Three In One

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 on three meetings that happened in the last two weeks…

One of the first actions taken at the Jan. 11 School Board meeting was to vote in a chair and vice chair.  This happens every January, but because the Board spent recent months discussing the benefits of changing the election timeline to match the school year, not the calendar year, I expected these terms to last only until July.  I was surprised to learn this was no longer a Board objective.  Ms. Washington, who’s been Board chair for 5 years, chose to step down and Ms. Carr was elected until Jan. 2018.  I nominated our current vice-chair, Ms. Pace, to serve again but she declined and nominated Ms. Washington, who accepted.

One information item that stood out to me later in the evening was this year’s 7% increase in participation in the school lunch program. We’ve also reached a 30% threshold in recipients of free lunch, which increases our state aid in some areas.

I had a presentation of my own on the agenda about Fairfax County Schools’ initiative to get more community involvement in the budget process.  The unique thing they did was survey the community about what to cut from the budget, not what to keep.  Their objective (and mine) was not to reduce the budget, but to possibly redirect resources to better match community priorities.  I thought we could gather this information from Fluvanna quickly and easily by just adding budget questions to our upcoming superintendent survey.  My interpretation of the discussion was that Board members preferred input on budget priorities to support, rather than cut, and wanted the superintendent survey kept separate from any other purpose.

Near the end of the evening, there was another discussion on the special use of school buses which you’ve probably already read in the local paper.

 

Meeting no.2 was on Jan. 19 – a short Board meeting with the organization hired to help with our superintendent search (the Virginia School Boards Association).  We set a timeline of about two weeks to gather community input by survey (please look at the FCPS website or pick up a hard copy at any school) and decided on a public hearing Feb 1 at 7 pm (School Board office).  We expect to advertise community priorities and accept applications from early Feb. through early March.  This feels like a short timeline to me, but the VSBA says there are many vacancies this year, and if we move too slowly the best candidates may have already accepted positions.  Candidate names and interviews are kept extremely confidential because many will be currently employed and unwilling to let their local Boards’ know they may be interested in leaving.  We’re told it’s our best chance for a high quality pool of applicants.

 

And finally, meeting no.3 was the very next day, Jan 20 – not a short meeting at all since it was a budget seminar focusing on next year.  About an hour of revenue reports revealed we can expect more state money next year (mostly because the state underestimated our student population numbers) BUT we’ll be directed how we have to spend most of it in support of existing programs.  Money for most things beyond our current budget will have to come from other sources, either reducing or eliminating something we have now (says me) or increasing local funding (me again).

The additional things our interim superintendent, Mr. Winkler, and the School Board support in next year’s budget are salary step increases in accordance with currently published salary scales, hold-harmless increases in health insurance premiums, an application of the possible one-time state sponsored employee bonus (believe it or not, free money always costs us money), an increase in athletic stipends, and the addition of one exploratory teaching position at FMS.  We project these additions will require $806, 290 more in local funds.

Much of the conversation around these items centered on our controversial dual salary scales for teachers.  Mr. Winkler said he was interested in examining the issue and I suggested he get together a team of teachers for input.  I also suggested that even if we couldn’t solve the problem in one fell swoop, we could at least make incremental improvements by asking teachers where they’d reallocate resources from other areas (I know, I sound like a broken record).

As a parting remark for future budget consideration, I brought up the subject of equal planning time, and put forward the desire of elementary teachers to increase their planning time to equal that of middle and secondary staff.

 

I’m thinking saving up three meetings for one post was not the best idea I’ve ever had.  I know several people who I’m sure gave up on me halfway through.  Everyone else, thanks for hanging in 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 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.

A First For Me

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, with reference to discussions, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here‘s the latest….

There were more people than usual at the December School Board meeting. Some came with public comments about serious concerns for 8th graders at the high school, and some (I assume, though only one person addressed it publicly) came with an interest in the superintendent’s recent approval of a school bus going to the Democratic caucus held Dec. 3 in Farmville.

Before any public comments, the meeting began with an almost immediate vote to go into closed session, an action taken when the Board needs to discuss employee or student matters, real property, or consult with legal counsel. Board members left the room for some time. When we came back, we had to individually certify that only public business lawfully exempted from open meeting requirements was discussed in the privacy of closed session. I voted no, along with one other Board member.  This was very awkward, and a first for me (not the awkwardness, for sure, but the inability to certify).

