Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tea and tyranny redux

Parents teach by example

Goochland is filled with amazing people. They are smart, creative and resourceful. At the January 12 school board meeting, all of these attributes came into play as parents, tired of being ignored, took school officials to task for their lack of transparency in the budget process.

Last fall, to no one’s surprise, the county administrator publicly informed school officials that a drastic contraction in county revenues was expected for the 2010-11 fiscal year and that they needed to remove about $2.9 million from the school budget.

Instead of carefully examining every school expenditure, the school board seems to have decided to use its tried and true tactic of scaring the tar out of parents with rumors that programs such as the gifted center, Tender Tots and sports would be cut.

Late last year, some fearful parents even demanded that the supervisors increase next year’s tax rate to fully fund the proposed school budget as prepared by superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood and advocated by the school board based on those rumors.

When they finally got a look at that budget, about 48 hours before the December public hearing, parents put on their critical thinking caps, asked questions and are now demanding responsive detailed answers.

At the January 12 school board meeting, it was quite clear that parents had done their homework.

Once again the meeting was held in the high school auditorium with very poor audio. Several parents suggested that the proceedings be podcast with equipment available at that facility.

Why can’t Goochland schools’ much touted technology be used to let the taxpayers who fund it see what goes on at school board meetings? Even the supervisors record their meetings.

Several speakers from a newly formed group The Goochland Education Parents Association (GEPA) addressed different parts of the proposed budget. The entire presentation is online at

The latest iteration of the proposed 2010-11 budget is finally available on the school website at

GEPA questioned the validity of classifying some clearly administrative positions as instructional, which could be a violation of state law. The disproportionally high cost of transportation and maintenance, increase in health care costs and eliminating participation in the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School program were also questioned in detail.

Maygan Elliott asked why a new teacher orientation position ($32,000 salary) had not been eliminated. The school district will not be hiring new teachers for a while and any vacancies caused by attrition will be filled with laid off teachers who should know their way around the system.

She also wanted to know exactly what a research and information technologist, paid more than $50,000 annually with another 30 or so percent for benefits, does to justify the expense.

It would be interesting to know who authorized creation of those jobs and how the salaries were determined.

Parent Julie Valerie contended that the Tender Tots program is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal program and cannot be eliminated without serious legal consequences. This seems to be another indication that whoever crafted the proposed budget either had little knowledge of the law or had no intention of cutting the program and was using the threat of its elimination as a reprehensible scare tactic

Chad Smith expressed outrage that his children have no textbooks. He said they were taken to a landfill because they were dated 1997.

“Math is still math and a verb is a still a verb,” he said.

All parents expressed anger and frustration at the arrogance of Underwood and the school board. They spoke of suggestions ignored and phone calls and emails not returned. This arrogant lack of response from elected and appointed public officials allegedly pledged to serve the taxpayers is outrageous and unacceptable.

Some speakers cited teachers with constructive and creative ideas for reducing expenditures who refused to speak put fearing reprisals. How outrageous! This is America, not Iran!

The school budget process is especially appropriate for transparency and collaboration among parents, teachers and school administration. It would be in the schools’ best interest to have as many stakeholders involved and invested in its budget process as possible.

Instead, school administration chose to do as it pleased. The four-week extension of the approval date for the school budget, December 31 in past years, seems to have disrupted business as usual. When budgets were passed “in the dead of night just before Christmas” as characterized by one parent, there was little time for parental review or comment.

It’s a new day. The school budget must be the product of honest and open collaboration to ensure that all voices are heard and tax dollars are spent wisely to ensure the best possible education for every child in the system.

These fine Goochland parents who collectively and individually are demanding honest answers to their well conceived questions are a fine example for their children and the entire community. They should be supported and emulated.

The school board and superintendent seem to have forgotten that they are charged with educating the children of Goochland, not building personal power bases.


Anonymous said...

Linda who?

When my child was in the public school system, I saw Dr. Morgan at every band performance, football game or other school function I attended; chatting with parents and students and immersing himself in all affairs related to education in Goochland.

I wouldn't know Linda Underwood if I ran her over with my car.

Anonymous said...

One place I used to work, our boss told us. It worked this way, he asked you to do something , later he would remind you to get it done. The next time he asks your replacement to do it. Maybe this approach needs to be used on Dr. Underwood and the board