Okeechobee County School Board swears in new members; approves teacher raises

OKEECHOBEE — At their meeting held on Nov. 20 the Okeechobee County School Board swore in three members who were elected this year. Jill Holcomb and Joe Arnold were re-elected during the primaries while Melisa Jahner was elected in November, replacing Dixie Ball representing district three.

The trio were swore in by Judge William Hendry who spoke briefly before the ceremony and gave the three members advice about the hard decisions they would be making throughout their time on the board. Judge Hendry told the story of how the Okeechobee County School Board in 1933 faced the tough choice of closing school for that year after a hurricane destroyed and damaged much of the school buildings.

From left to right school board members Jill Holcomb, Melisa Jahner and Joe Arnold are swore in before the board’s meeting on Nov. 20. Photo by Richard Marion.

“I just wanted to point out that decisions aren’t always simple,” said Judge Hendry. “That had to be a heart wrenching decision to make for them, to close all the schools in the county. As board members you’re going to face tough decisions like that and some of you I’m sure already have.”

The board reorganized and elected their chairperson and vice chairperson. Jill Holcomb was chosen to continue in her duties as chairperson while Amanda Riedel was chosen as vice chairperson, replacing Dixie Ball.

The school board also ratified a new contract for instructional staff for the 2018-19 school year. The Okeechobee County Education Association (OCEA), the bargaining unit representing teachers in Okeechobee, had already ratified the agreement on their end in a Nov. 8 vote. OCEA members voted 210 for and 25 against. All school board members approved of the new contract.

In the new agreement all instructional employees will receive a $200 cost of living adjustment, while employees with an effective evaluation will receive an additional $800 totaling $1,000. Highly effective employees receive a $200 cost of living adjustment and a $1,200 increase.

The school board also adopted a policy regarding religious expression in school as required by Florida statute 1002.206.

The policy now states the Okeechobee County School District may not prevent school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students and at reasonable times before or after the school day. The activities must be voluntary and cannot conflict with the normal responsibility and assignments of the personnel.

The Okeechobee County School Board also recognized Elizabeth Stanley who is retiring after 37 years of service to the district. During her time as a teacher Mrs. Stanley taught at every elementary school in Okeechobee. Photo by Richard Marion.

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