I Don’t Know Quite What To Say About August

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…

Before I get to August, I’ll throw in a little about the July 31st School Board seminar focusing on testing and the 2019 line item budget.

After listening to all of the information provided to satisfy the Board that we don’t test too much in Fluvanna, it struck me again, that there was no formal input included from teachers, students, or parents.  I understand the administration’s point of view about testing, but I think other opinions are well worth considering.

I remain concerned about the amount of testing we have in Fluvanna.  I’m also concerned about the inconsistent use of the Measures of Academic Progress test (MAP).  Only in grades K-7 do we use  MAP scores as an important part of the classroom teacher’s evaluation.  We don’t use MAP at the high school.  Instead, teachers there are evaluated by student growth as demonstrated on classroom based assessments. This means the high school teacher is evaluated by a test covering pretty much only what was taught in his/ her class.  MAP tests, however, run through a gamut of skills sometimes very indirectly connected to classroom instruction. I commented (of course I did) that the high school tests made perfect sense to me and I’d love to see classroom based assessments replace MAP at the lower grades.

I hope the testing discussion is not over among Board members.  I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

After discussing testing at the seminar, we spent the last hours actually running down the 2019 line item budget with rulers, addressing every item.  This doesn’t include every purchase, program, and position but we’re trying to work our way through many of these as we examine monthly reports.

Now on to the August meeting, which ended on a note that was anything but boring, for me anyway.  I’ll make that a tease to try and get you to read to the end. This is a really long post. Sorry.

The evening began with a public comment.  (Finally!)  A community member told us she was there to live stream the meeting for people who wanted to listen in from home.  I think she was one of only two community members able to come, so her point was well taken (by me).

We had the big talk, again, about the unpaid lunch charge debt.  I brought a lot of research about the great cheese sandwich debate, which I actually didn’t share with the Board because it was obvious early on that this wasn’t going to fly, and I understand why, but since I did all that research, I will pass on to you that according to information provided by the Virginia School Boards Association, quite a number of Virginia school divisions use this plan and some swear by its effect on keeping debt low.  I did share other information from VSBA about the debt collection route and about several divisions who refer families to Social Services for neglect.

We looked at many alternatives but almost all penalized the student in some way. In the end, the Board decided to first improve our efforts to communicate debt to parents, but also set some limit to the individual unpaid lunch charges we would absorb before involving an outside agency for collection.  My objective is to prevent the debt in the first place (and we’ve gotten a number of unexpected checks paying off accounts since we’ve had some publicity about debt collection). As for cost, I consider any amount we recoup better than the zero we would have if we continue without collection.

There’s a report online called the Per Pupil Cost Update that teachers might especially want to see.  It tells how much of the approximately $1600 per classroom received by each school is released directly to teachers for instructional purchases.  It includes a comparison to last year.  My comment was that my goal is to get as much money as close to the classroom as possible.  I think the more we allow teachers to make these purchasing decisions themselves, the more directly it affects our students.

There’s no report for this one, but the superintendent addressed discipline concerns spelled out in the comment section of the last staff survey.  More comments were about discipline than any other single subject.  I was glad to have this conversation because (I said) I think it’s important that something of such great concern to our staff is acknowledged and addressed by the School Board.

Our last item of new business was a motion put forward by Ms. Stewart to inform staff that the message from the chair (me) on opening day was not spoken on behalf of the Board, and directing the superintendent to share with staff the mission, beliefs, and priorities previously approved by the Board.  Ms. Pace seconded the motion, though she wasn’t there to hear what I said on opening day.   I caught my breath and related the gist of my remarks at that event (a staff event, not a public event) where I thanked everyone for working with our kids and thanked them for choosing Fluvanna.  I referenced my history of working for Fluvanna and how it was my inspiration for getting elected to the School Board to make some changes.  I thought then and I still think it gave more meaning to my thank you.

The vote on this motion came out 2-2 (we had a member unable to attend that night) so we’re supposed to vote again in Sept. Oh joy.

Belive it or not that wasn’t the end of the meeting.  We had one more tie vote, this one on the policy setting the teacher probationary period.  A few years ago Fluvanna changed it from 3 years to 5, and two Board members (me again) now want to change it back.  Two members do not.  You probably know from a previous post that four administrators told the Board recently that 3 years was probably enough to determine who was a good teacher,  This makes me think there is no reason to underserve students two additional years before making a decision to let a substandard teacher go.

