I Did It 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…

My last post was way too long because (I’m going with) I combined 3 meetings into one report.  Well, I did it again, this time because (I’m going with) we had 3 meetings in 8 days, and nobody wants to hear from me THAT much.

On Feb. 1 the Board met for a budget work session and a public hearing on qualifications of a superintendent.  The one person who spoke at the public hearing was in support of naming Mr. Winkler our next superintendent.  The work session took a little longer.

You can see the interim superintendent’s latest budget proposal online.  It’s about the same as I reported in my previous post.  (I can’t help but brag that I just deleted a whole paragraph spouting the almost identical information.)  One big change is that our health insurance rates will actually go down, a huge relief, so our new revenue request of the county will be closer to $500,000 (not $800,000) above last year’s allocation.

There was a lot of discussion (again) about our two teacher salary scales, particularly Scale B.  I asked for (and several other school board members supported) a salary committee, including teachers, to look at Scale B in the future.  I gave my (now familiar) opinion that we should reverse the trend of the scale that improves very little for the first 20 years and then speeds up the next 10.  I cited (again) the School Efficiency Review which supports front-loading teacher scales.  I repeated my goal of funding improvements to Scale B by re-prioritizing some of our current expenses, not by increasing the tax burden on our community.

Our next meeting was Feb. 7 and after a long closed session, we discussed the qualifications of our next superintendent.  I pressed for a requirement that all candidates have some kind of public school teaching experience (they’ll be making decisions about teaching methods, programs, schedules, compensation, and evaluation) and that our chosen candidate agrees to live in Fluvanna.  The Virginia School Boards Association also recommended this qualification when they met with us last month, pointing out that this may be the highest paid position in the county and it’s key that all candidates are willing to spend their time and money in the community that pays them.  The Board chose to make these preferred, rather than required, qualifications.

Finally, meeting no.3 was just last night.  There were a few last-minute changes to our budget presentation for the Board of Supervisors (Feb. 15).  One future proposal (for 2019) was to allocate almost $1 million to include auto mechanics in our vocational program.  At a previous meeting I wondered about this as a budget priority.  The new presentation still includes the addition, but transfers some of the cost to the capital improvement plan.

When we voted on the budget, Mr. Rittenhouse and I voted against its approval.  My comments mirrored my opinion of last year. The percentage of our total budget spent on the instructional category has gone down almost every year from 78% in 2010 to this budget’s 73.3%.  I understand reporting requirements can change, but none of our other categories appear to trend consistently downward as instruction does.  Also, about the same time that we had 78% of our budget in the instructional category, we spent 86% of our money on people.  Now we spend 80-82% on people.  I said I’d like to see a budget that allocates a greater percentage of available funds to instruction and staff.  Mr. Rittenhouse said he’d like to see more money go to the classroom and less to administration.

Another long post.  I’m going to hear about it.  At least it was fascinating!

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.

A Short Meeting with a Long Explanation

The School Board passed a budget weeks ago with salary scales and health insurance rates included.  But since that time our anticipated funding from the state has changed and the Board of Supervisors has decided on next year’s tax rate.  It happens like this pretty much every year.  The School Board passes an initial budget because we need a best guess of state funding to know what to request from the county.  Then, once we know what the county will kick in, we don’t have much time to make the big decisions on salaries and health insurance rates before employee contracts are offered in May.  So we pre-plan with the information available at the time and make adjustments when “final” numbers come in.

As if it were that easy.  Our “final” numbers for both revenues and expenses are never very final.  For example, the state gives us money based on student enrollment but they count heads and pay up several times during the year.  State money is about half our budget so changes in enrollment during the budget cycle can make a big difference in revenue.  On the expense side (another example) salaries are a huge portion of the budget, and although we can know in advance how many employees will start the school year in August, the amount needed for their salaries will certainly change over the summer.  Our largest category of employees are teachers, and because we bring new teachers in on salary scale B, depending on how many leave from scale A, salary expenses will definitely fluctuate.

What I’m trying to say is the School Board met Wednesday night primarily to set salary scales and health insurance rates, now that we have a better idea of “final” revenues.

The administration presented the Board with salary scales reflecting a 1% minimum increase for all employees, and a 2% average increase across all the scales (not by employee category).  It was also recommended that the School Board cover the inevitable increase in health insurance rates within the budget, keeping premiums level for employees.  There was some discussion about raising salaries more and having employees take over the health insurance increase.  It was brought out that 25% of our employees don’t participate in our health insurance program, so they don’t benefit from these annual increases.  Also, because the Va. Retirement System uses salary to determine retirement, a greater increase in salary results in a greater increase in benefits.  On the downside, transferring the increase in cost of health insurance to the employee would mean the division pays that amount to 25% more people, they’d pay more in FICA, VRS, and related taxes and fees, and though passing on just the increase might not affect this, there are minimum requirements of our current insurance provider and SOQ funding for a partial employer share.

