West Virginia Politics WV Elections 2024

#166-Interview with James Southern-Candidate for Board of Education-Jefferson County-West Virginia

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Central Office Staff Salaries and Education Issues
Richard and James discussed the issue of Central Office staff and their salaries. James, a candidate for the Jefferson County Board of Education, expressed concerns about the high cost of salaries at the Central Office, which he believes is a common issue in school systems. He mentioned that many of these positions are making more money than the average teacher, with some getting a yearly bonus of up to $20,000.  James gave his background, including his 13 years as a teacher and his current job as a cyber security contractor for the Department of the Interior.
Budget Allocation for Public Schools
Richard and James discussed the budget, specifically the allocation for public schools. They highlighted that a significant portion of property tax goes to schools, with 40% of that being the ‘excess levy’. They also addressed the increasing threat of ransomware attacks on school systems and identified teacher recruitment and retention as the most critical challenge facing their county. The conversation revolved around the need for more transparency in the distribution of the excess levy, with James explaining that the levy funds not only teacher salaries but also local libraries and other non-core classroom positions.  Richard replied that classroom teachers get no more than a 2 percent bonus from the $17 million dollar annual levy funds. James pointed out that WV Legislature bills to institute locality pay are blocked due to concerns over inequality between counties. Richard and James both agreed on the need to educate taxpayers on what the levy funds to help them make informed decisions.
Educational Bonuses and Levy Funds
Richard and James discussed the recent voting of bonuses, referred to as stipends, for educational employees. They clarified that these bonuses could reach up to $20,000, and they were paid from the excess levy funds.  James added that the levy covers many athletic coaching positions. James committed to researching the specific allocation of levy funds, and Richard repeated that the use of these levy funds is not transparent. They also touched on the topic of the increased pay for two athletic directors that came up at a recent Board of Education meeting where the budget was discussed and the absence of schools from the state checkbook system of expense tracking.
Addressing School Discipline and Classroom Management
Richard and James discussed the issue of school discipline and classroom management. Richard expressed concerns about schools’ reluctance to take disciplinary action due to fear of negative repercussions from administrative reporting to the state education department. James highlighted that support from administration is crucial for teachers to enforce discipline policies effectively. He further pointed out that most discipline issues arise from classroom management problems and suggested providing training and mentorship for teachers, especially younger ones, to improve their classroom management skills.
Family Breakdown, Education, and Abstinence Programs
Richard and James discussed the impact of family breakdown on society and its implications for education. James expressed concern about the breakdown of the family and that when parents read to them, that is helpful.  He also mentioned that parents can use tips about issues like parents monitoring screen time.  Richard mentioned that federal standards and grants for abstinence education have shown benefits for youth. James stated he could not say if the standard of abstinence from sex before marriage should be emphasized, as parents would have rights in that area, first and foremost.  He mentioned that curricula are approved at the state level, although the standards set at the state level for sexual health education for West Virginia are very vague.
Transparency and Community Involvement in Schools
The importance of community involvement in schools, with James suggesting that schools should advertise their activities more to engage with the community.
School Board Election and Reforms
James emphasized his unique experience in teaching, parenting, and cybersecurity, and his commitment to enhancing the school system’s cybersecurity.  James has a child in the school system. The two compared their school district with Kanawha County,  which has twice as many students by only a few more central office staff.   James said central office staffing needs to be looked at.  James indicated that he has mixed feelings about the Hope Scholarship program.

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