So that 2-2 vote also gets repeated in September when all five Board members are present.  I used to like 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 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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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 #1

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…

Wednesday the 12th was the first of two morning meetings for July.  It’s not too late to make the next one, July 26th at 9:30 (insert laughing emoji).

Looking at what’s new for the 2017-18 budget, there was some discussion about per pupil funding allocated to each school.  This amount is going up from $61 to $70 per student, but Mr. Rittenhouse commented that teachers tell him they don’t have enough money for classroom supplies.  The response from administration was that teachers generally get what they ask for, and the specific total of $250 per teacher came up more than once.  I pointed out that $250 is only $10 per pupil, a fraction of the total allocation, and gave my opinion that teachers don’t ask for more because they’ve been told no for years.  I suggested if we want to change that notion, communication is essential.  The superintendent proposed a follow-up report from principals on future CLASSROOM allocations.

Also applicable to the new school year’s budget was a vote on personnel, which I objected to only because it included one teaching contract for 10.5 months, over the usual 10 mos.  I emphasized that it’s not that any teacher doesn’t deserve extra pay for extra time, but most teachers already put in plenty of extra time, and only get paid for 10 mos.  I’m concerned about the inequity of only certain teaching positions being extended to 10.5 mo. contracts and beyond.  I was told that this particular position had just been reduced from a 12 mo. contract (making me wonder why it was 12 in the first place, and highlighting the inequity of the situation, I thought).

Of the next four votes, I only objected to one more, the excused absence policy I questioned in my last post. I still find it very unclear as to whether an excused absence is defined by the school system or by the parent.

Near the end of the meeting, I got on my soapbox about discipline, having been inspired by observations of the Board Chair, Ms. Carr, about the number of comments on the staff survey regarding student discipline. I took another look at the comments and compared them to last year.

In May 2016, salary was the most often suggested “area of focus” with discipline coming in second.  In 2017, the two switched positions, though salary had almost exactly the same number of comments as 2016, the number of discipline comments shot up by 60% to overtake even salary as our staff’s main concern (as suggested by their comments).  The superintendent brought up discipline numbers which are tracked and reported (lower numbers implying fewer incidents) but I suggested lower numbers might just mean fewer reports, with too many incidents going unreported, and higher numbers might actually indicate better discipline.  It’s a complicated issue, but obviously important to our staff.

I want to be clever but all I can think to leave you with is that old chestnut (because yes, I’m 100) :

Stay tuned for Morning Meeting #2!

 

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.

Deja Vu All Over Again

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…

I’m sure everyone noticed (!) I skipped my report on last month’s regular meeting but there wasn’t much to tell since we were still waiting on budget news from the county, we’re in-between superintendents, and we can’t comment much on the new superintendent search.

This post will put me back on track with an update on our April meeting held last week.

We hardly ever get input during our time for public comments, so it was great to start the meeting off with a retiree filling us in on her opinion of the Extended Service Plan.  The purpose of the plan is evolving into taking advantage of the expertise of recent Fluvanna retirees, usually as substitutes, in whatever capacity they served when they left us.  They know the kids, the curriculum, and the routines of our schools so their service is more valuable and we’ll pay them a little more than other subs to fill in. Currently the plan has two parts, 20 people who make $125/day and 8 people with special assignments who make $225/day.  After a lot of discussion (including my proposal to eliminate the $225 tier) there was consensus on a modified plan as described in the school board documents.

Most of the budget discussion focused on what to do this year with over $300,000 in (sort of) unexpected state revenue.  Some Board members wanted more technology.  One pointed out the irony of asking for increases from the Board of Supervisors every year, then seeing this increase also.  I agreed with another member who advocated for a bonus for all staff.  I also suggested that IF the Board was reluctant to support bonuses and pay the associated increase in employment taxes, we could consider an allocation to all personnel for supplies. This would essentially increase their compensation because many spend their own money anyway, and we could open other avenues for purchasing beyond the often required Staples and Faye’s Office Supplies.  Mr. Winkler suggested a portion of the money go toward translation services for SPED documents, financial and legal services, the superintendent search, technology, bus replacements, and FCHS field maintenance.

That pretty much covers it because, as of last Wednesday, we were still waiting on budget news from the county, we’re still in-between superintendents, and we still can’t comment much on the new superintendent search.

Yogi Berra 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.