School Board finalizes operating budget for 2020-21

by May 23, 2020NEWS ka-no-he-da





The May 15 meeting of the Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education was called to order with Chairperson Jennifer Thompson; Vice Chair Isaac Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Karen French-Browning and Regina Ledford Rosario; Superintendent Michael Murray; Vice Superintendent Beverly Payne; HR Director Heather Driver; School Board Assistant Sunnie Clapsaddle; and Wolftown Tribal Council Representative Chelsea Saunooke all in attendance. Board Member Gloria Griffin was late to the meeting.

The only guests were Howard Wahnetah and Ashford Smith to provide a financial update and presentation. They discussed the operating budget for fiscal year 2020-21.

“The big topic of discussion is the revenue. Essentially, that’s because we don’t foresee any jump in other revenue sources. Any other expenses we incur are going to have to be tribal,” said Smith.

Smith and Wahnetah walked through the various increases to the budget. These included salary increases, a jump in the pension from 13.5 percent to 14 percent, and capital requests. Though there was a jump in capital expenses, Payne and Wahnetah said that they are now establishing a more consistent schedule for these expenses. The various departments in the school were not on the same page in the past, and therefore when requests were made there wasn’t precedent for recurrence.

Wahnetah said that with the school investing in more top-end technology, there is a plan to now replace a third of the technology every year in a cycle. Payne also said they are seeking a grant to help for this year but since that is not confirmed it is currently in the budget.

Superintendent Murray stated that one of the largest expenses moving forward will be the expansion project at the school. He said that with the constantly shifting landscape, money is going to be difficult to expect. He said his goal is to make sure they can maintain operations and keep everyone’s job safe. Murray said that CCS did not receive relief money from the state, and that communication with the BIE has been inconsistent.

Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke stated her concerns on the current finances of the Tribe.  “The casino’s revenues are based off projections, monthly. They didn’t make distribution in March, to the Tribe. They were able to make up some differences that they weren’t able to make, because they had to close, through their reserves. So, even the casino has had to dip into their reserves to try to make distribution to the Tribe.” 

“That’s pretty scary, in itself, just to hear. What’s also scary is that the Tribe only has about 18 months in reserves. So, we’re not in a good position at all. It’s a shame we drug our feet for about 10 years,” said Rep. Saunooke.

Following the presentation, the Board moved on to the consent agenda. There was only one item to be voted on, and that was passed unanimously. It puts forth the following:

Dayini Lossie is approved as a full-time custodian for Cherokee Central Schools.  

There were two walk-in resolutions, however. Both were also passed unanimously.

The first was a resolution that established the 2020-21 operating budget for Cherokee Central. After a step increase for all CCS staff and amendments, the budget has been set at $35,517,266.

The other resolution was to approve the new ‘Introduction to Leadership’ course that will be offered. This class will be available to Cherokee High School students beginning in the Fall 2020 semester. The resolution states that ‘this course is valuable for our students, offering an opportunity for growth and development; and participating students will learn how to be stronger, positive leaders.’

The first thing discussed under ‘New Business’ was an addition to the Cherokee High School check-out procedure. With approval from the Board, it makes it so that a parent or guardian must be present at check-out. Murray said that the old system of “calling in” was being abused.

The Board then shifted its attention to the BIE ESSA plan. Payne gave a rundown of what was learned in a recent webinar. She offered her concerns with the Fall plan for curriculum. She said that they are demanding all BIE schools teach from strict Common Core guidelines. Payne says that CCS has been using the state of North Carolina’s adapted Common Core guidelines for the last two years, and that might have to shift.

“We need to be prepping teachers if we’re going to make a change. And that was my question during the webinar, ‘what if our School Board does not want us to do this?’ Because we’ve never done this. We’ve always done what North Carolina has done. And to be quite honest, and you all might feel very differently, it doesn’t really matter to me how Cherokee Central Schools compares to say Choctaw. But, I am very interested in how our students are doing compared to other school districts in North Carolina,” said Payne.

She continued by saying there are waivers in this process, though she doesn’t know what a full waiver would look like in order to maintain using the North Carolina standard.

“I think that we don’t have enough information to make an educated decision tonight. That we need to learn more about what’s included in the waiver process before we make a decision. Mainly because it sounds like the BIE doesn’t have all their ducks in a row,” said Chairperson Thompson.

Next, Rep. Saunooke had a few questions about CCS Graduation. They discussed the parade and some of the specifics they are trying to work out. Murray said he would be sending out information to the Board members as soon as it was finalized.

The Board then went into closed session. No report was offered on what was discussed, though no voted decisions were made.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be dependent upon the agenda proposed. If possible, the Board will conduct business via email polls. They might also meet on June 1.