FLORENCE — A perceived lack of transparency by the Florence school board has become a top concern among members of the Florence Education Association.
Alabama Education Association representative Emmitt Jimmar told the school board Tuesday during a five-minute public comment period that the Florence Education Association has "real confidence issues with this school board."
Jimmar said after the meeting that there are no firm plans for a systemwide vote of confidence to be taken on top administration, including the board, but it has been discussed and could be a possibility if the board doesn't start operating more openly.
During the meeting, he said, "We're dealing with a confidence issue with this board and our question is, will you listen?"
He said that hasn't been the case in the past.
Jimmar said the group's concerns have heightened in recent months with the approval of board member Brad Dethero to a four-year term without conducting interviews or any type of public forum.
The board appointed Dethero after convening in a closed session for what it called the discussion of the good name and character of all the candidates. That closed meeting drew questions from an attorney for the Alabama Press Association, who said the board is not allowed to discuss the qualifications of candidates in executive session.
Jimmar said the Florence Education Association membership also is concerned about the recent salary increases for Superintendent Janet Womack and the school's financial officer and assistant superintendent, Connie Roberts. Combined, the raises amount to $39,800 a year. Jimmar said it seems the board approved those raises without taking into account the total employee population.
"They've (administrators) taken away teacher refrigerators, cut electricity usage and done many other things to save money, yet turn around and give out big raises to top administrators," Jimmar said.
On the topic of finances, board President Bill Jordan announced on Friday full-time employees in the district will receive a one-time payment of $275 with part-time employees receiving $137.
"This is to show our employees that we value the services they provide," Jordan said.
The system also gave a one-time payment last year.
The Muscle Shoals school district gave bonuses last year and this year as well. The bonuses for Muscle Shoals employees start at $350 for those with zero to five years experience and increase by $150 for every five years of experience. A 20-year employee would receive an $800 bonus this month.
Jimmar told the Florence board that teachers want to feel free to voice professional opinions without fear of their jobs being jeopardized.
"Many teachers don't voice opinions for fear of harm if they do," he said. "What teachers want is a partnership with the board. They should be encouraged to speak their minds."
Jordan offered the only response to Jimmar, saying a meeting with the Florence Education Association and board will be planned for next month.
"We'll listen to what they have to say," he said.
The board also received an update on absenteeism for the year and how it compares to last year's numbers.
The supervisor for instruction and attendance, Sherry Chase, reported to the board that the district's "Be There" campaign has been working, and student attendance has improved nearly across the board.
Last year, nearly 46,000 absences were reported. The average daily attendance for the 2011-12 school year at Florence High School was 92 percent. This year, that figure is at 94 percent. Every school in the district showed an increase in attendance with the exception of Florence Freshman Center, which has remained the same.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.