On the heels of that usually routine vote, another simple item became more complicated. There was no provision on the agenda for addressing the superintendent’s approval of the bus going to the Democratic caucus. I moved to add a discussion of the school board policies cited in that action.

The gist of that discussion, according to NBC Channel 29, was that ‘the board resolved to be mindful of the way the policy is written’ (Policy GBG …The Fluvanna County School Board also recognizes that school time and school property should not be used for partisan political purposes) ‘and when in doubt to consult its team of legal counsel for advice.’

Also during the meeting, Ms. Brenda Gilliam became the superintendent’s designee, replacing Mr. Winkler who’ll be interim superintendent.  She’ll have authority to act in his place if he should be unreachable for any reason.  The new assistant superintendent, Frank Leech, will be working part-time , and not consistently available to fill in.

Toward the end of the evening, I think the Board achieved a breakthrough in the debate over protocols for Board members visiting schools.  Ms. Carr and I worked together on a revision that does not require board members to reschedule their visit if administrators aren’t available to conduct a walk-through, but does call for 24 hours’ notice and a stated purpose for each visit.  I’m in favor of as few restrictions as possible but I’m hoping for approval of this compromise in January.

Finally, the Board will meet on January 19 to begin the formal search for a new superintendent.  Two Board members indicated during the meeting that they were well satisfied already with a potential candidate present in the room that night.  They were not more specific.

Whoops… P.S. I got in a last word about Fairfax County’s successful initiative to get community input into their budget through meetings, social media, and an online survey.  Our Board was open to the idea of more community involvement and asked for details at the next meeting.

 

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.

That Was A Surprise

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 regarding discussions, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine.  Here’s the latest….

I might as well start off with the big news of the evening, Ms. Keller’s resignation.  While the purpose of Fluco Blog is to fill you in on discussions that lead up to School Board decisions, I can’t help you much with this one.  Personnel matters are discussed in closed session, which we have one hour before each regular meeting.  In this case I can only give you the facts on public record, which begin with the opening of the meeting, and the Board Chair requesting we add two personnel votes to the previously scheduled vote coming later in the evening.  For the first vote all agreed to ask the Board of Supervisors to let us keep the money left over from last year’s budget.  Then, just before the second vote, it was announced Ms. Keller had submitted her resignation, and we needed a vote to accept or reject.  All voted in favor.  The third vote was to place Mr. Winkler as interim superintendent.  I was the only dissenting vote, with the public comment that I was voting no only because having just learned this information, I didn’t feel I’d had enough time to give a considered opinion on such an important decision.

Wait, wait, don’t leave….we had another unusual event that night.  Three people came forward to speak to the Board during time for public comments. I can think of a grand total of only three speakers in the entire 11 months I’ve been on the Board.  All were teachers who spoke eloquently about money for salaries, and other concerns, for the 2018 budget.  When that budget discussion came around a little while later, I acknowledged the teachers’ comments and requested that we ask them (and all staff) for suggestions on where we can cut costs to better support the priorities they addressed.  I’m sure they have good ideas!

All that’s left is old news, the School Board self-evaluation and protocols.   I asked (again) that we include consideration of the staff survey results in our evaluation.  I asked (again again) that we don’t change our School Board protocols to require administrative oversight of informal school visits by Board members.   Changes have been proposed (Mr. Rittenhouse asked who wrote them) that require Board members to give at least 24 hours’ notice to administration before visiting a school, and further require Board members to reschedule their visit if no administrative designee is available to walk them around.  I read aloud a section of a handbook provided by the Virginia School Boards Association (we pay them a considerable amount of money for their opinion on our policies) which said, ‘From time to time the superintendent may be asked to arrange for the school board to visit schools and see a program in operation….This does not preclude unannounced visits by board members to the schools or prevent them from talking with school personnel at the schools visited.  On the contrary, board members should visit the schools as much as possible.’  I’ve been invited to submit my own version of this protocol in December.  I think VSBA said it best.

 

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

 

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

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.