School Discipline a ‘Big Ticket’ Item (CJ)

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. My friend Sam Hieb has this well-written piece on how discipline in GCS may become a ‘big ticket item’ in today’s Carolina Journal.

 GREENSBORO — What’s the cost of discipline in Guilford County schools? Right now, no one’s sure, although one thing is for certain: It isn’t cheap.

The Guilford County Board of Education recently heard preliminary cost estimates for recommendations released by its school climate task force.

School system Chief Financial Officer Sharon Ozment presented the financial implications of the “bigger ticket items” from those recommendations. Ozment told the board she had not completed a full analysis of newer funding options, so it wasn’t clear whether school officials should use existing funding or request more funding.

She reminded the board that the previous year’s budget had $4.3 million to deal with school climate and reduction of suspensions that did receive funding from the county.

“As we began to go through the negotiation process on the budget, it became clear that this was not something that was going to be funded. There were many of these same things that were in the task force report that were included in that $4.3 million,” Ozment said.

One “big ticket” recommendation Ozment discussed was the placement of a full-time social worker in every school. Guilford County social workers draw an average salary of $64,000, so hiring one, with benefits, for each school would cost $5.2 million.

Another task force recommendation, reducing class sizes to 17 or below in traditional schools, was greeted with nervous laughter from some board members.

“Hold your seats,” Ozment cautioned the board. “You would be adding 897 teachers to do that.”

Adding the teachers, at a cost of $41 million, wasn’t the only problem with reducing class size. Board member Nancy Routh asked whether the school system had the proper number of classrooms to do so.

Ozment said that she had not done the calculations, but that she and her staff had begun talking about the “fact that we wouldn’t have the facilities to house those students.”

Another major request from high school principals was the addition of two non-law enforcement security positions at each school to increase safety. Those positions, “behavioral modification technicians,” would cost $579,179 to $1.9 million, depending on salaries and number of positions.

Another recommendation that drew a fair amount of discussion was the implementation of “positive behavior support” throughout the school system at a cost of $3.3 million.

According to the OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, positive behavior support is defined as the “application of a behaviorally-based systems approach to enhance the capacity of schools, families, and communities to design effective environments that improve the link between research-validated practices and the environments in which teaching and learning occurs.”

Positive behavior support “coaches” would be assigned to every four schools that agree to “buy in” to the concept. Eighty percent of school staff must vote to adopt positive behavior support principles in order to implement them, program coordinator Beth Woody said.

Staffing was also a problem, Woody said, because even if positive behavior support were funded immediately, it would be difficult to find the staff to implement it districtwide.

The task force was formed in response to a school year in which there were a number of fights at schools throughout the district, most recently two incidents at Grimsley High School.

One student was badly injured in an assault in September, and a brawl in December led to 21 students facing criminal charges.
Board member Amos Quick said it was long past time the system addressed discipline issues.

“We knew there would be a dollar amount corresponding with the work they did,” Quick said. “At some point, someone’s going to have to take seriously the fact that there’re some real needs in this district that we’re not addressing from budget year to budget year.”

Whichever policies the board adopts, they will be without Superintendent Terry Grier at the helm, who was presiding over one of his last school board meetings before leaving to take the head position with the San Diego school district. Ozment and chief of staff Eric Becoats will serve as co-interim superintendents until a replacement is found.

Sam A. Hieb is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.

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E.C. )


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