St. Mary’s Public Schools Superintendent Scott Smith was approved for a new four-year contract by the school board on Feb. 22. Details of the contract were not available, but Smith’s 2019 contract paid him $225,000 with raises slated for future years. 

During the board meeting, Smith noted this is his ninth year in the job. 

“Thank you for considering another four years on this crazy ride,” board chair Karin Bailey said. Noting that it was Bailey’s birthday, Smith replied, “The gift is four more years of me.” He added, “It’s been the great pleasure of my life.” 

Superintendent Scott Smith addresses the school board on Feb. 22. Credit: Screenshot by Caleb M. Soptelean

Bailey thanked Scott’s wife Michelle for sharing him with the school system. Bailey said Smith hasn’t had an uninterrupted vacation since he started. 

Chief of Staff Dale Farrell updated the school board about numerous vacancies that still exist, including three administrative, eight mid-level such as elementary principal and 19 teaching positions.  In addition to the latter, there are openings for seven paraeducators, two school psychologists, two school bus drivers and one bus driver assistant. 

Somewhat good-naturedly, Smith told the local navy base and its civilian contractors to stop poaching its employees. 

School board member Jim Davis noted these shortages exist when school enrollment numbers are down. 

“If [federal] sequestration hits and the budget goes sideways, there are 1,600 kids that are on some version of home instruction,” Smith said. “If they all came back at the same time, we’d all be teaching in a classroom.” 

“A lot of people … decided to join the base,” board vice chair Cathy Allen said. “If the [federal] government shuts down and you don’t get paid and you’ve lost your teaching certificate … you need to really consider what you’re leaving and you’re potentially losing.” 

Manasa Iswara, a student board member and Leonardtown High School student, said she’s witnessed the impact of teachers leaving. It’s “really frustrating,” she said, “when we all are sitting in the auditorium or cafeteria because there’s not enough subs.” 

“It’s disheartening to see less and less of them are staying or returning,” Iswara said of teachers. For those considering leaving the profession, “You matter to students,” she said. 

Smith noted the school administration will meet with the St. Mary’s County commissioners in the afternoon of Feb. 28 for a budget workshop. He said the system is requesting $8.5 million more in local funding than the $130 million the commissioners approved last year. 

“The [Maryland] Blueprint [for Education] has created a wage war, and we need to be given the tools to fight the battle,” he said, noting that the commissioners are under no legal obligation to increase their funding. 

Smith noted that a teacher job fair will be held March 25. In addition, the school system will unveil a new website on March 3. 

In other news, the school board heard from three representatives of Chesapeake Public Charter School, which also is dealing with a loss of teachers. 

Chesapeake Public Charter School officials address the St. Mary’s school board. From left are Sandra Imbriale, Angela Funya and Kevin Emerson. Credit: Screenshot by Caleb M. Soptelean

“We’ve seen a lot of turnover in the last six months … to two years,” Bailey said. “It’s been a challenge,” said Sandra Imbriale, the charter school’s education director.  

She noted that the school implemented a lot of teachers’ suggestions, but said “a lot of people left mid-year … a lot have needed support in the classroom.” 

She said a number of student teachers started during the pandemic. “Getting kids to be quiet was muting a button,” she said. “It’s much more than that when you’re face-to-face.” 

Smith noted the capacity of the grades K-8 charter school has grown methodically over time. 

A lottery was implemented to increase the number of economically-disadvantaged students. From 2021-22 to 2022-23, the percentage of white students decreased from 71% to 66%, while black students increased from 11% to 13%, Asians went from 3% to 4% and Hispanics from 4% to 5%. The percentage of special education students dropped from 12% to 11%. 

Charter Director Angela Funya said the school can legally weight the lottery to attract more economically-disadvantaged students. That number increased this year from 18% to 23%. That number can go as high as 33% according to state law, she said. 

The student population includes 34% from Lexington Park and 13% from Great Mills, she said. 

The number of students will go from 520 this year to 540 next year in the final year of an enrollment expansion. 

“We will not be having a high school,” Funya said, noting she gets asked that question a lot. 

“Most charter schools fail within the first few years for a variety of reasons,” board member Mary Washington said. “You are a model for the state of a public charter school.”

The board’s next meeting is 9 a.m. March 8. 

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