I’m All Ears

School Board members spent the last two Wednesdays listening to a marathon of reports from directors, administrators, and others (all available online).  The only votes taken involved approval of a $2264 grant application to assist immigrant youth, and the usual items on the consent agenda (minutes, monthly claims, personnel, surplus items).  I voted against certifying payment of the monthly claims because they included about $500 payments for each of 11 administrators to join a professional association very similar to one available to teachers and staff, however each of the approximately 150 staff members who choose to join pay the comparable $500 annual fee out of their own pocket.

A revision of School Board norms was on the agenda (particularly whether or not School Board members should visit schools unaccompanied by administrators) but it was tabled until November.  You can read about my opinion in the previous post (YES).  I look forward to reporting on the discussion.

At the last meeting the Board started hashing out initial plans for next year’s budget.  There was discussion about whether the Board should continue to pay the inevitable increases in health insurance premiums or, at some point, pass a portion on to employees.  As an alternative, the Board could raise salaries to compensate for insurance increases instead of paying them directly.  Everyone would benefit, not just people who carry school insurance, and salaries would be higher for retirement calculations, BUT it would cost a lot more to include everyone, and higher salaries would mean higher employer payments to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) and to social security (FICA).  And it would look like employees were consistently getting good raises, instead of just keeping up with insurance.  I suggested we ask teachers and staff for their opinion.

Ms. Keller was asked what she’d like to include in the next budget and she talked about another social worker, more instructional assistants, and maybe an administrative position to help in the special ed department.   Mr. Winkler suggested a 4th Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) and 2 more vocational (CTE) positions. This is all very preliminary.  I said I’d like to look at reducing expenses, not just adding things to the budget, and again, we should ask our staff (about cutting costs) because I’m sure they have good ideas.

Salaries were not addressed directly, but in my comments I asked the Board to specifically improve Scale B, a salary scale that accelerates very slowly for the first 20 years of a teacher’s career ($7000 total) but then increases an additional $10,500 over the next 10 years.  I’d like to see some of the increases of later years pushed more proportionately into the first 20 years on the scale. The Chair agreed to add this to the list.

The public hearing for input into next year’s budget is Nov. 9 at 7:00 in the school board office auditorium.  Or you can call, email, or hunt down any school board representative!

 

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.

There’s A Protocol For That

The School Board’s been working on rules and procedures for dealing with simple questions like who decides what we talk about at meetings (the Board Chair and superintendent come up with a draft agenda, then send it to all Board members for input) and more complicated issues like publicly supporting a Board decision even if you voted against it.  Now we’re hashing out what I thought was one of the simpler matters, should Board members regularly visit the schools without an administrative escort?  Members already agree to giving school administrators a heads up that we’re in the building, and no one seems interested in interrupting classes or putting teachers and students on the spot, but some disagree with my opinion that there’s value in visiting the schools both with and without administrative oversight. Obviously, it’s great to have someone show us what we might miss on our own, and tell us things we don’t even know to ask.  But I think we get another valuable perspective, from things we see and people we talk to, without an administrator standing by.  The discussion continues in October.

Also at the September meeting we heard some interesting facts about Fluvanna’s Adult Education program. Last year Adult Ed served 58 students, split about evenly between African-American, Hispanic, and white populations.  Most were age 25-44.  57% were employed.  About 3000 people in Fluvanna have less than a 12th grade education.

September’s budget discussion included a report on enrollment.  We’re down from last year by 33 students.  The state estimated we’d be down by 99, but fortunately they count and adjust our revenue several times during the year.  Attrition rates are lower in the middle grades than at upper and lower levels.

One of the final items at the September meeting was a throw back to August’s failure to gain a second on the motion to approve that month’s policy updates.  With all members present this time, the same items were presented for approval and all passed, though not unanimously.  I voted against the policy on leaves and absences (there’s more information about this in my last post) and Mr. Rittenhouse voted against alternative paths to attaining standard units of credit for graduation because he felt it lowered the bar for graduation requirements.

