What’s The Deal With Closed Session? (Don’t Get Too Excited)

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

We start regular meetings with a closed session, usually to talk about people, so we step into another room to protect their privacy.  Mostly the Board hears about recommended student reassignments (think alternative ed like Abrams and distance learning, but not necessarily as a result of discipline concerns).  There are almost always a few personnel matters (lots of substitutes hired, some staff turnover).  Sometimes there are legal issues and the superintendent passes on the advice of our school lawyer.  And that’s about it.  Board members have to individually and publicly certify that nothing was discussed in closed session that should have been out in the open.

At the last meeting (on September 13), after the excitement of closed session, we heard presentations from three teachers requesting approval for overnight field trips.  Two trips will be during the school week but the teachers have scheduled time for make-up work, and the overall purpose is educational in the first place.  The students are fund raising.  We are paying substitutes while those teachers are gone.

Next on the agenda came the reports.  This can be A LOT of information and it may look like we don’t have many questions, but often it’s not the first time we’ve seen parts of the report, or we’ve asked questions individually beforehand, or the report was very recently posted and we need time to think it through.  Something a little different on Sept. 13 was discussion about a REQUEST for a report.  Mr. Rittenhouse wanted more information about the use and costs of buses and other vehicles.  Several other Board members questioned if putting this together would be an efficient use of the superintendent’s time.  After the scope of the request was narrowed down a bit, all voted to move forward except Ms. Pace.

The last report, on dues and membership fees, was a follow-up to my objection to paying certain professional dues for administrators, but not for other staff.  I pretty much repeated my comments from a previous post, but added some information from the Superintendent’s Annual Report, published on the Va. Dept. of Education’s website, that shows several of Fluvanna’s administrative salaries compare very favorably to surrounding school divisions.

We finished up, as usual, with School Board member comments. We report on our appointed committees and make any other remarks we want to.  As a member of the Special Education Advisory Committee (among others) I pointed out the minutes of the latest Staff Advisory Council which included several suggestions from staff regarding special ed instruction.

That’s it.  That’s all.  More in October when we have two meetings in two days (Oct 10 and 11)!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

Advertisements

Lots Of Old Business

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

The Aug. 9 meeting wrapped up a lot of work that started last year, putting plans into action for 2017-18.  The Board approved the gifted plan, capital improvements plan, and standards of quality plan.  We almost didn’t approve the monthly bills, because two of us objected to the Board’s payment of $470 for an administrator’s membership in their professional association.  While I’m a big fan of these organizations, we have over 100 teachers and staff who belong to a very similar association but pay the $500 dues out of their own pocket.  Also, the membership included a legal liability benefit described this way, ‘You’ll have peace of mind knowing that if your school district…refuses to defend you, your back-up plan is in place.  Your affiliation with the Trust for Insuring Educators makes this valuable member benefit possible’.  I gave essentially this same speech last year when we paid about $5600 for several memberships.

I didn’t do all the talking.  We actually had a speaker address the Board during time for public comments.  This gentleman recently wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper and came to the Board repeating his concern about grade inflation, noting that almost a third of our 9th graders received straight A’s at the end of last year.  It’s great to get speakers, we seldom do, but awkward because we’re not allowed to engage with them in that setting.

Another awkward moment (for me) was the lack of discussion about the probable $1.7 million in leftover funds from last year.  About $400-600,000 of that is dedicated to specific purposes by the state and federal government, but the rest goes back to the local government to keep or reassign to the schools.  The Board Chair opened the subject (of what we might ask to use the funds for, I assume) but discussion was tabled until final numbers are available in Sept.

One of the last items of old business was a report from principals on how teachers get instructional supplies.  This year’s budget allocates about $1500 per classroom for supplies.

Central/West Central does not release a specific budgeted amount to teachers from their $52,000.  Requests go through the office of the principal.  Central’s principal reports positive feedback about this arrangement versus an allocation by person.  (I did not receive the same feedback from many teachers.  I told the Board my impression was teachers prefer to do their own shopping, rather than asking for things from the administration.  They know just what they need in terms of quality and specific features, and don’t always get what they’d hoped for when someone else does the ordering.  Somehow the conversation began to veer toward teachers versus principals and I interrupted to say not one teacher inferred principals were unsupportive, only that purchasing can be more efficient if teachers are given more control.)

Last year Carysbrook teachers were allocated $450 each and could make further specific requests of the administration.

Fluvanna Middle School teachers received $250 last year and $400 this year.  Of course, additional requests from the $62,500 will be considered by the administration.

At Fluvanna County High School this year, all classroom teachers were given an allocation of $1,036.60 per teacher for the year.

