They also talked with other legislators and fielded a number of “interesting” comments, according to Ringstaff.
He said the “Day on the Hill” was informative and productive, but when it was over, the same old concerns (about education) remained.
Dawn Robinson, the school board’s legislative contact person, teamed with board members Tom Cloud (chairman), Peggy Pesterfield, Richard Shaw and George Meacham in making the trip. Dr. Murl Dirksen and Steve Morgan were unable to attend due to personal conflicts.
Robinson, who stayed in Nashville a little longer than the other boards members, said it was a good Day on the Hill. “It’s important that school board members see the process of how bills become laws,” she said. “It also helps us to see bills that can be good for education.”
Ringstaff said the trip was good for him, since he got to meet other directors and school board members from across the state. “It was well attended,” he said. Ringstaff has been Cleveland’s director of schools since April 2011 and it was his first Day on the Hill.
The Cleveland director said city school board members were able to discuss some of their concerns, although a number of the controversial bills are expected later in this legislative session.
“One the bills we have concerns with (House Bill 2210) has been pushed back to next year,” Ringstaff said. This is the debate on whether or not home-schooled students should be eligible to play on public schools’ athletic teams.
The Cleveland delegation apparently opposed this measure, since it would be difficult to assure students are accountable for classroom requirements. “They’ve kicked it back a year,” said Ringstaff.
Another issue for Ringstaff and Cleveland board members is the ongoing debate on whether or not school directors (superintendents) should be appointed or elected. Local school officials oppose going back to an election of superintendents.
“Only three states in the country now have an election of school superintendents,” Ringstaff said. “That’s only 146 of 15,000 across the nation.”
During one of the discussions Tuesday, Rep. Richard Montgomery upset a number of school board officials when he indicated school boards need to do a better job of evaluating their directors of schools.
Montgomery, chairman of the House Education Committee, is from Sevierville. His statement on evaluating directors did not go well with school officials, since school systems across the state have a stringent evaluation process included in board policy.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman also spoke to school board representatives, said Ringstaff. “He discussed the No Child Left Behind waiver that Tennessee has received, and what it means to us,” Ringstaff said.
“We shared a number of our concerns with Watson, Brooks and Bell,” added the Cleveland director of schools. “Watson doesn’t represent us in the Legislature, but he’s interested in our concerns ... such as House Bill 2210 and the “Save Our Summers” effort.”
“I’m proud of all three legislators,” said Ringstaff. “They fight for us.”
He said another issue is the possibility of changing time-in-school requirements from days to hours. “Now, students are required 180 days. I believe hours would provide a more level playing field.
Another issue is the proposal to allow school board members to attend open meetings via video-conferencing. “With the new technology, this shouldn’t be an issue,” Ringstaff said. “This only makes common sense.”
The director of schools said the city board is opposed to any type of voucher program, and is cautious about charter schools.
Delores Greshman, Senate Education Committee chair from Somerville, also stepped on a few toes when she told school board members that money wasn’t that important to schools.
“The legislators, especially Montgomery and Greshman, made some interesting comments,” Ringstaff said in wrapping up his report on the city school board’s participation in the Day on the Hill.