Meeting adjourned!

 

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.

School Is Back In Session

The School Board met twice last week with a seminar on Monday and a regular meeting on Wednesday.  The seminar covered student test scores (available in a recent press release), a budget overview, and a plan for self-evaluation.

The budget overview included an item comparing annual leave/holidays for 10, 11, and 12 month employees.  I was puzzled by the choice of information used for comparison.  To cost out dollars per hour, the 10 mo. teacher’s salary was taken from the maximum pay scale (and given a Master’s Degree supplement) while the 12 mo. principal’s salary was averaged between the lowest and highest pay scale (and taken from the year before maximum annual leave goes into effect).  Also, while teachers are required to work an 8 hour day, they were credited with only 7.5 hours, a policy minimum.  When the results were compared to neighboring counties, according to the information presented at the meeting, Fluvanna’s 12 mo. employees (administrators) potentially work 4-5 days less than any other division included in the comparison.  Fluvanna’s 10 mo. employees (teachers) work the same number of days as most of our neighbors.

After the budget overview, I again asked the School Board review the expenses of last year with an eye toward approving a more detailed budget (for 2018) than the broad categorical budget approved for 2017.  The Board was told that looking at last year’s expenses would be difficult because we were operating two different (financial reporting) systems and the format was different.  I repeated the advice of the well-regarded School Efficiency Review which noted that Fluvanna’s School Board should approve a detailed expenditure budget to comply with the Code of Virginia.  Mr. Rittenhouse was not at the meeting, but among those present there was little support for my request. From comments made, I think most Board members are concerned that our involvement in a more detailed budget goes beyond the scope of our responsibilities and usurps the expertise of the superintendent.

The subject came up again indirectly at Wednesday’s meeting.  After being informed that the school budget would accommodate a potential $140,000 loss of state salary funds by making reductions in other areas, one Board member wanted to know where the reductions would come from and another member, recalling Board involvement in budget cuts early in her tenure, suggested Board involvement in these decisions, also.  I appreciatively seconded their input!

Near the end of Wednesday’s meeting (the last item from Monday was a School Board self-evaluation, agreed to by all members, and hopefully including feedback from the Fluvanna staff survey) all voting was smooth sailing until the approval of policy updates.  The motion made to approve the updates was never seconded, so the motion died.  It was unexpected and I’m not sure what happens next.  The policy updates included the leave/holiday descriptions at the beginning of this post, so I was not in favor of approval.  While I’d like to see adjustments made to address my objections (of course), one Board member who might have seconded the motion wasn’t there, so the same vote may simply come up at the next meeting and make it through.  Chances are you can score a front row seat to find out in 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 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.

FY Stands for Fiscal Year

FY 2016 ended on June 30th, putting the July 6th School Board meeting just a few days into FY 2017.  Because so many decisions depend on the allocation of resources ($$$), budgets past and present are always a big item on the School Board’s agenda.  Here are some interesting (I hope) budget discussions from the last meeting.

In FY 2016 Fluvanna Co. Public Schools paid the food services division $41,000 for unpaid student lunch charges.  It’s a goal of food services to be self-supporting.  $6,000-7,000 has been recouped by alerting parents, but most of the loss had to be “absorbed” by the school budget.  Students who qualify for free lunch aren’t charged in the first place, so I was interested in how we can collect this money from families who’ve been determined to have the ability to pay.  At least one Board member interpreted the situation very differently, and spoke at length about why families who may actually need meal assistance don’t apply for it, including personal pride and difficulty filling out the form.

Even the brand new FY 2017 budget is already absorbing some previously unfunded expenses.  For example, while crafting the 2017 budget this spring, the School Board presented to the Board of Supervisors a significant list of items we hoped to add to the 2016 budget.  After agreeing to fund increases in compensation and insurance, additional money provided by the BOS ($53,000) didn’t go very far toward checking items off the list.  Fortunately, since the spring, we’ve been able to add many of these expenses after all (over $300,000 worth), mostly attributable to signing a money saving fuels contract.