I brought up one more issue about instructional supplies that teachers shared with me. (I visited the schools the week before the children came to try and welcome and thank teachers individually.)  They had another suggestion related to the control of purchasing.  Many felt limited to ordering from Staples Business Advantage and Faye’s Office Supply and sometimes couldn’t get just what they needed, or get the best price.  The superintendent said over 2000 vendors are approved, so I assume there’s a disconnect in communication somewhere.

The next meeting seems a long way away but I need some time to understand more about vocational certification scores, the detailed 2018 budget, and some decisions associated with transportation.  At least that’s my list THIS morning.

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

Morning Meeting #2

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

No votes were taken during July’s morning meeting #2.  We discussed common School Board priorities and certain priorities specific to each Board member.  Generally, Ms. Pace addressed the importance of meeting the emotional needs of children; Ms. Carr wants to strengthen technology, vocational education, and the gifted program; Mr. Rittenhouse wants to make sure our funds directly support students and quality staff; and I want teachers more extensively involved in decision making.  (Teachers know their students and know their content, and I think we can improve instruction, discipline, assessment, budgeting -almost everything- by soliciting more input from the professionals who address all of these every day.)

There’s a long but pretty interesting report online with data about test scores.  With Advanced Placement (AP) exams, 40% more students tested than last year, but our pass rate doesn’t look great compared to the state average.  SOL scores are generally down, but all schools are still accredited.  SAT statistics put us in line with the percentage of students who take the tests statewide -at 54%- and a little above the state average score in reading and math.  There’s also a lot of information about Career and Technical Education (CTE) credentialing pass rates, which I need to talk over with an administrator before I spout out about (hehe) possibly incorrect conclusions here.

We heard some numbers I’m not sure made it online, about student discipline and teacher (maybe staff) attendance.  To address discipline concerns the administration is considering expanding the PBIS program (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) from the elementary schools to middle and high school.  Concerning attendance, student att’d is going down but still at about 95%.  A real eye-opener (for me) were statistics on teacher attendance.  Missing more than 10 days/yr is defined as chronically absent by the state, and the Board was told that 30%-40% of our teachers are chronically absent.  The national average, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, was 27% last year.  Mr. Winkler doesn’t assume a problem with Fluvanna’s numbers, but will explore the issue.

We can’t have a meeting without talking budget, and salary comparisons are available among the online reports to start discussions for 2018-19.  After seeing some of the administrative comparisons, I commented to the Board that while teachers’ experience generally equates to steps on the scale, our administrator scales carry the footnote that ‘experience may not necessarily equate to steps’.  And, in fact, many of our administrators are contracted at a much higher rate than their steps would indicate by experience.  I brought it up because, in my opinion, this situation makes comparing our administrative steps to others unreliable.

Finally, on another (short) note… a word about new staff for 2017-18.  So far we’ve welcomed almost 40 new members.  Of the new teachers, the three largest categories by instruction are special education (7), math (6), and CTE (Career and Tech Ed-3).

No more morning meetings in the foreseeable future, but you can join us at 6:30 on Wed, August 9 (or just look for my next post at some undetermined time after that).  Thanks again for reading!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

 

May Meeting

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog!  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussions, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

Our regular May meeting was just last night (though I’ll probably have to change that intro because it may look like I dash off a post in 5 minutes, but it usually takes more than a day).  Meanwhile, we had a special meeting on April 24 to vote for our next superintendent.  There was a push to make the announcement as soon as possible in order to let the candidates know if they did or didn’t get the job.  I’m uncomfortable not being able to share pretty much anything of the discussion but it’s legally considered confidential personnel information.  The best I can do is pass on the comment of our Chair, who stated on the 24th that we had several excellent candidates under serious consideration.

As for last night’s meeting (and it’s still Tuesday so I’m still on track) I declined to approve the list of staff for next year because it included a new administrative director position, in addition to the 6 we already have.  I quoted the School Efficiency Review (again) which reported that Fluvanna had 17.8 total administrative positions, compared to our neighboring peer average of only 15.  And the review was performed in 2014, we have even fewer students now.  I suggested we redirect that administrative money to the classroom. However, the position was approved.

We talked again about how to use the nearly $300,000 in additional state funds for THIS year.  Mr. Winkler recommended using some of the money for $300 staff bonuses and applying the rest to vehicles and chromebooks.  I shared with the Board my recent discussion with school board members from surrounding counties who all except one (Orange) gave staff an average of at least 2% increases for next year.  Fluvanna’s increases averaged only 1.1%.  The Board voted to give staff bonuses of $400 and recommended the purchase of more chromebooks.

