MCPS: Education Association calls on school board to support local educators

Seven of the school district’s 22 campuses have transitioned to remote learning in recent days. Jennifer Enk, the president of the Maury County …

The Maury County Education Association continues to share concerns for the well-being of educators employed at the county’s public school system as they navigate the classroom amid a pandemic.

Seven of the school district’s 22 campuses have transitioned to remote learning in recent days. Jennifer Enk, the president of the Maury County Education Association, has told members of the local school board that the near-daily changes are taking a toll on local educators.

Maury County Education Association President Jennifer Enk speaks to the elected members of the Maury County Board of Education on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

As the teachers and staff continue to work amid the pandemic, Enk is calling for members of the school board to revise its methods in reporting sick leave.

Enk said the system has been the subject of issue in recent years, leading to a state audit finding and leading some teachers to owe the school district money because they had taken sick days that they thought they had.

“We still have no idea of the accuracy of our sick leave,” Enk told members of the school board. “When will we find out these accurate balances. How many years will this be an audit finding?”

In 2019, the school district’s employee leave records were one of 10 audit findings identified by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office.

The 10 findings reported in the audit ending June 30, 2018 were related to school district’s central office, which was led by now former Superintendent Chris Marczak.

At the time, the comptroller’s office stated the issues were likely attributed to poor accounting, budget operations, purchasing deficiencies and a failure to reconcile accounts. Auditors also found $371,014 in penalties and interest assessed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for late filings and payments.

The year before that, 21 discrepancies were identified in Maury County’s government with 15 stemming from the county’s public school district.

Enk said local educators have joined those across the state in expressing anger fear exhaustion and teachers feeling overwhelmed.

“Maury County is no exception,” Enk said. “Just as employees think they can breathe, cases go up, contact tracing occurs and you have to reset.”

As schools transition to remote learning to prevent the spread of the virus, Enk emphasized that not all students are able to remote in, and many don’t live in homes conducive to remote learning, another point of stress for the local educators who continue to feel responsible for the students’ access to quality education as they remain isolated at home.

Santa Fe Unit School special education teacher Jennifer Enk shares concerns for a change in the healthcare coverage provided by Maury County Public Schools during a school board meeting at Horace O. Porter School on Monday, March 25, 2019.

Enk said the physical and mental toll of the school year is made clear by the more than 50 local educators and staff who have resigned in recent months, as well as the 26 licensed positions that are currently open at the local school district.

“Teachers are exhausted from doing two jobs,” Enk told the board. “I am concerned about the employees and their family’s mental health. I leave hoping some of these issues will be resolved sooner rather than later.”

Enk called on the school district’s leadership to encourage the use of face coverings and other personal protective equipment inside the county’s schools.

“Employees are required to wear a mask if unable to socially distance,” Enk said. “Who is working to protect those teachers from those who are not wearing masks?”

Members of the school board did not respond to Enk’s comments made during a board meeting on Tuesday.

During last month’s regular board meeting, Enk addressed the the board with concerns for staffing and compensation, an issue she said has been a point of concern for the local education association even before the arrival of the coronavirus in Middle Tennessee.

With the added responsibilities and time associated with leading a classroom, Enk called for the board to begin drafting a plan to provide the school distrcit’s educators with additional compensation.

“Teachers are working harder than they’ve ever worked before,” Enk said during last month’s meeting. “We are doing two jobs. It seems like a lot of the expectations change from week to week. We continually do this, for three years, without an essential increase in compensation. I am putting that forward tonight as we start looking at budgeting. We really need to start having those conversations earlier rather than later.”

Last year, the the local association celebrated the finalization of a memorandum of understanding with Maury County Public Schools, following three years of a binding agreement between the two organizations.

The Maury County Education Association is a local affiliate of Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest professional organization, representing elementary and secondary school teachers, administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty and students preparing to become teachers.

The negotiations followed a court ruling that the school district did not comply with the local association when a previous memorandum of understanding, which included a 5% raise for employees in July 2016, was tabled during a conference with its attorney and then never brought up for further review.

The Maury County court ruled in favor of the association in its case. The MCEA argued the school district acted inappropriately in the handling of a November 2015 poll used in negotiating a new memorandum.

According to the court ruling signed by now retired Judge Robert Jones, the school district inappropriately released the results of the poll, potentially interfering with elections for public office. The court also deemed it inappropriate for the employees to submit results to the polls more than once using separate answers.

The county’s education association represents more than 450 local educators and employees in the school district of 12,800 students. The local association works to maintain a superior environment for the students and teachers in Maury County.

MCEA also awards scholarships to students entering the teaching profession, assists students in need, promotes legislation beneficial to educators and students and works with local agencies for a better teaching and learning environment.

Mike Christen is the multimedia editor for The Daily Herald. Reach him at mchristen@c-dh.net and follow him on Twitter @MikeChristenCDH and @Michaelmarco on Instagram.