Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gloucester, VA Response To Brian McGovern Concerning School Board

Brian McGovern recited the following at the last School Board meeting.  After Mr. McGovern's opinion you will find my response.
Local Government is Cause for Concern
Recent actions by the Gloucester Board of Supervisors regarding public education in the county are a cause of concern on a number of levels.

In the recent budget hearing, more than 100 citizens attended with many requesting that the board of supervisors increase its financial support for public education in an effort to maintain high quality schools. Most advocated fully funding the school board’s budget request. Most recognized the effects of underfunding public education in Gloucester : A reduced school calendar; neglect of capital improvement needs; deteriorating and outdated textbooks; an exodus of highly-qualified teachers and staff who can no longer afford to support families on annual salaries $10,000 below the national average. One teacher, who happens to hold a master’s degree, reported that his family is eligible for WIC benefits.

Conversely, fewer than a half dozen citizens spoke advocating no increase in school funding. That’s right, 100:6. Those in attendance that night witnessed this lopsided ratio, and noted that the vast majority demanded that those who control the purse strings appropriately fund public education in Gloucester . As this community is now aware, this vast majority was ignored by the board of supervisors when it came time to vote on the budget.

There are some who have argued that there would be more funding had Gloucester simply replaced a 1953 school with a 1953 school on a dangerous stretch of a four-lane highway. They will no doubt continue to lecture those who disagree with them. This was not an issue raised by those who asked for appropriate funding for schools this year. The majority of Gloucester citizens simply want good schools.

The BOS has also given itself license to attempt to make administrative decisions for the school board. In addition to ignoring the will of the citizenry, the BOS also voted unanimously to earmark excess funds for bonuses for “selected” school staff.

The board of supervisors is charged with simply providing “lump sum” funding for the school board. This latest move is tantamount to “line item” funding and is an inappropriate role for the board of supervisors, if not an abuse of power. It is interesting that the BOS now seems to be interested in helping education support staff after one member suggested outsourcing the same support staff, many of whom have dedicated years or decades to the school system.

Instead of these political shenanigans, what the county board should have done was to listen to the collective voice of the majority and fully fund the budget request of the school board, which would have provided modest increases for all school staff, not just those inappropriately selected by the board of supervisors.
The school board asked for funding for a 3 percent increase for support staff as well as a 2 percent increase for teachers. The role of the board of supervisors is to provide funding for schools, not to decide who gets an increase or bonus, and who does not. The board of supervisors should do its job and leave it to the school board to oversee the operations of the school system. This author does not speak for the school board, but on behalf of the interests of public education in Gloucester County and the men and women who provide services to more than 5,000 children and teens on a daily basis.

Brian McGovern, President
Gloucester Education Association
I am writing in response to Mr. McGovern’s opinion titled; “Local Government is Cause for Concern”.
It is understood that numerous citizens attended a recent budget hearing and requested the Board of Supervisors (BOS) to fully fund Mr. Kiser’s and the School Board’s (SB) proposed budget.  The BOS and SB were directed by the people, through the results of the last election, to rein-in spending throughout all departments.  The citizens of Gloucester have demonstrated their desires to have good stewards controlling the money and an effective, efficient and equal public education system.  The BOS is charged with overseeing all of the County’s financial resources and the Code of Virginia allows them to either provide lump sum funding or categorical funding to the school system.  If the mentality of the School Board does not change soon, the method of funding could very well change.  The school system is not a sacred cow or privileged special interest group without financial boundaries.
Replacing Page with a 1953 school was not considered.  Many citizens and supervisors requested that Page be repaired because insurance proceeds would have covered most of the construction costs; developed athletic fields, utilities infrastructure connections and VDOT school zone safety requirements were already established; Page would have re-opened in 18 to 24 months; busing and modular space for the displaced would have cost half of what it is now.  The financial path Mr. Kiser and the SB created and chose to follow has now resulted in belt tightening in more areas than just the school system. 
Let’s not forget that along with tornado damage to Page the SB was also faced with closing T.C. Walker, obtaining school admin space and the issue of pay increases.  Now we learn through the budget process that the community is in need of large recreation spaces like the auditorium and regulation size gym that Mr. Kiser and the SB tore down.  A few months before the tornado, tens of thousands of dollars was spent to determine the cost of converting Page into an Administration and Operations Center.  This conversion could have been accomplished through the post tornado repair process for 4 to 5 million dollars.  T.C. Walker could have been refurbished into the new Page for 8 to 10 million dollars.  At least 8 million dollars of the 15 million would have come from insurance proceeds leaving only 7 for the County to pay.  Now it will cost well over 30 million with the County paying it all except 8 million.  Mr. Kiser and the SB do not seem to realize credit is not free money.  They also fail to realize the citizen’s pockets are only so deep. 
Mr. McGovern said, “Most recognized the effects of under funding public education in Gloucester: A reduced school calendar; neglect of capital improvement needs; deteriorating and outdated textbooks; an exodus of highly-qualified teachers and staff”.  In reality, Mr. Kiser and the SB have failed to properly prioritize updating textbooks, infrastructure maintenance and capital improvements. Under funding is not the cause, mismanagement is.  If there is an exodus of teachers and staff it certainly will not be the BOS fault. 
We the people have decided enough is enough and intend to bring about some serious changes.  I encourage Mr. McGovern to get his facts straight before rendering any more opinions and to join the rest of the citizens in attempting to re-focus the SB and school administration on providing an effective, efficient and equal public education program.
Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
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