January 2019

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 beginning of the January meeting there were nearly half a dozen public comments in support of a vote to approve the Alliance Club request to change the colors of the Fluco F (not generally, just for specific purposes of the club).  All supporters also lamented the leak of the original letter and criticized the School Board’s inquiry into who was responsible.  No speakers came forward against approval of the request until one out of eight during the later round of public comments.

After comments, there was a presentation by Sun Tribe, a solar energy company that wants to put solar panels at all schools, mostly on school roofs.  There would be no capital outlay cost to us, they would own and install the equipment.  Their objective is to produce enough energy to run each building. There’s no sale of excess energy and no battery storage capability.  Our obligation would be a 25 year commitment to pay Sun Tribe for the energy produced at each site, wether the building stays in use or not. The main benefits would be an almost certain savings over our current electric rates and the green effect of switching to solar energy.

The superintendent’s report included a quick reference to getting parents’ input into next year’s calendar. We’ve had a few public comments recently about parents’ unhappiness with the half days.  I told the Board I’ve received considerable  parent feedback almost exclusively against the half days, and I shared my observation that this year we have six and next year’s draft shows nine.  There’ll be a lot more discussion of the calendar soon.

We have a seminar at 8:30 on January 18, mostly to discuss next year’s budget.  The initial salary options we’re looking at are a minimum of a 3% increase for all staff with higher step amounts remaining in place, or a 3% increase plus step for all employees.

Two votes were held near the end of the meeting.  The Fluvanna Leadership Development team’s student interest survey was approved.  It asks very simple questions about students’ interest in youth activities in the county. It’s included in the online info if there’s any concern.

The remaining vote was a holdover from last month when the Alliance Club request resulted in a 2-2 tie when Mr. Pullen was absent.  The distribution of stickers to teachers for display was removed from the request months ago.  Mr. Pullen abstained from voting this month, in favor of creating a written policy first.  Mr. Rittenhouse and Ms. Pace also abstained.  Ms. Stewart and I voted yes, recognizing the precedent already set by allowing at least one other school sanctioned club to change the color of the logo F.  It was confirmed with our attorney (during the meeting, it felt weird) that because of the abstentions, these two votes carried the action and the request was approved.

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.

 

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.

December 2018

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 big news for December was a continuation of the Alliance Club request to turn the Fluco F rainbow colors.  Before we got very far into the issue, the Board read a statement addressing the question of what we knew about how a local radio show host acquired a copy of the original request. The statement was approved by all members and pretty much said none of us released it, and none of us know who did.

Since the request never turned into an actual vote last month (I moved for approval but no one seconded and the motion died) it was possible to add it to the agenda again.  Questions about whether FCPS actually owns the trademark were answered (yes) and approval was rescheduled for later in the evening.  If I had remembered a Board member was absent (Mr. Pullen) I wouldn’t have voted to reschedule approval for that night.  I apologize that I forgot.  There was a lot going on.  About 10 speakers came forward in favor of approving the request and I only remember one against. (Another speaker asked for alternate bus routes to keep schools open during inclement weather and also questioned the effectiveness of the early release days for professional development.)

When the vote came around, Ms. Stewart made a motion to approve the request of the Alliance Club to change the colors of the Fluvanna F.  It was seconded by Ms. Pace – spoiler alert – you don’t have to vote to approve an item to second the motion.  The vote was a tie, Ms. Stewart and I were in favor, Ms. Pace and Mr. Rittenhouse against.  By policy, tie votes are automatically rescheduled for the next meeting so Mr. Pullen will get to participate after all.  I’m relieved.  This meeting was postponed because of snow last week.  All members would have been present if the weather hadn’t intervened.

I explained my vote in my last post, but I’ll quickly repeat that Fluvanna has approved a color change to the Fluco F by another school sanctioned club in the past.  I think pointing out how this group is different from that group, and making the decision based on evaluating our differences is unnecessary.   Rather than compare clubs and assign value by letting some change the logo and some not, as long as any group is already sanctioned by FCPS I’m in favor of treating everyone the same.  As one public speaker pointed out, maybe we should consider the logo as belonging to the kids, not the school system.  With the oversight that school administrators consider a sanctioned club a legitimate use of students’ time and school resources, I’d like to also consider them equally valuable and hold them to the same standards and the same benefits.  That wasn’t so quick after all, was it?

Minutes from the Staff Advisory meetings are always included in the online information.  This month’s indicated changes to the staff survey.  I asked for a survey committee so staff has control over the information they want to communicate.  I also asked for questions on testing and what we can do better to retain staff (that doesn’t cost much money).

Speaking of money, the amount of money to be returned to the county because it was not spent last school year is either a little or a lot less than expected, depending on who you ask.  Reasons were given, and I think accepted, but I hope communication on this issue between the School Board and Board of Supervisors improves in the future. I’ll definitely make that my responsibility.

The meeting pretty much ended with about another 10 public speakers and, as I remember, all but one in favor of the Alliance Club request.  We vote again in January.

I’ll be away for the next week or two and probably not able to check for comments.  Thanks for being patient with me.

