School Board begins altering drug test policy

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School Board voted Monday night, July 10, to move forward with plans to contract with a drug-testing firm and begin drug testing students randomly next school year.

The vote placed a policy revision on the agenda for a first reading during the board’s regular meeting Monday evening. The School Board may approve the policy revision after a second reading during its regular meeting on Aug. 14.

Last school year, the district began testing student athletes for drug use. Under the new policy, the district tested every athlete each season. The district administered 624 drug tests, including retests. Eleven tests were positive, and seven of those were for legally prescribed drugs. Four tests showed illegal drug use.

Last month the board talked about using an external professional to conduct the testing and whether it ought to be random and asked Supt. Tom Yahraes to return to the board with different options.

The High School administration, Principal Ralph Brown, Assistant Principal Mark Looney and Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Steve Brown, provided four options,

The first option was to continue testing all of the athletes using district staff, which cost about $10,000 for the tests and staff time for one year.

The second was to begin testing 20 percent of student athletes randomly using district staff. The district estimated the cost at $2,000 for the year.

The third option was to hire an outside company to conduct random tests of 20 percent of student athletes. It would cost about $2,704 for the year.

A fourth option would test 100 percent of students at the beginning of each season and randomly test 10 percent during the season. Administered by district staff, the cost would be $12,000 in direct costs and staff time.

Among the negatives for in-house testing, the High School administrative team listed the district’s sole responsibility and liability for the program. They also listed the significant time, more than 200 hours, of personnel time administering and overseeing the program.

The only negative they listed for the third option was the need to coordinate schedules with the drug-testing company, and they recommended the option based on the potential liability and the cost of labor and materials.

Yahraes said that the percentage of students tested randomly could be adjusted, but testing more would cost more.

“I’m a fan of plan C (randomized testing by an outside company) too,” said Debra Brown, a member of the board. “It’s really not good use of administrator time (to administer drug tests).”

She said that an outside company brings objectivity, and it won’t look like the district is singling out and picking on individual students.

Other board members agreed.

The 200 hours in staff time spent testing is 10 percent of a single employee’s work year, said Jason Redick, board member, but he would like to see the number of students tested boosted to 40 percent. Even then, it would drastically save money.

“We can back it down later if we feel comfortable with it,” Redick said.

Chairman Mike Reynolds said he would like to ensure that all students would remain subject to random testing during the year.

Yahraes told him that’s how it would work. Any student could be selected for random testing even if the student had already been tested.

The board voted 6-0 to hold the first reading. Present and voting yes were Jim Gourley, Redick, Reynolds, Angela Clegg, Babcock and Brown.

Absent were Jason Van Eck, Chanz Keeney and Ben Emmert.

Students who test positive for illegal use of drugs are subject to suspension from games depending, with increasingly longer suspensions for multiple positive tests. They can reduce the length of suspensions by proving they have sought counseling.

“We’re doing more than testing,” Yahraes told the board. “There needs to be an education component.”

He wants to continue working with the schools to find ways to help students who are excluded from the district’s positive programs back into them.

“We want them to get back in the game as quickly as possible,” he said.

In other business, the board:

n Approved a 10-year contract with People Involved in Education to operate the Sweet Home Charter School.

The district and PIE simplified the contract, removing clunky language, Yahraes said. They compromised in several areas to reach agreement.

Key provisions in the contract include an enrollment cap of 252 students in the kindergarten through sixth grade, Yahraes said. The cap begins at the Charter School’s enrollment for October of last year, roughly 150; and it can grow by a maximum of 25 per year.

The new contract continues to require a target of 18 students per classroom, but the contract will allow up to 28 per classroom if necessary, Yahraes said. The previous maximum class size was 25 students.

The district had preferred a 5-year contract, while PIE preferred a 10-year contract, Yahraes said. They agreed to a 10-year contract with a higher level of annual reporting requirements about the school.

n Approved a contract with teachers and salary increases for teachers, administrators and the superintendent.

Teacher and administrator raises are dependent on the size of the state’s education budget, said Kevin Strong. Under the current $8.2 billion budget, each group will receive 3-percent increases in salaries and salary schedules for the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

Had the state budget been lower, the increases would have been 1.5 percent to 2.55 percent.

If the funding changes because the state has a shortfall or a court decision reduces the funding available to the districts, salary increases will be adjusted downward to reflect the change.

Teachers with more than 20 years in the district will receive a $1,000 bonus each year of the contract, and the first four steps of the schedule will be adjusted upward at a higher rate than the overall schedule.

The district is paying $1,060 per month for insurance benefits. Under the new contract, the district will increase its contribution to insurance premiums by $30 per year, $1,090 per month in 2017-18, $1,120 2018-19 and $1,150 in 2019-20.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the increases.

The superintendent will receive the same insurance adjustment.

The board approved an increase in his salary from $115,000 per year to $125,000 per year, an increase of 8.7 percent.

Reynolds and Redick, the vice chairman, met with Yahraes to look at comparable districts.

The average, Reynolds said, is $129,000 per year.

To make Sweet Home competitive, he said, they recommended increasing the salary to $125,000 this year and then to $135,000 the following year, noting that the comparable districts will also increase during that time.

He said that $125,000 was the top of the salary range the district posted last year when it was looking for a new superintendent.

“He deserves to be bumped to that point,” Redick said. He has been done well, including earning his Oregon certification faster than the contract required.

Reynolds said he has had a lot on his plate this year.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the increase. Gourley said he abstained because he had no basis to evaluate the superintendent. Gourley was sworn in Monday evening.

N Adjusted the 2017-18 school calendar to reflect a couple of changes in the teachers’ contract. Instead of Wednesday elementary school early release times of 2:15 p.m. on Wednesdays, they will be 1:30 p.m.

Junior high and high school release times moved earlier in the day too, 2:05 p.m. for the junior high and 2:15 p.m. for high school.

Three scheduled student half days, parent-teacher conference days, Oct. 19, Jan. 25 and April 26, changed to days off for students. Teachers will use that time to prepare for parent-teacher conferences.

n Hired Kristi Walker, project director, health services; Tiffany Bolman, math teacher at Sweet Home Junior High; Joni Nortune, math teacher at SHJH; Sarah Lynn, half-time social studies, SHJH; Lana Holden, language arts, SHJH; Kathy Parsons, special education, SHJH; Logan Geissler, fifth and sixth grade, Oak Heights; Austin Hart, vocational education, SHHS; Misty Triplett, special education, SHHS; and Daniel Young, language arts, SHHS. Holden and Lynn already teach in the district but are moving to new positions.

n Accepted resignations from Kenna Feakin, sixth grade, Hawthorne; and Jennifer Sedlock, director of Student Services.

n Appointed current board officers to continue in their positions, with Reynolds as chairman, Redick as vice chairman and Clegg as secretary.

n Formally voted to sell $4 million in general obligation bonds.

The bonds will be used on minor security and infrastructure projects around the district and a major remodel of Sweet Home Junior High.

The $4 million will be matched by a $4 million grant from the State of Oregon.

n Approved the donation of a redwood log by Jack Schmidt to the high school for use in student projects.