School Board & BOCS Report – August 6, 2013 Dinner

Below are my notes from the August 6th dinner between the Board of County Supervisors and School Board.  These are my notes – unless noted nothing here is verbatim.  If I misrepresent anyone’s statements, I apologize and invite them to correct or clarify what I’ve reported here.

***
All School Board Representatives and Board of County Supervisors were in attendance, except for School Board Representative Gil Trenum.  Mr. Trenum was on active duty with his reserve unit and could not attend.  He did send a letter to every School Board Representative and County Supervisor expressing his opinion on the pool issue.  I will attach that letter as soon as I get a copy of it.

School Board Chairman Johns began the meeting with the presentation given to the school board by PWCS and Moseley Architects on June 5,  2013. Chairman Johns then opened the meeting to questions or comments.

Supervisor Princippi asked if the pool would be available to private clubs because his daughter swims with a year round club and has to practice at 3:45 in the morning.  He also asked if a needs assessment had been done.   Chairman Johns said it would be open to private clubs.  Tracy Hannigan, Recreation Director for PWC Parks and Recreation, reported  there was a needs assessment completed in 2006 that indicated we needed more swim lanes and that the need has grown since then.

Supervisor Candland asked if they would confirm that the operating and maintenance costs were estimated to be $800,000 and year.  Chairman Johns confirmed that $700,000 – $800,000 was their estimate based on Chinn’s operating costs.

Supervisor Candland asked about whether they could open the pool to the public during the school day when children were using it for swimming lessons and other school sponsored activities.  Chairman Johns said that the school division didn’t think the pool could be open to the public during the school day because of safety concerns with students, but that it would be open to the public when high school swim teams were having practice.

Supervisor Candland questioned whether the school division could meet it’s projected 70 – 100% fee recapture if it was closed to an extent during the day.  No coherent answer was provided to this question.  School Superintendent Steve Walts said that schools in other areas of the country provide pools and they have swimming programs as part of their core instructional program.

Supervisor Candland asked about special needs students and “free” education.  Superintendent Walts said that swimming and therapy for special needs students would be “free” just like it is for other students.

Supervisor Jenkins talked about how they’d created a special district when they built Dale City and suggested that the private swim clubs could do that so that they’d have their swimming pool rather than the school division doing it.

Superintendent Walts said that the pool was in the CIP now and had been for years and noted that the school board and BOCS had approved the past CIPs.  He said the county has a deficiency of swimming facilities and that the school division had to step in since kids are attending swimming at 4 in the morning because that’s the only time the lanes are available.  He said a pool could provide economic benefits to the county as parents would stay at hotels in the area and eat at restaurants in the area when we host big meets.

Supervisor Marty Nohe said we’ve had an issue with inadequate swimming facilities for years.  He said there are three scenarios – the pool gets built at the school, the pool gets built at another location, or no pool gets built.  He said there seems to be agreement that our community needs a pool,  and asked “what is the benefit of having the pool be a school division pool versus a parks and recreation pool”?  He noted that he’d have a hard time supporting the county, through parks and recreation, doing the pool without more information about the design and something to contrast it with.

Superintendent Walts said the instructional piece, which will prevent drowning, was the biggest benefit.  Chairman Johns said that the school division felt it had to act since the county hadn’t expanded Chinn or done anything else.

Recreation Services Director Hannigan said that parks and recreation had been closely consulting and advising the school division on the design for the pool since January.

Supervisor Jenkins brought up the analysis from the 2006 bond referendum and handed it out to everyone.  He noted that the county deliberately chose to expand Chinn because it’s used most frequently by county residents and is the most accessible location.  He pointed out all of the research and community input that was gathered before that referendum.

Someone asked how much money remained from the 2006 bond referendum.  County Chief Executive Melissa Peacor indicated that she didn’t recall.  Supervisor Candland  distributed a document prepared by the Chief Executive’s office on July 31, 2013 that indicated that $14 million in bonds from the 2006 referendum was still available from the parks and recreation portion {see this article for that document}.

BOCS Chairman Stewart noted that the school board was split and asked what it would take to make the no votes yes votes.

School Board Representative Steve Keen said he’s mostly opposed to the pool.  He said that based on the research done in 2006, one more pool won’t be anywhere near adequate.  He said if the intent was to provide swimming lessons to all of our students, then one pool wouldn’t be enough.   He said that once this pool gets built at the 12th high school there will be a cry from every other school in the county for them to have pools as well. He said he needs to see the long term plan for this and whether this is the start of something bigger.  He said if it’s something bigger then it needs to have an actual plan behind it and needs to go to the voters for approval.  He said he doesn’t trust the BOCS to live up to its promises on funding the school division because they keep changing what they say they’ll provide.  He noted that the 5-year plan was a large part of the reason the credit reporting agencies have given PWCS such a high rating, but that the 5 year plan has become more of a 1 year plan as it has no validity beyond one year and the BOCS never gives the school division what they say they will.

School Board Representative Alyson Satterwhite said she’s opposed to the school division building the pool.  She noted class sizes and having to beg for sufficient funding for teachers and supplies and classrooms.  She noted that this year the school division cut the budgets to our schools, canceled popular programs, and laid off teachers because of budgetary issues.  She said it was inexcusable for them to be having this meeting now – that it should have happened months ago.  She said from her perspective, we need a pool but the school division can’t afford it and said if the BOCS built it with the bonds from Chinn or other bonds AND operated and maintained it, then she’d be fine with it.  She noted that the school division would be subsidizing the pool because they’d use the designs PWCS paid for, the parking lot PWCS built and will maintain, will use the school division’s on site security, and will use the school’s physical plant.