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.

Moving On In September

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…

Within minutes of beginning September’s open session, there was a controversial vote on the position of Director of Elementary Instruction and Federal Programs.  The vote was to put a certain person in the position. I have no objection to this person or the last, but I do object to the position itself.  I voted no because this was not a director’s position a few years ago and, in my experience, the highly structured methods and programs put in place by those in the position severely restrict teachers’ abilities to use their own professional judgment to tailor instruction to meet the needs of their unique group of learners. It’s a mouthful, I know. And I have other concerns.  The motion to fill the position failed (2 in favor, 3 against) but I think the discussion will live on.

The first round of public comments drew 7 speakers, commenting on kindergarten staggered opening (teachers were appreciative), my opening day remarks (staff was supportive), testing (too much), and the first day bus fire.

Budget reports covered three years. Closing out 2018 gets us closer to a “carryover” amount for 2019, which is about $1.5 million BUT the timing of sales tax revenue reduces that by about $180k and another $500k is spoken for by state and federal programs we’re obligated to fulfill.  Then another $470k is “promised” to the county for funds used for Carysbrook roof replacement.

The 2020 budget discussion began with the governor’s plan for a 3% raise BUT state funds would only cover positions required by the Standards of Quality.  That includes only 219 out of our 500+ employees.  To raise all salaries by 3% would cost us an additional $625k.  I thought it sounded like a lot, too, so I asked twice.  The administration is also looking at some large class sizes at the high school.

Two items of Unfinished Business came up.  Ms. Stewart asked the Board to consider busing student voters to the polls during the school day in November.  The admin will prepare a report for our next meeting.  I asked if the Board was willing to discuss reducing the amount of testing we require in Fluvanna.  At our last seminar we heard from the administration about testing.  I’d also like input from those who give the tests and use the results for instruction.  The Board agreed to have this future discussion.

A couple of action items were especially interesting.  In addition to some simple changes to the teachers’ probationary policy, the Board voted 4-1 to change the terms of probation from 5 years back to 3.

We changed the date of the November meeting from the 14th to the 7th.  I hated to make the switch, and we thought about not changing it since three of us would be available, but two requested the change and both the clerk and deputy clerk will be away on our regular day.

We were scheduled to vote again on the motion from last month that certainly felt like a reprimand to me concerning my opening day remarks to staff.  However, Ms. Stewart and Ms. Pace rescinded their motions and the item was removed from the agenda.  I was actually disappointed (and said so) because I was hoping for a vote of support from a majority of the Board, and would have preferred that as the last word.  I respected the Board’s wish to move on, though, and somehow resisted the temptation to revive the motion myself!

For the last round of public comments, two teachers made it through the entire meeting to speak again in support of my opening day comments to staff.  I am very grateful to everyone who came, spoke, emailed, shared a kind word, patted me on the shoulder.  I needed it!

 

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.

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.

March 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…

The March meeting started with a focus on school safety (it happened to be the same day as the student “walkout”).  During public comments, one high school student respectfully acknowledged the intent of now requiring students to report directly to first block, but asked administrators to reconsider.

Budget discussions were a little shorter than usual since 2019 has been submitted to the Board of Supervisors, and 2018 is close to the end.  There’s still the subject of this year’s bonus-now-raise to vote on next month.  It looks likely (says me) that all full time staff will receive a 1.25% raise – plus supplements for some lower paying positions to reach a minimum of $500 – paid in one lump sum and applicable to THIS year.

Next year’s school calendar came up for a final vote.  I suggested we put off the decision to get more input on the latest version, and to include a discussion of costs vs. benefits of a staggered kindergarten opening (half of new kindergartners come one day, half the next).  Most Board members wanted the decision done and the superintendent said we can still discuss staggered opening without changing the calendar, so all voted in favor.  I did add the comment that even if administration comes up with the best calendar every time, there may still be value in reviving the calendar committee of staff, parents, and community members.

New business for future agendas included Ms. Pace’s request for suggestions to increase direct contact between Board members and school staff, and my hope for a discussion of the staff survey and the possibility of a third party administering and reporting survey results (as recently implemented by Roanoke schools).

I’m sorry we’ve been making so many changes to our scheduled meetings.  We changed the time in March and April (open session begins at 4:00) because the Board of Supervisors also meets Wednesday evenings and we want to keep up with their budget discussion, and we changed the date in June (to June 6 instead of 13).  We also have a special meeting coming up sometime soon in Charlottesville at the headquarters of the Virginia School Board Association.  It’ll be an open meeting, though not nearly as easy to get to. The purpose is Board development, learning strategies to work together effectively as a team.

Have any thoughts on how Board members and staff can communicate more directly?  Attending Staff Advisory meetings was suggested, and announcing Board members’ “office hours” in each building.  We need your ideas.  Please send  ‘em on!

 

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.

All I Ever Wanted for Valentine’s Day (was a School Board 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…

The School Board is meeting A LOT in February, mostly to pass a budget to present to the Board of Supervisors.  On Feb. 7 we heard the superintendent’s proposal and comments from six employees during a public hearing.  The comments were wonderful, and the stories and information made a big impression.