Related to budget, a policy addressing personal days, annual leave, and holidays for different classifications of employees was discussed.  It seemed disproportionate to me that employees on a 10 month contract get a maximum of 3 paid personal leave days while others on a 12 month contract get a maximum of 35 paid leave/holidays.  It all gets pretty messy when you dive into the details.  For example, 10 mo. employees are paid for 200 days, but could possibly work only 180 if the weather is horrific.  On the other hand, 12 mo. employees are actually paid for 260 days (which means every Mon-Fri on the calendar, including Xmas Day, 4th of July, etc.) but after 10 years, they work only 225 days.  All in all, my most conservative calculations give veteran employees on a 12 mo. contract at least a 4% pay advantage, just by virtue of the more generous leave policy.

At the end of each meeting, School Board members are invited to make final comments.  I read a portion of the School Efficiency Review which advised Fluvanna several years ago that “the School Board should approve a detailed expenditure budget to comply with the code of Virginia.”  The Review noted that subsequently a 2014 budget document was produced containing 41 pgs. of expense data with substantial detail for each school, program, and department.  Accordingly, the following year the Board approved a 39 page detailed expenditure budget.  This year the Board voted on salary scales, insurance rates, and 5 main categories of expenditures.  In light of this, I asked Board members to renew our commitment to compliance with the recommendation of the Efficiency Review, and look at past expenses with the goal of, once again, approving a detailed expenditure budget in time for FY 2018.

 

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.

Reporting from Route 15

Long lists of recognitions and reports can make for a late night in Palmyra.  As always, you can read most of the Fluvanna School Board reports online, but here’s what was added to last night’s School Board meeting, and some of what was said before, during, and after.

Extended education (before and after care) was new to the agenda.  Fees for extended ed pay for the service which has 130-180 participants.  Because of concerns about licensing requirements, Fluvanna Parks and Rec MAY oversee the program in the future.

The current budget report (FY 2016 ending June 30) finished with anticipated leftover funds of $500,000-$720,000, which translates into 1.6% -1.9% of the total budget.

Next year’s budget report (FY 2017 beginning July 1) showed $53,509 remaining of our local appropriation after compensation and health insurance adjustments, and technology replacement funds.  The administration presented plans for that money to fund an additional literacy aide and another section of 18 students eligible for the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School.

The same report included the Board’s first collective look at the proposed categorical budget allocations for 2017 (a mouthful, I know).  Five budget categories are defined by the state (1.Instruction; 2.Administration, attendance and health; 3.Transportation; 4.Operations and maintenance; and 5.Technology).  Virginia school boards must take a vote by June 30 each year divvying up their total budget into these 5 categories.  A few months ago, a member of our Board of Supervisors pointed out that, as a percentage of the total school budget, Fluvanna’s instructional category has been decreasing over the last 6 years.  The proposed 2017 categorical allocation continues this trend.  Since 2010, only instruction has decreased as a percentage of the total budget, all other categories have increased.  In terms of real dollars, while all other categories have exceeded their 2010 actual amounts, instruction is still $2 million below its 2010 level.

Seven reports later, the 2017 categorical budget came up for a vote.  Aside from voting on salaries and health insurance premiums, this vote feels like the culmination of the Board’s involvement in the budget process.   I voted no because I’m uncomfortable continuing the (now) 7 year trend of reducing the category of Instruction as a percent of the total budget.  Mr. Rittenhouse also voted no.  The action passed 3-2.

The evening ended with School Board member comments.  I acknowledged the important work the Board does in voting on salaries, benefits, and these 5 categories required by the state.  But I also asked the Board to consider taking a more dynamic role in preparing for our next budget cycle, 2018.  It’s my desire, as an elected School Board representative, to provide more input into the disbursement of $38 million that affect the education of our children.

 

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.