Unacceptable Conduct

As I watched the school board meeting blast night I was reminded of the often used idiom about the trees getting in the way of the forest.  Readers of this blog will recall that I, and many others, opposed the 12th high school.  We opposed the school for multiple reasons, which we painfully and carefully explained in detail here, in letters to the editor of local newspapers,  and in public comments to the school board.

Our reasons included:

  • that the school’s only street access will be from a highway;
  • that the school bumps against an active dump that spews highly flammable methane gas;
  • that lacrosse fields located adjacent to what will be the school’s PE fields have had to close due to heath concerns resulting for decomposing partially digested mice and rats pulled from the dump by birds and contamination from airborne bird feces;
  • that the school is no where near the population centers in the county or the schools that are overcrowded by in area enrollment;
  • that the school will be  yet another 100% bus school;
  • that the school  included a pool two pools that weren’t disclosed anywhere in the CIP or PWCS web site until a few months before the project was set to go out to bid, and then, only when private citizens disclosed their existence in comments to the school board, and;
  • that the school included a black box theater and orchestra lift which weren’t disclosed by PWCS to the public or school board until just before the bids were awarded.

This project was shrouded in secrecy by PWCS from the beginning, perhaps deliberately.

Last night it became evident that several school board members weren’t paying attention during the debate over the 12th high school and clearly have no idea why people were opposed the 12th high school.

Just a reminder for those school board members – you’re reviewing the designs for the 13th high school, now, because the school division misled the public and the school board about what was included in the 12th high school.  That debacle resulted in the quagmire of mistrust in which you presently find yourselves.

The opposition to the 12th high school wasn’t about whether it should have used the less expensive Battlefield / Freedom design or the more expensive Patriot design.  It was about all the stuff that was included in the 12th high school that no one in the school division wanted to admit was there until they were forced to do so.

While $18 million may seem like a drop in the bucket, it’s roughly the cost of a 10 room addition.  PWCS could have built Patriot with the Battlefield / Freedom design AND put an addition on Brentsville that would have provided enough seats that Patriot and Battlefield wouldn’t be looking at being more than 30% overcapacity in the next school year.  With that in place, PWCS might have been able to delay the 12th high school a few years and put that money into renovating the older high schools in the county so that they’re more in line with 21st Century learning strategies.

One more thing.

I recognize that some school board members are playing political games with their comments that are dripping with derision and contempt.  I find that attitude unacceptable from an individual elected to stand for and advocate on behalf of our children.  Our citizens and children deserve better than that.  School board members who find themselves incapable of avoiding such games ought to resign so that candidates who are worthy of our children can be elected to fill their places.

What’s $30 Million Among Friends?

At last night’s BOCS meeting, Supervisor Pete Candland mentioned some savings PWCS had carried forward.  The savings he noted ranged from $8 million in the 2010 school year to nearly $31 million in the 2014 school year.  Supervisor Candland said he wouldn’t stake his life on the numbers, but that’s what it looked like to him.

He’s right.

In January of 2010 PWCS reported “savings” of $8,249,361 in their 2nd quarter budget update.  $8 million of that was carried forward to the 2011 school year.

This January PWCS reported “savings” of $30,826,526 in their 2nd quarter budget update.  $27.8 million of that was carried forward to the Construction Fund for capital improvements and $1.1 million was carried forward to pay for technology improvements.

These savings aren’t the entirety of what is carried forward by PWCS each year.  These savings are just the school division’s projections in January of what things will look like at the end of the school year in June.  The actual savings that are carried forward at the end of the year are usually greater.

What is carry forward?  By statute, because they’re funded by taxes received from citizens, school divisions are not allowed to have any money left over at the end of the year.  That means that any money that is left over at the end of the year has to be allocated, or carried forward, to the next year or subsequent years. It means that throughout the year the school division assesses spending, calculates what will likely be left over at the end of the year, and carries any excess forward to other funds or the next school year.

Some of the expense categories that resulted in “savings” have been adjusted, so, presumably the savings that are carried forward in the next few years won’t be as much as they were this year.

However, when you have from $8 million to $30 million in savings that you can carry forward to subsequent years, and that money primarily comes from 4 places – under budgeted revenues, over budgeted reserve expenses, over budgeted utilities expenses, and over budgeted compensation expenses – it is difficult to accept that there isn’t enough money to reduce class sizes beyond the 1 student in math in 6th grade that is contained in the FY 2015 budget.

Don’t take my word for it, look and see for yourself.

This file contains the 2nd quarter budget updates from 2010 ===>Q2Updates-2.  These are the actual updates from the PWCS web site.

The chart below is all of those updates conveniently typed into one chart.  The cells highlighted in yellow are the amounts being carried forward.  The columns are in reverse chronological order, so they start with 2014 and go back to 2010.

