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.

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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.

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.

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.

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

…starting with a quick update on a special meeting May 23 to settle a question about the $400 staff bonus. The question was should employees hired May 1, for example, get as much money as employees who worked with us all year? I thought yes, because I considered the bonus, in addition to payment for services, a gesture of appreciation to everyone who chooses to work for FCPS.  The Board approved the full $400 for all who were employed on May 19 regardless of when they started.

We try to keep to business as advertised, but discussions can lead in other directions. (Get ready for an even more wordy description of the conversation than usual – trying to keep to the facts)  Ms. Carr included in her public remarks a reflection on the number of comments about discipline that were written in on the staff survey.  Many teachers commented on their perception that the administration is not as supportive of classroom discipline measures as they’d like.  The administration reports a conceivable disconnect between teacher expectations and (sometimes legal) realities.  I commented that, by the time a discipline concern makes it all the way to the School Board, we have the luxury of considering one child at a time and their specific need, but the classroom teacher has to consider that need in the context of the needs of the other 24 students in the class, balancing the best course of action for all.

On to the next meeting, June 14.

One of the first items was a request by Mr. Winkler for an additional holiday for 12 mo. employees on Mon, July 3.  I was not in favor (and probably not very popular) commenting that our 12 mo. employees have a minimum of 31 paid days out of office per year, compared to a maximum by policy of only 3 days for teachers.  And I do already wonder about our confidence (ahem) in getting full value from our summer schedule of 4 ten hour work days with Fridays off.  I suggested the taxpayers may prefer we ask our staff to work the following Friday, if taking off Monday, or use one of their personal, annual leave, or floating holidays if that’s their preference.  Mr. Rittenhouse and I voted no but the item passed 3-2.

Another vote involved the 2018 budget (again) now that we have an approved (initial) appropriation from the Board of Supervisors.  The total budget, by law, has to be divided into categories: instruction, administration, transportation, operations, and technology. I voted against the allocated amounts because I wanted to see the instructional category large enough to support more than an average 1.1% salary increase for staff.  Mr. Rittenhouse voted against it because he thought we could identify and eliminate some waste from the total.  In the recent past, Mr. Rittenhouse and I have suggested that funds in the administration category, in particular, could be used more efficiently and contribute to an increase in money reaching the classroom.  The item passed 3-2.

We looked at a ton of policy updates including one defining excused and unexcused absences.  I suggested we add to the policy some academic consequences of unexcused absences to provide information for parents and direction for teachers. (Can the student make up missed assignments and tests?  Is the teacher expected to provide missing notes and materials?) The Board did not support my suggestion and the administration agreed there should be no consequences for children regardless of the reason for the absence.

I tried again when the language of the policy changed from an excused absence due to appointments, funerals, and religious observances to simply an excused absence by virtue of  “parental awareness and support”.  Why spell out excused absences when it actually boils down to anything goes as long as the parent says so?  Mr. Winkler said the law upholds the parental awareness and support definition.

There was also some discussion about the school meals and snacks policy, and the practice of allowing students to withdraw up to $5 in cash from their meal accounts for purchases other than food (such as after-school activities, flower sales, etc).  I agreed with our finance director that the school shouldn’t act as a bank in such circumstances.  The policy stands for now.

At this point I might as well throw in some interesting statistics I shared with the Board that I learned from the National School Boards Association about school choice.  The choices under consideration were traditional public school, charters, virtual (on-line) schools, private schools, voucher (magnet) schools, and home schools.  87% of students in the US attend traditional public schools. In Va. we have 9 charter schools.  The NSBA’s examination of data showed charters, as a whole, slightly under-perform compared to regular public schools.  Virtual schools showed very poor performance, private schools outperformed until ethnic and income gaps came into consideration, voucher schools were below the public school average, and home schools are undetermined because performance data is anecdotal and self-reported. Mr. Winkler asked for the research supporting the virtual schools findings which follows if anyone’s interested (and if I can figure out how to send a link):

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for caring!  Next month might be another twofer.  There’s a regular meeting and a seminar.  I’ll try to control myself.  I know I can’t blame all the wordiness on sticking to the facts.

 

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

 

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

May Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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