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 discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine! Here’s the latest…

Full disclosure, last month’s post was short.  This one isn’t.

Like most meetings, this one began with a vote to approve the consent agenda, intended to include non-controversial items grouped together for efficiency’s sake.  One of these items each May is the staff contract list, naming hundreds of people receiving contracts from FCPS for the next school year.  Retirees receiving contracts has drawn a lot of attention in the past, but this list included only two, both long-time workers with adult education and Families Learning Together.  Other retirees are hired from time to time but paid a daily rate.

Mr. Winkler presented a plan to extend contracts for elementary librarians (pay them to work two extra weeks, I think, during the summer).  His reasoning was spot on, and they certainly deserve the opportunity, but we have so many staff members who come in to work during the summer without pay, or work for a daily stipend that’s less than half of a contract amount, and we have other librarians not included in this plan.  We already offer extended contracts to some teachers and not others. I’d give an extended contract to anyone who wanted it if we had the money, but the inconsistency of giving the chance to only certain people in certain positions bothers me.  However, all Board members agreed to support this for the upcoming year and the administration agreed to look at the issue.

The cafeteria budget came under discussion because although it’s a “self-supporting program”, that definition includes money taken from the overall school budget to cover unpaid student lunch charges. Last year this was $33,000.  These charges have nothing to do with students receiving free and reduced lunches, those children are fed. These are either families who can’t pay but didn’t apply for assistance, or families who (according to federal guidelines) have enough income to cover lunch costs.  No Board member suggested withholding food from any student.  Mr. Pullen wondered if we can work with the treasurer’s office or DMV to impose consequences on parents. Ms. Stewart brought up that we could be using the $33,000 to better compensate those who prepare and serve the food.  At this point I’m not opposed to the cheese sandwich and apple alternative for those with severely overdue accounts, but I’m aware of the lunch shaming connotations and would like to learn more.  Ms. Stewart agreed to take the issue to the wellness committee for further discussion.

Trying for closure on the topic of recording/streaming/archiving our meetings, the Board decided streaming and posting (even just audio recordings) to the website was too costly when ADA restrictions were considered, so we compromised on a one-time expense of about $1700 for equipment to audio record and archive meetings ourselves.  This isn’t much help for those who just want to catch up on their own time since FOIA charges could be as high as $100, but it will provide a comprehensive record of all proceedings.

New Business is sort of my favorite.  Mr. Pullen suggested creating a taskforce to address bullying prevention (it’s tempting, but I just can’t call it a bullying taskforce).  We’ll start with looking at what we have in place now.  Also New Business, we need to decide on the agenda for a July 31 seminar.  Mr. Winkler wants to look at broad strategic goals. Several Board members want to go through the line item budget.  I want to address testing from my personal viewpoint of skipping the justifications which I’m very familiar with, and moving toward a meaningful reduction in testing, with plenty of teacher input.  My perspective is that all assessments may give us useful information, but we reach a point of diminishing returns when we test too much.

Also at our next meeting, we’ll finalize a decision about insurance, since we removed this vote from May’s agenda.  We’re waiting for more information but it shouldn’t affect employee costs or plan provisions.  We did vote on some FY19 budget amendments that simply made changes to account for our final appropriation from the Board of Supervisors.  My only comment was I’m very glad to see that instead of going down for several years, the instructional portion of the total budget is now going up significantly.

When people told me my April post was short I don’t think they were disappointed. Sorry.

Our next regular meeting is a week early (sorry again) on June 6.  Same time (6:30 open session) though!

 

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 an 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 sold or leased 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.

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Changes with the New Year

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…

At the January meeting I was really happy to be elected Chair until 2019.  One of the first suggestions I made was to add New Business to the agenda so every Board member can easily and openly bring up any issue for discussion.  Under New Business, we added to future meetings a closer look at the detailed line item budget, a discussion of cell phone policy, another look at Board members visiting schools, and a greater appreciation of the history of the S.C. Abrams building.