2nd Qtr Updates


Sorry Sheriff, But I Disagree

Followers of local blogs in PWC are familiar with the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Like many, I’m a huge fan of the Sheriff.  I’m jealous of his vocabulary, contacts, and his witty writing style.  I’m so boring I put myself to sleep!

The Sheriff recently posted an article that appears to imply that the class size issue in this county could be resolved simply by readjusting school boundaries.  He questioned the school division’s much maligned $15 million per pupil per school figure for reducing class sizes (see here ===>Does Class Size Reduction Really Cost $15 Million Per Student? The Short Answer: NO — That is a Lie!).

It pains me to say this, Sheriff, but I disagree.


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PWCS Can Find Money for Cars, But Not To Reduce Class Sizes

At the March 19, 2013 School Board meeting, the board approved the budget for the 2014 – 2015 school year.  The budget provides for limited class size reductions in 6th grade, a 3% salary increase for faculty and staff (of which 2% is from PWCS and 1% is from the state and will go directly back out to pay for a 1% increase in VRS contribution rates), and a step increase for faculty and staff at Step 1.  Health insurance costs will increase 4% for faculty and staff.

Many of you will recall that this fall the Superintendent provided a plan for reducing class sizes in three grade levels – kindergarten, 6th grade, and 9th grade.  This plan was developed at the request of the School Board based on their expressed opinions that reducing class sizes at the “transition” points would produce the greatest results.  The total projected cost of this plan was $3,563,323, which would have added 40.2 new teachers (cost $3,143,883), 3 new professional development coaches (cost $244,440), and additional funding for conferences (cost $175,000) {see full plan here ===>Class Size Reduction}.

The Superintendent’s budget for the 2014 – 2015 school year only funded class size reductions in 6th grade.  Gil Trenum and Alyson Satterwhite presented a plan last night that would have adjusted the Superintendent’s proposed budget and funded the two additional pieces of the class size reduction plan, increased allocations to schools by $3 per pupil, and provided funding for replacing the tracks at Gar-field and OP.  That plan could only garner the support of three school board members – Gil Trenum, Alyson Satterwhite, and Lisa Bell.

What was in this plan, that only three school board members could support?

I was on the Gainesville / Brentsville District Budget committee and will share what we developed for Gil and Alyson that formed the basis for the plan. (please see UPDATE at the end of the article for clarifications and corrections).

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PWCS Money Bomb…

images Last night’s BOCS meeting was must see TV.  What with the shouting and name calling, it was better than a WWE match. Since I have no interest in seeing our BOCS members in wrestling clothes, I’d like to suggest that in the future the BOCS hire The Rock and Hulk Hogan to glare at one another and pound their chests during contentions moments.  Imagine the ratings bonanza!

So what caused all the chest thumping and growling?  Setting the advertised tax rate and the school division’s budget.  Thrilling stuff, isn’t it!

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Budget Busters…

This year I have the pleasure of serving, again, on the Gainesville / Brentsville District budget committee.  The people serving on this committee, who all volunteered to spend several hours almost every Sunday night examining the school division’s budget and even more time reviewing the budget in advance of the Sunday meetings,  amaze me.  We are teachers, nurses, CPAs, CFA,s engineers, lawyers, and Moms and Dads.  We come from all walks of political life – conservatives, liberals, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, and gosh darned independents.  The one tie that binds us is our commitment to our public schools.  We may not agree on any other political issues, but we all agree that our teachers and our children’s classrooms have been stretched beyond the breaking point.  We willingly volunteer hours of our personal time to try to find the pennies that may have been missed that might help our teachers and our classrooms.

Those of you who follow this blog know that we struggled a bit last year with some of the answers we got from school division staff.  Some of the budget lines seemed odd to us, with projections that had little relationship to the past actuals.  I was worried that we’d encounter more of the same this year.

We haven’t.  In fact, we’ve found the opposite.

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Willful Ignorance Is Not A Desired Trait For Elected Officials

Last week, by majority vote, PWC School Board chose to send a letter to Governor McAuliffe asking him to allow Virginia to remain independent from the Common Core State Standards initiative.  The vote was close, with 4 in favor of sending the letter (Trenum, Johns, Satterwhite, and Otaigbe) 3 against sending the letter (Bell, Jessie, and Williams), and one abstaining from voting (Covington).  Several school board members stated that they didn’t know enough about the Common Core to vote either way.  (Bell, Williams, and Covington).

I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised that individuals elected to the school board for our county wouldn’t know much about the Common Core. The Common Core first burst onto the US stage in 2009 and have been one of the biggest issues in public education since then, so I found their lack of knowledge more than a little concerning.

I believe elected officials have a responsibility to research issues before them, rather than rely solely on reports from staff.  School board members aren’t elected to blindly nod their heads at everything staff says or suggests.  Staff will present whatever information supports their viewpoint.  I expect elected officials to view staff’s assertions with a degree of professional skepticism and to do their own research, particularly if the issue before them is controversial.  If they’re unwilling or unable to do that, then I question why they’re serving.

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