School board concerns over teachers’ classes

It was a light agenda for the U-CF School Board work session on Sept. 21, but members were updated on middle school renovations and heard concerns about teacher raises based on continuing education classes.

While it was not an agenda item, Director Keith Knauss brought up his concern that the district was paying for, and giving raises for classes that, he said, do not make faculty members better teachers.

Knauss said a recent report showed the district spent $241,000 on tuition reimbursement for 220 courses, and then gave teachers raises for taking those classes. He said he accepts the concept of doing that in the belief that continuing education makes for more effective teaching.

However, he thinks some of the courses taken don’t necessarily improve teacher performance, and that reimbursement and raises just add to the district’s costs without benefit.

“We like to think our teachers are taking classes at West Chester University taught by a doctorate degreed professor with a challenging examination on subjects such as understanding the autism spectrum disorders…but a shadow industry has emerged,” Knauss said.

“This industry offers a number of courses that add little to teaching effectiveness, courses that [Superintendent John] Sanville would never approve if he were not constrained by contract language.”

As examples, Knauss referred to classes such as Google Apps for Education, Interactive Whiteboard Technology, Integrating iMovie Into the Classroom.

“This has got to stop because 25 percent of the courses taken each year, comprising $58,000 in tuition reimbursement, fall into this ineffective category.”

Knauss acknowledged that reimbursing for technical education courses is part of the teachers’ contract, obligating the district to pay for them, but he would like to see new wording that would, he said, be mutually beneficial.

He suggested giving every teacher an automatic 12 technical education credits without taking any courses, thereby saving tuition money.

There was no deep discussion on the issue at the time, but Sanville did say he and his administrators do look at teacher requests carefully, but there is less leeway when it comes to tech courses.

Yet, he also said some tech courses do make sense while others are difficult to understand as fitting in with specific teacher responsibilities.

“Some teachers are taking great courses,” Sanville said, but some of the other courses aren’t as great, but there is less leeway to deny courses. Only about 20 courses were denied last year, while 220 were approved.

Other business

Director of Buildings and Grounds Rick Hostetler said renovations at the Charles F. Patton Middle School would not interfere with the middle school play, despite rumors to the contrary.

“The key word is rumor. There’s nothing happening in the auditorium, so there’s no reason for any auditorium activities not to proceed,” Hostetler said.

He added that the auditorium would be renovated at a later date and that would coincide with upgrading the sound system there.

Hostetler also updated the board on the repairs to the roof at the high school so that the sound of rain does not interfere with audiences’ enjoying productions there.

He said the architect has determined a corrective design, pricing has been obtained from some contractors, and a tentative contractor has been selected. The delay at this point, he said, is that the insurance company has not yet authorized the architect to hire the contractor and move ahead.

The insurance company’s attorney contacted the architect to tell the district to issue a notice of claim, he said.

“The insurance company has been hesitant to move forward on a $200,000 item,” Hostetler said.

He added that the school district’s attorney has contacted the insurance company’s attorney, but there’s no update beyond that.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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