team and what they worn to play in at the playoffs. They said that our girls wore the black uniforms down there and it looked like it was the travel teams for the Tribe instead of representing Cherokee High School. Did we not say last year that they were to wear maroon and gold, our colors? If the coaches want to wear black, then go to a school that wears black uniforms, but our colors have been maroon and gold for over 50 years. Are we going to allow them (coaches) to do what they want to do when they want to do it?”
French-Browning indicated that she had received several complaints, some from parents of the students who wore black uniforms. She indicated that she would like for the Board to take action to control the colors used for school sports teams uniforms.
Some members of the Board asked who purchased the uniforms. Dr. Murray responded, “There was an individual that paid for the uniforms. I don’t want to get into names unless you want to go into closed session. There was not money set aside for that.”
Dr. Murray said that he did not and did not think anyone in the administration had approved the purchase; however, “we usually allow the Athletic Department to operate.” Dr. Murray said that he would comply with any Board vote if they chose to vote to disallow the black uniforms or any other uniform directive.
Board member French-Browning stated that she would like to go into closed session to discuss this further. She expressed concern that the School Board was seen as approving the black uniforms.
Before the Chairperson called for a vote to go into closed session, Board member Dick Crowe stated, “I think we lose sight of what our kids actually want and they like the black. You never hear the kids complaining, the ones that wear it and play. Nobody takes into account what the kids want. The football team preferred the black uniforms last year. My understanding is that these girls really liked that color. You know, as fans and adults, we have to let them make a decision at some point as to what they like to wear.”
Board member Long echoed Crowe’s thoughts. “A lot of teams, college, pro, a lot of high school teams are all going to an alternate uniform, and most of them are black. Most of the teams out there are doing that. It’s not taking away anything from being maroon and gold. They had maroon, and gold (on the black uniforms) and I think they looked pretty good.”
Board Secretary Jennifer Thompson also felt that the players should have a say in what they wear. “I think sometimes we lose sight, and although I understand some people’s concerns, I also feel like that this is getting way too much in the day-to-day, and if the principals and (Athletic Director) approve it, I don’t think that we should have to approve every single thing that our kids do and what they wear. That’s what we have Dr. Murray, Deb, and Peanut for. It’s like they are supposed to be controlling these things. I thought the uniforms were very classy. From what I understood, the girls really liked them.”
The Board went into closed session to discuss the issue further. When the Board returned to open session, Chairperson Saunooke reported that there was no action or decision made by the Board regarding the issue.
Chairperson Saunooke announced that the next meeting would be held Monday, March 18. She also requested that the school administration look into “a longer-term coach” for the wrestling program. She stated that she had received comments about the need for a more engaged leadership for that program.
Board member French-Browning asked how much money was expended this year for substitute teachers. She said that she “had also been hearing that there are so many teachers out in the elementary school every week. Also, there are quite a few in high school. We need our teachers to be here because our kids have to be tested”. She said with a teacher out constantly and having a substitute come in; the students lose consistency in teaching that they need to perform at their best.
Board member Crowe asked if a teacher assistant could be used instead of a substitute teacher in cases where the regular teacher is out.
Dr. Murray said, “We have never liked…the liability should be on the teachers not on the TA (teacher assistants). The TA’s are the support services. In emergency situations and for continuity. That TA is valuable, but they are not the licensed, trained teacher in that classroom. In every school system that this is a big concern. This isn’t just Cherokee. Several school systems are using Kelly Services, an employment agency, because this situation has gotten out of hand, to hire and assign their subs.”
There was some discussion that teacher assistants can assist and at higher pay rate when acting with a teacher in the classroom and, according to some, worked well for Cherokee. Some of those present reported that North Carolina is considering another teacher salary raise to a minimum of $51,000 annually. Chairperson Saunooke urged the school administration to prepare an alternate budget to accommodate the changes in teacher salary to remain competitive in the market. The administration and the board discussed needs for expansion and talked about short-term (converting existing rooms for class use) and longer-term (approval from the tribe for funding more buildings/space) solutions.
The School Board then voted to go into closed session to discuss “some items that a couple of board members would like to discuss.” No further explanation was offered. No outcome from the closed session had been presented as of press time.