Supervisor Wally Covington said this whole thing was like “a pig in a poke”.  He said it hasn’t been well thought out or planned and communicated properly.  He said if the BOCS is going to take this on then they should have a comparison between the cost and benefits derived from expanding Chinn and the cost and benefits derived from building the school pool.  He said they should investigate the deal with Dr Hill at NVCC in more detail because the deal with Freedom is a great one and if we can duplicate that with NVCC then maybe we ought to do that instead.  He said meetings between the school division and county should have been reported to them and that the secrecy about the pool wasn’t the way things should have been done.  He said decisions about funding and responsibility should have been made months ago.

Chairman Stewart said he knows we’ve needed more pool space but that adding on to Chinn “wouldn’t be sufficient to meet community needs”.  He said we have to do what’s most cost effective.  He asked if the school pool can be part of the solution and again asked what it would take for the no’s to be yeses.

Supervisor Nohe reiterated that he’s not ready to say that the school pool is the best solution for the county as a whole if they have to pay for it on their side.  He said he agreed with Supervisor Covington that he’d need a cost / benefit analysis for Chinn or something else versus the school pool to even consider that.

School Board Representative Dr Michael Otaigbe said that he thinks the pool is a wonderful thing for the children.  He said we came up with the Governor’s school when we realized that we were sending our best and brightest out of the county to TJ for STEM education.  He challenged everyone in the room and said “our children need this”.  “We are one of the most wealthy county’s in the country.  We should be able to tell our children that they will be able to swim when they graduate from high school!”

School Board Representative Lille Jessie said she was shocked that the school division was even talking about a pool and noted the desperate need to reduce class sizes, increase teacher pay, and improve teacher and staff professional development.  She then said that when she was a child, African Americans weren’t allowed in the community pool, that her recreation was watching other children swim.  She said that she always considered swimmers kind of elitist, but that when her family moved here and became middle class, they made sure their children could swim.  She said that to them it was a sign that they’d made it and were equals with the other middle class families.  She said that as a school principal she’s realized that children all learn differently and all excel at different things.  That some children are gifted in art, others in spacial things, and others are gifted physically.  She said some children only come to school because of PE, and, because of that, she supports the school pool. She said that surprised her, but it was what she realized she believed when she thought it through.

Chairman Johns said he supported the pool.  He noted that the contract will come up for a vote in December or January and that the pool will be an option.  He said that from his perspective, the pool is an opportunity for both boards to work together and create a joint public / public partnership.

Chairman Stewart said I get your concerns but need to know what needs to be done to make this happen.

School Board Representative Keen reiterated his request that the BOCS give the school division the money we need, even if you have to raise taxes to do it.  If you won’t pay for it then say so.  Your word has to mean something.

School Board Representative Betty Covington said that she thinks swimming is a lifelong skill, that senior citizens are still swimming later in life but aren’t playing baseball or football, and that the pools needs to be built.  She said the central location of the 12th high school makes including swimming in the core curriculum easier.  She noted the mother and child who drowned in Lake Montclair this summer and said  a swimming program in the schools might have prevented that.  She said we need to figure out how to pay for the pool and need to work together on that.

School Board Representative Satterwhite spoke up again and said we come before you every year on the budget.  She said that the cuts they made to schools this year affected instruction.  She said a 1 student per classroom reduction is minimal, but it’s a start and is one less student a teacher has to worry about.  She  said if PWCS does the pool then their focus shifts from education and instruction to maintaining, managing, and paying for a pool.  She said we’re shifting our focus and that’s not good for our children.  She reiterated that if the BOCS were to take advantage of the school division’s advance work and build and manage the pool, then she’s OK with it.

School Board Representative Lisa Bell said that until recently she hasn’t heard of the desperate need for swimming lessons or public safety.  She said that Steve Keen’s comment was correct – one pool wouldn’t be enough for swimming lessons for all students as part of their instructional day. {No one contradicted her on this – in fact it was evident to all in the room that more pools in more schools were intended} She also said that the school division has already said hydrotherapy for special needs students won’t be provided as part of their individual educational plan.  She said she agrees with what Alyson said and would like to add that she needs to see the future plans spelled out.  She also reminded the room and Superintendent that the school pool was not mentioned anywhere in the CIP, ever.

Chairman Stewart said that if the county manages the pool then the school division will have to pay rent for swim teams to use it.  No School Board members expressed concern with that.

Chairman Stewart said that from a governmental standpoint, “we don’t have access to the children like you do”.  “We can’t require swimming lessons”.  He said the schools can.

Supervisor Caddigan thanked everyone for coming to the meeting.  She said it should have happened sooner and should happen more frequently.

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3 Responses to “School Board & BOCS Report – August 6, 2013 Dinner”

  1. rgb Says:

    If “prevention of accidental drownings” is the best Milt Johns and Corey Stewart can do to play on the emotions of gullible/low information citizens/voters is the best they can do to sell pools in schools, are they by their lack of previous actions to solve this crisis complicit in any/all accidental drowning deaths in PW County since 2006? I mean, clearly they’ve acknowledge this is their problem to solve…but any/every PW citizen who’s drowned between say 2006 and 2016 did so because of these esteemed politicians’ inaction, right?

    Shows you how specious their supporting arguments really are. In the end it comes down to the fact that this is a “done deal” and there are likely political if not financial “deals” already made between PW County elected officials, Mosely Architects, and whatever company “wins” the bid for the contract.

    Would be nice for the BOCS to show some interest in real educational issues and perhaps push Johns & Walts on why PWCS has decided not to compete with the leading educational divisions in the northern VA/DC area….

  2. Ken Reynolds Says:

    There are lots of budget items that could be dropped to pay for a pool……..How about 287g immigrant checks………..we cant have everything…I would vote for a pool!!!

  3. Freedom Says:

    and I would cancel-out your vote, Ken


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