Drug testing at Taylor Schools on hold

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By James Roberts

Unless finances improve, Taylor County students won't be tested for drug use this year.

During the Taylor County School Board's regular meeting Tuesday night, Board members unanimously voted to table drug testing indefinitely. In making his motion, Board member Bernie Cave cited the statewide budget crunch.

"I move we table this indefinitely until the financial crisis is over," Cave said.

The process began a year ago in May when Taylor County High teacher and school culture committee member Debbie Hinton asked the Board to consider a random drug testing policy.

"Research has shown that random drug testing has diminished drug use in middle and high schools - up to 85 percent," Hinton said last May.

In addition, she said, the possibility of being tested gives students an easy way to say no to peer pressure.

In April, the Board approved a random drug testing policy.

Under the policy, students who participate in extracurricular activities would be subject to random drug tests four times a year. This includes athletics, school clubs, band, chorus and cheerleading, as well as students who drive themselves to school.

According to the Kentucky School Board Association, as long as a student does not violate another school rule, a student who tests positive for drugs will not face school discipline and will not have their grades or academic standing affected. That rule applies to all Kentucky schools that have a drug testing policy.

Legal repercussions would only occur if a student has drugs in his or her possession at school.

However, the process hit a snag in June, when the Board ordered the drug testing committee to reconvene.

The committee had only discussed the policy with Russell Springs-based Premier Drug Testing, Board Chairman Tony Davis said, before recommending that company to the Board in April.

"The Committee should have interviewed more than one," Davis said. "You need to let everybody at least have some input."

Local company Bluegrass Drug & Alcohol Testing did not get the opportunity to discuss its services with the Committee.

Jody Harmon, who owns Bluegrass Drug & Alcohol Testing, attended the Board's April meeting and asked to be considered. Bluegrass Drug & Alcohol Testing does conduct drug screenings for the District's transportation department.

Though the item sparked no discussion Tuesday, Superintendent Gary Seaborne and Finance Officer Marci Close did discuss the budget crunch during their 2007-2008 financial report.

"We're looking at a year where we are going to have to be frugal," Close said.

Seaborne told the Board that school districts didn't get the usual amount of state funding, which is forcing everyone to cut back. In addition to tabling drug testing, the District cut 23 jobs and scaled back extra service hours.

After tabling the extra service salary schedule in June, the Board approved it on Tuesday. On average, workdays were reduced two days to 240. The athletics director's salary was cut $500 while the middle school omitted a dance coach position and the football program lost an assistant coach. The band director's position received the biggest cut in days from 242 to 215.

Also on the agenda:

- The Board approved school lunch bids and also accepted Food Service Director Gertie Graves' new lunch prices. All prices for students increased 25 cents. At the elementary school, lunch prices are now $1.50, while breakfast will cost $1. At the middle and high schools lunch is $1.75, while breakfast is $1. Adult school lunch prices increased 50 cents to $2.50 and breakfast increased 25 cents to $1.25.

- The Board reviewed state-mandated changes to the Exceptional Child Education procedures which include preventing "over identification" of special needs children by race or ethnicity and ensuring that prior to referral to the special education program, each child is provided appropriate instruction in a regular classroom. No vote was necessary.

- Special Education Director Tracy Sharp unveiled a plaque of Thomas Wayne Porter, a Taylor County Elementary student who died last August. He was the grandson of Board member Gary Porter. The plaque will be displayed near a new handicapped-accessible walkway leading from TCES to the track.

- The Board approved the teacher certification application process, which allows the District to hire a non-certified teacher in emergency situations. Those teachers would remain on a probationary status until they earn their certification.

- The monthly personnel report included:

Resignations - John "Bam" Carney, assistant boys' basketball coach.

New hires - Angela Graham, eighth-grade social studies teacher; Keith Murphy, Gary Hunt, Kim Farmer and Mitchell Clark, bus drivers; Natalia Gowen, freshman assistant girls' basketball coach; Shannon Wathen, junior varsity assistant girls' basketball coach; Chasity Wright, TCHS head cheerleader coach; Jason England, TCHS tennis coach; Dianne Harris, TCHS assistant principal; Candice Gilpin, special education teacher; and Lisa VanMeter, exceptional education/support secretary.

Retirement - Susan Blevins, TCHS math teacher.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.