With a discussion of policy updates came the question of recouping unpaid lunch charges.  We’re now required by the USDA to put measures in place to try and collect on losses.  Last year we used $41,000 in local money to square up food services accounts because of unpaid charges.  In contrast, this year Chesapeake reported only about $4,000 in unpaid charges for 38 elementary and middle schools.  Unpaid charges have nothing to do with free lunch recipients.  They don’t accrue any charges at all.  The measures Fluvanna is considering for collection include phone calls and email notifications, quarterly home mailings, and restriction of participation in extra-curricular activities.  I’m highly in favor of trying harder to recoup these losses, though I hesitate to approve the restriction on extra-curricular activities which appears to punish the child rather than the responsible adult.

Toward the end of the meeting the latest staff survey was presented.  If you’ve already checked it out online, you may want to look again because information was added during the evening that compared this year to years past.  I couldn’t comment much at the time since we hadn’t seen the comparison before, but I have a few observations now.  In the spirit of the survey’s 3 strengths and 3 areas of focus, of the seven categories, the 3 that continued their upward trend in positive feedback (compared to last year) were Professional Development, the Superintendent’s Office, and the School Board.  The 3 that reversed their upward trend (compared to last year) were Building Administrative Support, Culture and Climate, and Professional Responsibilities.

Building Administrative Support went from having 12 of the 13 positive indicators go up last year, to having 12 of the 13 go down this year.  Culture and Climate went from all 4 indicators trending up last year, to 3 of the 4 trending down this year.  Professional Responsibilities (a measure of things like class size, instructional assistance, additional duties) changed from all 6 indicators going up last year, to most of them (4 of 6) going down.  In total, of the 44 positive indicators, last year only 2 went down compared to the year before.  This year 22 were down compared to the previous survey.

Good grief! I might make my post in one day, though I know that last part about the survey is hard to follow.  And unfortunately, the post is long.  They weirdly get shorter the more I work on them.

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

That Was A Surprise

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned regarding discussions, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine.  Here’s the latest….

I might as well start off with the big news of the evening, Ms. Keller’s resignation.  While the purpose of Fluco Blog is to fill you in on discussions that lead up to School Board decisions, I can’t help you much with this one.  Personnel matters are discussed in closed session, which we have one hour before each regular meeting.  In this case I can only give you the facts on public record, which begin with the opening of the meeting, and the Board Chair requesting we add two personnel votes to the previously scheduled vote coming later in the evening.  For the first vote all agreed to ask the Board of Supervisors to let us keep the money left over from last year’s budget.  Then, just before the second vote, it was announced Ms. Keller had submitted her resignation, and we needed a vote to accept or reject.  All voted in favor.  The third vote was to place Mr. Winkler as interim superintendent.  I was the only dissenting vote, with the public comment that I was voting no only because having just learned this information, I didn’t feel I’d had enough time to give a considered opinion on such an important decision.

Wait, wait, don’t leave….we had another unusual event that night.  Three people came forward to speak to the Board during time for public comments. I can think of a grand total of only three speakers in the entire 11 months I’ve been on the Board.  All were teachers who spoke eloquently about money for salaries, and other concerns, for the 2018 budget.  When that budget discussion came around a little while later, I acknowledged the teachers’ comments and requested that we ask them (and all staff) for suggestions on where we can cut costs to better support the priorities they addressed.  I’m sure they have good ideas!

All that’s left is old news, the School Board self-evaluation and protocols.   I asked (again) that we include consideration of the staff survey results in our evaluation.  I asked (again again) that we don’t change our School Board protocols to require administrative oversight of informal school visits by Board members.   Changes have been proposed (Mr. Rittenhouse asked who wrote them) that require Board members to give at least 24 hours’ notice to administration before visiting a school, and further require Board members to reschedule their visit if no administrative designee is available to walk them around.  I read aloud a section of a handbook provided by the Virginia School Boards Association (we pay them a considerable amount of money for their opinion on our policies) which said, ‘From time to time the superintendent may be asked to arrange for the school board to visit schools and see a program in operation….This does not preclude unannounced visits by board members to the schools or prevent them from talking with school personnel at the schools visited.  On the contrary, board members should visit the schools as much as possible.’  I’ve been invited to submit my own version of this protocol in December.  I think VSBA said it best.

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

School Is Back In Session

The School Board met twice last week with a seminar on Monday and a regular meeting on Wednesday.  The seminar covered student test scores (available in a recent press release), a budget overview, and a plan for self-evaluation.