We talked about bringing our meetings into the community, and plan to have at least one meeting in each school this year.

Three employees made a proposal about psychologists’ salaries during public comments, which I took as a good sign that they trust us to consider all options.  I have a long history of speaking at public comments before my election to the Board, and I really appreciate the effort and courage this takes.

Budget is the big story.  We all prioritize salary, but interests split off from there. Some mentioned better support for new teachers, vocational programs, athletics, special ed, and (from me) class size and more equal planning time. A lot of this will be narrrowed down at our next meeting, Jan. 19 at 8:30 am.  It’s not great timing for public comments, but there’s always email, and I don’t know about other Board members, but I don’t get nearly as many phone calls as I’d expected.  PLEASE think about getting in touch!

 

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 an 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 sold or leased 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.

A First For Me

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, with reference to discussions, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here‘s the latest….

There were more people than usual at the December School Board meeting. Some came with public comments about serious concerns for 8th graders at the high school, and some (I assume, though only one person addressed it publicly) came with an interest in the superintendent’s recent approval of a school bus going to the Democratic caucus held Dec. 3 in Farmville.

Before any public comments, the meeting began with an almost immediate vote to go into closed session, an action taken when the Board needs to discuss employee or student matters, real property, or consult with legal counsel. Board members left the room for some time. When we came back, we had to individually certify that only public business lawfully exempted from open meeting requirements was discussed in the privacy of closed session. I voted no, along with one other Board member.  This was very awkward, and a first for me (not the awkwardness, for sure, but the inability to certify).

On the heels of that usually routine vote, another simple item became more complicated. There was no provision on the agenda for addressing the superintendent’s approval of the bus going to the Democratic caucus. I moved to add a discussion of the school board policies cited in that action.

The gist of that discussion, according to NBC Channel 29, was that ‘the board resolved to be mindful of the way the policy is written’ (Policy GBG …The Fluvanna County School Board also recognizes that school time and school property should not be used for partisan political purposes) ‘and when in doubt to consult its team of legal counsel for advice.’

Also during the meeting, Ms. Brenda Gilliam became the superintendent’s designee, replacing Mr. Winkler who’ll be interim superintendent.  She’ll have authority to act in his place if he should be unreachable for any reason.  The new assistant superintendent, Frank Leech, will be working part-time , and not consistently available to fill in.

Toward the end of the evening, I think the Board achieved a breakthrough in the debate over protocols for Board members visiting schools.  Ms. Carr and I worked together on a revision that does not require board members to reschedule their visit if administrators aren’t available to conduct a walk-through, but does call for 24 hours’ notice and a stated purpose for each visit.  I’m in favor of as few restrictions as possible but I’m hoping for approval of this compromise in January.

Finally, the Board will meet on January 19 to begin the formal search for a new superintendent.  Two Board members indicated during the meeting that they were well satisfied already with a potential candidate present in the room that night.  They were not more specific.

Whoops… P.S. I got in a last word about Fairfax County’s successful initiative to get community input into their budget through meetings, social media, and an online survey.  Our Board was open to the idea of more community involvement and asked for details at the next meeting.

 

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.

There’s A Protocol For That

The School Board’s been working on rules and procedures for dealing with simple questions like who decides what we talk about at meetings (the Board Chair and superintendent come up with a draft agenda, then send it to all Board members for input) and more complicated issues like publicly supporting a Board decision even if you voted against it.  Now we’re hashing out what I thought was one of the simpler matters, should Board members regularly visit the schools without an administrative escort?  Members already agree to giving school administrators a heads up that we’re in the building, and no one seems interested in interrupting classes or putting teachers and students on the spot, but some disagree with my opinion that there’s value in visiting the schools both with and without administrative oversight. Obviously, it’s great to have someone show us what we might miss on our own, and tell us things we don’t even know to ask.  But I think we get another valuable perspective, from things we see and people we talk to, without an administrator standing by.  The discussion continues in October.