Last night (Feb. 14) we passed the budget BUT the work may be just beginning.  If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t approve the total we’re asking for, we’ll have to make adjustments, of course, and I’m hoping the School Board will not just cut new requests off at the top (money for salary and health insurance increases).  You can see the budget packet online, but along with a few additional instructional staff and assistants, that’s the gist of it.

The night went on with something like a million superintendent’s reports.  The proposed calendar for next year got some attention.  One parent addressed it during public comment. The big controversy involves 9 half days for students so teachers can attend professional development sessions.  I believe in the concept in theory, but I think to lose that much instructional time and, yes, place that much of a burden on parents, the professional development needs to be really valuable, and that has not always been my personal experience.  (I did run for School Board partly to bring a teacher’s perspective.) And, because the calendar says 12 other full staff/workdays but actually contains 13, I suggested fewer half days.

Mr. Winkler wants to begin to approve calendars two years out instead of one at a time.  I suggested we get input from staff and parents and look at other counties to consider the big picture in that case.

The next big discussion was about staff bonuses this year.  The Board definitely wants to get this money to the staff, but timing became an issue.  It’s a long story.  Ms. Pace wanted to vote to approve the bonus now, Ms. Stewart abstained, I moved to table the vote until April because the two other Board members thought it might help.

Toward the end of the meeting we looked at cell phone policies.  The consensus was the policies are good, and if enforcement is an issue maybe the School Board can help by assuring administrators we will back them up.

Items of New Business brought up VSBA board development and recording/streaming/archiving our meetings for future discussion.

We finished some old business by voting to lift the restrictions on Board members visiting and volunteering in the schools.  Formerly, protocols called for 24 hours notice to the superintendent and Chair.  We replaced those protocols with existing Fluvanna policy that specifies School Board members may visit schools to maintain contact with employees and increase their understanding of actual educational practices.  SB members follow the same procedures applicable to all other visitors.  I know I went overboard a little there, but this change was important to me.  (Unofficial quote, ‘I am crazy excited’)

It was one of my favorite Valentine gifts!

 

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.

It was an 8 hour meeting. LONG post!

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 Jan 19 meeting ran twice as long as expected because Board members wanted to look at current program costs before we add any more to our next budget.  The superintendent reported on costs and some revenues (grants and other state and federal funds we receive only because we have some of these programs) for alternative education, testing, athletics, cafeteria, vocational, gifted, technology, and transportation.  These reports are all online if you’re interested.  We talked about these costs quite a bit, but we purposefully didn’t get into costs vs. benefits to students, though that’s coming of course, because it’s the whole point.

The Board talked about salaries a lot, for this year as well as 2019.  This year’s budget still accounts for money the former governor proposed to increase salaries.  The increase didn’t pass through the General Assembly but we discussed the possibility that our 2018 budget can still accommodate a small staff bonus before the end of this year.

Some of the superintendent’s proposed changes to Fluvanna salary scales for 2019 are in the Jan 19 packet online.  There’s a lot of discussion to come before anything is finalized.  It started with the psychologists’ request for a scale separate from and above the current teachers’ scale.  That general discussion recognized the importance of their work, but acknowledged that many teachers also have higher degrees and specialized qualifications and most on the Board felt we don’t have the money at this time to increase funds for reading speacialists, guidance counselors, and others in addition to our much appreciated school psychologists.  I’m making a kind of big deal about this because it was great to have the psychologists speak at our last meeting to make their proposal.

Our two different teachers’ salary scales got a lot of attention, as usual.  SO FAR, the budget proposal includes another adjustment – tiny increase – to the lower scale (Scale B), step advancements for both scales, and a 1% increase for all staff.  ( Albemarle is looking at 2% and Charlottesville at 4%.)  I suggested a cap on salaries that benefit from the 1%, perhaps $100,000, only because as some of our teachers took a step back with Scale B, no other employee categories took this hit.  According reports on the Va. Dept. of Ed website, our administrators are still well compensated compared to surrounding counties while our teachers are less so.  I’d like to correct that proportion for morale as much as taxpayer savings. I’ve stated several times that I certainly think our administrators are worth their money, even more, as all educators are.  But I think this adjustment is fair.

One of the last discussions on salary was about the 40 teachers who were hired before Scale B existed and then placed on that scale.  The Board talked about returning any or all of these teachers to Scale A, and the potential timing for making that happen.  At least two of us were in favor of moving all 40 over next year.  The cost is not prohibitive now, though it increases as these 40 move up on the higher scale.

So, the budget priorities most Board members agreed to consider at our next meeting (Feb 7) included the salary changes already described, an autism teacher plus 2 aides, a part time (I think) Emergency Medical Tech teacher, a full time teacher for a new vocational program (I’m not in favor of funding a new program at this time given our pupil teacher ratios in many existing classes), five new instructional aides – some to go toward more equal planning at the elementary level  (I’m a big fan – check out my last post if you’re really into it), and Continue reading