The budget overview included an item comparing annual leave/holidays for 10, 11, and 12 month employees.  I was puzzled by the choice of information used for comparison.  To cost out dollars per hour, the 10 mo. teacher’s salary was taken from the maximum pay scale (and given a Master’s Degree supplement) while the 12 mo. principal’s salary was averaged between the lowest and highest pay scale (and taken from the year before maximum annual leave goes into effect).  Also, while teachers are required to work an 8 hour day, they were credited with only 7.5 hours, a policy minimum.  When the results were compared to neighboring counties, according to the information presented at the meeting, Fluvanna’s 12 mo. employees (administrators) potentially work 4-5 days less than any other division included in the comparison.  Fluvanna’s 10 mo. employees (teachers) work the same number of days as most of our neighbors.

After the budget overview, I again asked the School Board review the expenses of last year with an eye toward approving a more detailed budget (for 2018) than the broad categorical budget approved for 2017.  The Board was told that looking at last year’s expenses would be difficult because we were operating two different (financial reporting) systems and the format was different.  I repeated the advice of the well-regarded School Efficiency Review which noted that Fluvanna’s School Board should approve a detailed expenditure budget to comply with the Code of Virginia.  Mr. Rittenhouse was not at the meeting, but among those present there was little support for my request. From comments made, I think most Board members are concerned that our involvement in a more detailed budget goes beyond the scope of our responsibilities and usurps the expertise of the superintendent.

The subject came up again indirectly at Wednesday’s meeting.  After being informed that the school budget would accommodate a potential $140,000 loss of state salary funds by making reductions in other areas, one Board member wanted to know where the reductions would come from and another member, recalling Board involvement in budget cuts early in her tenure, suggested Board involvement in these decisions, also.  I appreciatively seconded their input!

Near the end of Wednesday’s meeting (the last item from Monday was a School Board self-evaluation, agreed to by all members, and hopefully including feedback from the Fluvanna staff survey) all voting was smooth sailing until the approval of policy updates.  The motion made to approve the updates was never seconded, so the motion died.  It was unexpected and I’m not sure what happens next.  The policy updates included the leave/holiday descriptions at the beginning of this post, so I was not in favor of approval.  While I’d like to see adjustments made to address my objections (of course), one Board member who might have seconded the motion wasn’t there, so the same vote may simply come up at the next meeting and make it through.  Chances are you can score a front row seat to find out in September!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

It’s Hard to Spell Unanimous

The beginning of each regular School Board meeting is meant to go pretty quickly because of Robert’s Rules consent calendar, or as we call it, the consent agenda.  The idea is that the Board Chair asks for one vote on several items grouped together, because each one is expected to have unanimous consent.  If any Board member wants to discuss an item or vote against it, they ask the Chair to remove it from the consent agenda.

At the latest School Board meeting (May 11) three of the seven items on the consent agenda were removed and voted on separately.  Two of those, Personnel Recommendations and School Staff, passed by a 3-2 vote. I voted no, objecting to certain administrative positions. The state-sponsored School Efficiency Review found that Fluvanna had a total of 17.8 admin positions as compared to our neighboring peer average of only 15.  I commented that I would like to redirect some of those funds to help teachers meet the needs of the classroom.  Mr. Rittenhouse also voted no.  The third item, Salary Scales, passed by a 4-1 vote.  The Board had already voted on salary scales at the last meeting but there were some small items and one significant copying error to change this month.  I repeated my no vote, adding that I think we should have looked at more than the one salary proposal that relied on new money, and closely examined our expenses in order to do better for our staff.

There was some discussion of next month’s vote on the schools’ categorical budget.  The Board will decide how to distribute the total budget into five main categories, and then it appears the superintendent pretty much takes it from there.  I’ll be interested to learn if this impression is correct.

More discussion came with the Extended Service Plan proposal.  I expressed concern that the plan does not seem equitable.  Long term subbing, with its after-hours workload and demand of professional certification,  appears to exceed the requirements of special projects listed.  The majority of the Board disagreed.

Toward the end of the meeting three more votes were taken.  All members voted in favor of the listed policy updates, a Migratory Children certification (just in case – we don’t currently have any migratory children), and a new meeting date for July 6.

Final comments of School Board members included several affirmations of the number of administrative positions Fluvanna supports, as well as reports on recent committee meetings.  At one meeting (of the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School) Fluvanna added a second section of 18 students to the program at a cost of up to $25,000 per year for the next 4 years.  Our first 18 students are generally paid for by the state.  We added these students because they have particularly high qualifying scores and increase the diversity of participants in the program.  The Gifted Committee also met.  Fluvanna has 272 students identified as gifted, or 7.8% of our population.  The state average is 16.5% but that includes more than just the one area of identification scored by Fluvanna (specific academic aptitude).  In grades K-7 students are served by the classroom teacher.  Grades 8-12 are served by the type of class they take.

There’s always a lot more information available online.  I try to hit the highlights of what you won’t find there.

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comments.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.