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.

Advertisements

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.

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.