Also at the September meeting we heard some interesting facts about Fluvanna’s Adult Education program. Last year Adult Ed served 58 students, split about evenly between African-American, Hispanic, and white populations.  Most were age 25-44.  57% were employed.  About 3000 people in Fluvanna have less than a 12th grade education.

September’s budget discussion included a report on enrollment.  We’re down from last year by 33 students.  The state estimated we’d be down by 99, but fortunately they count and adjust our revenue several times during the year.  Attrition rates are lower in the middle grades than at upper and lower levels.

One of the final items at the September meeting was a throw back to August’s failure to gain a second on the motion to approve that month’s policy updates.  With all members present this time, the same items were presented for approval and all passed, though not unanimously.  I voted against the policy on leaves and absences (there’s more information about this in my last post) and Mr. Rittenhouse voted against alternative paths to attaining standard units of credit for graduation because he felt it lowered the bar for graduation requirements.

Meeting adjourned!

 

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.

November’s “Regular” School Board Meeting

Last night I went to my first School Board meeting since re-inventing Fluco Blog.  Here’s my first Fluco Blog attempt to fill in the gap between what you can learn about School Board meetings online, and what you can learn from listening in.

There were few gaps in the first part of the meeting.  The School Board adopted the minutes, paid the bills, and recognized different groups for different achievements.  These are pretty straightforward functions and don’t usually generate a lot of conversation.  There were no public comments. The next item on the agenda was Reports.  Last night’s conversation around reports included Ms. Keller attributing school accreditation to teachers’ success with focused interventions, a few questions about improving radio contact between the schools and county emergency services, and then a good 10 minutes about staff feedback regarding the strengths and recommended focus areas of Fluvanna schools.  Ms. Keller and the Board commented most on feedback about salaries.  The Board Chair asked that the December school board packet include the salary recommendations of the state sponsored School Efficiency Review to provide contrast between current salaries and cuts proposed by the Review.  Referencing other feedback, the Chair suggested each school needs to talk about areas of focus, and maybe bring issues to the Board.

The report on budget for this year stated enrollment is down by 75 students.  We budgeted for a decrease of only 40, which means we’ll get less revenue than expected from the state (they pay per student).  However, we budgeted fuel at $4 per gallon and hope to recoup savings there.  The Board expects the decline in enrollment to continue next year, along with increases in employer contributions to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) and increasing health insurance costs.  Other items under consideration for next year are implementing existing salary steps, paying costs associated with a possible 3% raise proposed by Governor McAuliffe, not charging a pay to participate fee at FCHS, increasing the mileage reimbursement rate, increasing funding for per pupil instructional materials, and starting a Health Savings Account (HSA) option for high deductible insurance plans.  All of this information is available online so I know I’ve strayed from my objective to just fill in the gaps. I like numbers!

There was one more report last night regarding an Immigrant Youth Grant.  The most interesting thing about this item was that when it was put to a vote, one Board member abstained.  It was a vote for someone giving us money, but I appreciated the abstention on the principle that an item presented for “first review” should not be voted on at the same meeting.  In the opinion of the abstaining Board member all should take time to consider the information and (in my opinion) allow for public input before making a final decision.

After Reports, the Board voted to approve two items (policy changes presented last month and the Immigrant Youth Grant).  There was a second opportunity for public comments (none).  Then School Board members reported on their assigned committees and made a few other remarks.

I’ll end with this observation.  The Virginia School Boards Association is sending me all kinds of information about how school boards work.  The VSBA promotes a choice between two types of agendas to conduct business at Board meetings.  Both include a specific section for New Business to follow Reports and Information items. Two years ago Fluvanna removed the category of New Business from the agenda.  Now Board members hear scheduled reports, vote, and conclude the meeting.

 

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 issues hit 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.  Please try it!

 

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.