Home Cherry Hill News Board talks state aid and other issues at five-hour session

Board talks state aid and other issues at five-hour session

Topics included communication audit, new cell phone policy

The Cherry Hill board of education touched on a number of topics during a five-hour meeting on June 11 that included approving the proposed use of reinstated state aid.

Also discussed were updates from a communications audit, bond referendum projects and an overview of the state-mandated English and Language Arts curriculum that will begin in the new school year.

Cellphone/Wireless Communication Device Policy

The board introduced a new policy on first reading to curb the use of cellphones and other wireless devices in classrooms. Member Joel Mayer explained that teachers had requested help on the issue and that both they and students acknowledged the devices are a distraction.

While there are already school district policies in place regarding cell phones, Mayer explained that they do not have the consistency necessary to create change.

“Students who have cell phones or smart watches can still take them to school,” he argued. “We are not requiring them to be placed in … sleeves to prevent cellphone usage. We’re not going to do that. We trust our students.

” … The (proposed) policy will require that during periods of instruction, while a student is in class and a teacher is delivering instruction, that they (students) are not texting on their phone, that they are not using their phone.”

The policy would also prohibit audio and video recording, even when students are permitted to use their devices. Mayer also stressed that for students who use apps on phones because of health conditions or related issues that are documented in a classified Individualized Education Plan (IEP) – or 504 plan – phone use will be permitted.

The second reading of the policy was expected to be voted on Tuesday, June 25.

State aid

Business Administrator Lynn Shugars presented stabilized school budget aid at the meeting that shows how the $3.1 million in state aid reinstatement will be used. The district was projected to lose $6.9 million in aid before the state announced reimbursements. The yes vote on the budget was unanimous.

The reinstated funds will be pay for the following:

  • Items that were originally cut from the budget: $487,627
  • Teacher Salary Guide Enhancement: $1.5 million
  • Enrollment: $480,000
  • Non-recurring costs: $608,853

Reinstated programs included the Cherry Hill West ROTC program, golf at the high school and bowling at the middle and high schools, and positions from the Alternative High School move.

Regarding the salary guide, Superintendent Dr. Kwame Morton noted that the district is behind neighboring school systems in hiring and retaining teachers, and that the infusion of reinstatement funds will make it more competitive.

“Our salary guide rewards longevity,” he explained, “But we’re at a place where clearly we’re not able to attract staff at the earlier stages. We’re losing staff members, we’re losing very good staff members. To maintain some modicum of competitiveness, this has to be addressed.”

Unused reinstated funds will be moved to excess surplus and appropriated in the following year’s budget.

Communications audit

The board also heard a presentation from Jessica Scheckton, a consultant who worked with the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) research team to conduct and present a district communications audit.

The audit consisted of a scope survey that ran from Jan. 29 through Feb. 17 this year and received 1,147 responses from faculty and staff, parents and families and community members. The results showed that “all stakeholder groups felt most informed about school safety (including closings, serious incidents and crises)” and that communication was easy to understand.

Two thirds of parents and employees say they got “the right amount” of information. But concerns about district communications included a perceived “divide” between the two township high schools despite messaging, inconsistency among schools, and misinformation.

Policies recommended by Scheckton included developing a strategic communications plan to include measurable objectives; evaluating, strengthening and expanding communications capacity and infrastructure; focusing on improved internal communications and engagement; and redesigning the district website.

She also recommended streamlining and clarifying communications outflow to reduce information overload and combat misinformation by providing “accurate, easy-to-find information through a variety of communication channels.”

The full June 11 meeting presentation is available on the district YouTube page.

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