Cherokee School Board wrestles with budget

by Jun 24, 2021NEWS ka-no-he-da



One Feather Staff


The most contentious topic from Monday’s (June 21) meeting of the Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education was the proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget for the school.

The School Board approved this budget in April, but aspects of the plan have been questioned by several members of Tribal leadership. Ashford Smith, of the Cherokee Boys Club, was at the meeting to discuss the finance update, but to also help with clarification of this situation. Superintendent Michael Murray was the first to address the issue with the Board.

“What we’re waiting on now is to get the date from Tribal Council when our presentation is. We’ve all decided this is the direction we’re going. [Ashford Smith] has done a good job of framing in that synopsis that we aren’t just giving one group raises. That we are progressively coming out of COVID, and this is what it’s going to take to make us competitive and to make sure that we have everything we need as a school system,” said Superintendent Murray.

Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke said that she and other members of Tribal Council needed more clarification from the Board regarding the raise structure. Smith offered her some background on the issue.

“In 2019, we passed a 5 percent increase for teachers and 2.5 percent for non-certified instruction staff. With the intent of, for the next year, passing 5 percent for the admin support staff and the other 2.5 percent from the teacher’s aides and non-certified instruction staff. Obviously, that didn’t happen because of COVID. So, that the first initial raise, was trying to catch back up from that. Along with giving everybody their two steps, which is equivalent to the Tribe’s merit raises,” said Smith.

Members of the School Board said that multiple Council representatives had reached out to them with concerns and questions, many of which were specifically about administration receiving raises but not teachers. The consensus was that the CCS budget was not going to pass without further clarification. That is why a date will soon be set for in-depth discussion.

Rep. C. Saunooke suggested that the Board move into a closed session to discuss the particulars of the budget issues. The Board quickly did so and stayed in closed session on this issue for over 30 minutes.

Once they finished discussion of the budget, CCS Athletic Director Sean Ross was called into the closed session to go over contractual issues regarding the athletic department. The Board remained in closed session for nearly an hour and a half. There was no other further conversation of the budget issue in open session. Superintendent Michael Murray said that no decisions were made during the closed session.

As soon as the meeting reconvened in open session, the Board moved to pass the proposal for the athletic summer work stipend for coaches. The plan allows for the athletic department to have discretion to pay individual coaches on a scale based on years of experience. The options for the Board were to allow this stipend for all sports, or just the revenue generating sports. The Board passed the plan that offered the stipends for all sports coaches, if the stipends do not total more than $40,960.

“Basically, our question had to do with where in the budget it was coming from, and [Ross] answered that question; that there are line items that are currently in the budget that can be shifted if approved,” said Chairperson Jennifer Thompson.

The meeting began with two presentations. The first was led by Dr. Beverly Payne and Jennifer Martens. They wished to offer an update on the strategic innovation plan that the school has been assembling over the last two years. The idea is to align the school and its stakeholders. Crafting a unified mission and embedding those goals into every aspect of the school.

The second came from CCS teacher Chris Davis. He was joined by Cherokee Middle School (CMS) Principal Joel Creasman. Davis is launching a new summer school class inspired by one of his personal passions, fly fishing. He has partnered with companies like Orvis to supply the class of 12 with materials for tying their own flies and to go out on the river to learn the art of fly fishing.

Creasman said that this is the type of creative course and passion for subject matter that he is encouraging from his teachers. After hearing the presentation, the Board approved the class to be taught this summer.

The consent agenda was approved quickly. There were no contests to the 47 resolutions. These included approval of three class trips, a few teacher positions at the school, but mostly coaching positions for the 2021-22 school year. Only one item was pulled, though that was only done so that Chairperson Thompson could abstain from the vote due to a personal connection.

The rest of the meeting was also handled swiftly. The Board needed to approve a few job descriptions and make changes to new positions that the school will look to hire this year.

The Monday, June 21 meeting of the CCS Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Chairperson Jennifer Thompson; Vice Chair Isaac Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Karen French-Browning, Regina Ledford Rosario, and Gloria Griffin; Superintendent Dr. Michael Murray; Asst. Superintendent Dr. Beverly Payne; HR Director Heather Driver; and School Board Assistant Sunnie Clapsaddle all in attendance. Wolftown Tribal Council Representative Chelsea Saunooke was a few minutes late to the meeting.

A date for the next meeting of the CCS Board of Education is not confirmed. They are scheduled for Monday, July 12, but there is a chance they could do an email poll instead of an in-person meeting. This decision will be dependent on if they receive a discussion date from Tribal Council to go over the debated budget.