City school board debates Blazing Stars contracts

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

January 8, 2014

Administrators’ request that the Clinton City Board of Education approve three contracts for the Blazing Stars Academy, the city school system’s after-school program, turned into an, at times, heated discussion as to how the program should be staffed, with school board members debating whether or not contracting with outside sources was the best option.

Two of the three Blazing Stars contracts presented to the school board during a meeting Tuesday night were with Jackie Johnson of Mop Top Shop, Inc. out of Raleigh for providing “science, technology, language arts, reading , music, and art enrichment programming” which, according to the contract, would include “Mop Top Shop Storytime” and hands-on activities in robotics, horticulture, clay and digital animation, book and paper-making, and visits from “Mop Top, the Hip-Hop Scientist.”

One of the contracts with Johnson was for services at L.C. Kerr Elementary School from January to June 2014 while the other was for services at Butler Avenue School and Sunset Avenue School from January to August 2014.

The third contract presented was for artist Robert Hall of Hall’s Originals out of Rose Hill to provide art instruction that includes “personal discipline, self esteem, understanding different prospectives of the arts, and learning color and the use of different techniques” at both Butler Avenue School and Sunset Avenue School from January to May 2014.

“I don’t understand why we’re importing from the outside instead of using resources we have here,” said school board member Diane Viser, looking over the contracts.

Acknowledging that the administration would use the system’s own teachers and instructors, Terrace Miller, assistant superintendent for student services and federal programs, noted that “time is our biggest enemy.”

“This is what they (the independent contractors) do for a living so they have time to plan,” she explained. “There are a lot of things these people do that our teachers could do but it would require a lot of time. It’s not to say they (the system’s teachers) aren’t capable but this company (talking specifically about Mop Top Shop, Inc.) does this for a living.”

Miller also pointed out that the independent contractors are approved by the state’s Department of Public Instruction and provide all their own materials and supplies.

“For this amount of money, we could use our own,” replied Viser, expressing concern about how much payment the contractors would receive if the school board voted to approve their contracts. She specifically compared the $600 that Hall would receive per month for instructing one-hour art classes for four days per month to what the system’s teachers are paid.

“I think it devalues our teachers. They get a rate of pay that’s so much less,” she said, noting that instructors with the Blazing Stars Academy and the system’s teachers are working side-by-side but “these certified, professional, licensed teachers make $20, $25, $30 (hourly) and these others make so much more.”

“I’m not on board with this at all,” Viser continued, also wondering about the contractors’ credentials. “Is he (Hall) an art teacher?”

“He’s a professional artist,” answered Miller, adding that Hall had been associated with the Blazing Stars Academy for a number of years.

“But is he a teacher,” Viser asked. “I’ve never see his name before.”

Fellow school board member Carol Worley remarked that she had attended a workshop where Mop Top Shop, Inc. information was provided and that she was “highly impressed,” sharing that she was “fully supportive” of bringing the program to the city schools. She also noted that she knew of Hall, having seen his art work, and described him as “a very good artist.”

“I don’t see why we’re gripping about it,” interjected school board vice chairman E.R. Mason. “We need to go ahead and approve the contracts and keep Blazing Stars going. We’re cutting our throats by not doing this,” he asserted, stressing that “you don’t cut off something in the middle of the season.”

“DPI is not going to approve something that’s not worthy,” he added. “It sounds like you don’t like Blazing Stars.”

School board chairwoman Georgina Zeng quickly assured Mason that the school board was supportive of the after-school program but agreed that “we’re really concerned about the money going out of our system.”

She questioned whether or not the positions with the after-school program had been offered to Clinton City teachers.

Miller informed that advertisements for the positions had been posted in the newspaper and that applications were open to all. “We have no problem with hiring our own teachers but if they don’t apply…”

“Mr. Blount, what do you think of it. You’re the superintendent,” Mason said.

Superintendent Stuart Blount agreed that “Blazing Stars does provide a service for our schools” and suggested that “where we can continue to improve is to explain the process to our teachers.” He explained that the payment the independent contractors would receive, if the contracts were approved, was based on what they would make offering their services in the private sector.

Blount also suggested revisiting the grant which funds the after-school program, paying special attention to the application and the grant’s requirements in order to determine if using the system’s own personnel in the future, provided there is interest, is a possibility and will not conflict with obligations that the system has to the grant.

“Our concern is what is best for our kids and our system,” assured Zeng, pointing out that many of the system’s teachers are young and creative and that there are many in the community who are retired teachers who might be interested in working in the after-school program. “I want our teachers to be a part of this. We have a lot of talent in our system.”

At Viser’s request, the school board voted on the three contracts separately.

Mason made a motion to approve the contract with Mop Top Shop, Inc. for services at L.C. Kerr which was seconded by Worley and passed with a unanimous vote. The motion, the second, and the unanimous vote were repeated verbatim for the second contract with Mop Top Shop, Inc. for services at Butler Avenue and Sunset Avenue.

Mason also made a motion to approve the contract with Hall for services at Butler Avenue and Sunset Avenue; Worley provided the needed second. The vote passed 4-2, with Viser and Zeng opposing.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at