Accepting the administration’s recommendation on both salaries and health insurance rates would use $682,000 of the $776,000 provided by the Board of Supervisors for operational purposes.  This would leave only $94,000 available for other needs presented by the schools including additional custodians and instructional aides, as well as the much discussed (with the Board of Supervisors) additional Career and Technical Education teacher, school psychologist, and Instructional Technology Resource Teacher.

The evening ended in four action items (votes).  All Board members voted in favor of the Special Education Annual Plan, which secures about $770,000 in federal funds (which gets added to about $1.3 million in state funds and $5.5 million in local money) for special ed.  All voted in favor of a $2500 annual Va. School Boards Association policy services agreement (for legal advice on school policy).  All members voted in favor of the administration’s recommended health insurance rates (an increase of 7.1% not passed on to employees).  All but one Board member (me again) voted in favor of the administration’s recommended salary scales.  I voted against this with the comment that I believe we should have looked at more than one proposal.

The Extended Service Plan was on the agenda, but it was not an action item.  The Board listened to a description of what we can expect to see presented at the next regular meeting on May 11.  That meeting will probably be longer than this one.  Maybe I should start blogging in installments.

 

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.

April School Board Business

Last night’s School Board meeting included 9 reports, so even though we started at 3 in the afternoon in order to make the public hearing on the tax rate at 7 pm, the Board of Supervisors had already adjourned by the time we got there.  (I’m told only one person spoke at the hearing and didn’t directly address the tax rate.)

That’s my gentle warning that this is a long post, but it’s also (I hope) a good way to find out what the School Board has to say about all the reported information before decisions are made.

It didn’t help keep us on schedule that one Board member (me) slowed down the vote on personnel recommendations with objections to filling an administrative position.  I referenced the School Efficiency Review which reported that Fluvanna has 6.4 instructional administrative positions, while our neighboring peers average 4.1.  In addition to saving the cost of the position, eliminating it would (in my opinion) allow our teachers to make more instructional decisions for the students they know best.   A majority of the Board voted in favor of all personnel recommendations.

A lot of conversation centered around next year’s budget, specifically salaries and employee health insurance.  While the state legislature passed a 2% average raise for next year, they don’t start their share until December, they don’t include all FCPS employees, they don’t account for associated increases in taxes and benefits, and they only pay based on SOQ determined rates. (Which means they contribute 2% of a salary they think should be $30,000, for example, when in reality it’s closer to $40,000.  These SOQ rates were set many years ago and are not updated.)  All this means the state will give us only a portion of what a 2% raise really costs.

The School Board didn’t consider turning down the state portion and forgoing the 2% raise, but there was a lot of discussion about how to apply it.  The state allows averaging across employee categories, so the School Board can choose to essentially substitute these raises for established increases in salary scales resulting from increased years of experience, meaning some teachers (for example) may get very small raises while some may get larger ones, as long as the teacher average is 2%.  This method costs significantly less money than a straight 2% raise for all and was how the School Board applied the last legislated raise.

However, there are drawbacks to this strategy of averaging.  The Board discussed how these raises have come to replace steps on the salary scale, reducing the influence of years’ experience on salary increases.  We discussed how, in comparison with other localities, we’re making no progress for Fluvanna when everyone goes up 2%.  We touched on the importance of goodwill from our employees, who will be hoping for a “legislated 2%” raise, not an average across the category.  In fact, I think employees might rightfully hope for 2% added to the next year’s step increase. This would not be an unrealistic expectation in better times.

Then there’s the cost of health insurance going up 7.1%.

The Board will meet April 27 at 6:30 to finalize decisions after we know the amount of our appropriation of local funding.

But wait, there’s more….We contracted for an energy audit of all school properties, in partnership with the county government.  Almost half of the cost is for auditing the high school, and I wondered why since it was recently constructed.  I was reminded it was designed in 2005 and technologies have since improved.

In conjunction with our application for federal (Perkins) funds for Career and Technical Education, the Board voted to approve the CTE Plan.  I learned from the plan that CTE is funded with about $40,000 in Perkins funds, about $200,000 in state funds, and we spend about $600,000 in local funds to support the program.

The Board also voted to approve new FCPS Governance Protocols.  The only change we made to what you can see online is the addition of a timeline in the section on School Board self-evaluation.  The Board expects to take next year to develop a self-evaluation instrument.

I wasn’t all that disappointed to leave the School Board meeting for the Board of Supervisors, only to find I missed all the action. But they meet again on Wed, April 20 at 7:00 to adopt their budget.  I won’t be late for that one!

 

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.  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.