School board meeting a tangle of contradictions
Beneath a carefully constructed veneer of normalcy, the March 9 Goochland school board meeting was very strange theater with horrible sound.
Once again, the sound system in that technological marvel, the high school auditorium, did little to broadcast the comments of the school board.
While several school board members, especially chairman Ray Miller, District 2, are soft-spoken by nature, the manner in which Jim Haskell, District 1 repeatedly turned away from the microphone while speaking was blatant arrogant contempt for those who would question the actions of the school board. Why is the school board unable to hold a meeting in a venue where the public can hear its deliberations?
The sound was so bad that following the open meeting the school board held a closed session at the front of the auditorium while citizens chatted near the door.
Ignoring a mound of smoking gun allegations about inappropriate actions of superintendant Dr. Linda Underwood, the school board acted as though all is right with the world and the board of supervisors will fund the school budget.
Are they whistling past the graveyard or is there behind the scenes canoodling among members of the school board and supervisors?
Members of the Goochland Education Parents Association (GEPA) raised many issues during the public comment periods.
A recap of the meeting can be found at goochlandparents.blogspot.com.
These allegations paint a scary picture of dreadful management at best. Underwood seems to be wielding a cudgel of job loss to prevent teachers from having contact with GEPA parents.
Particularly troubling are the suspicions that the school administration took active steps to help drug using students circumvent visits by drug sniffing dogs.
Although Underwood contended that she received only ten minutes’ advanced warning of the drug dog visit, the timing of the airing of the video about those dogs is hard to ignore.
Goochland schools must have a firm, clear, well-articulated anti-drug policy. If that means starting with random unannounced testing of all employees from Underwood down, so be it. Our children must have an environment free of the degenerative effects of substance abuse to achieve their full potential. Sweeping the problem under the rug is not the answer.
Drug use in our schools is not acceptable to any degree. Pretending that it doesn't happen, sets a dangerous precedent. Our kids near clear heads to learn and achieve their maximum potential. (Edited segment SEW)
Underwood put a positive spin on the distribution of letters informing some teachers that they could lose their jobs by reporting that action helped update administration records as to certifications and experience. Shouldn’t one of the many people in central office be doing this on a regular basis?
During a mid-year review, Underwood reported that, while most of the system’s students were doing well and working hard, there were some concerns about progress in the some elementary grades for black and special education students.
The small class sizes in our schools have been a significant factor in the system’s improved results in recent years. Reducing the number of teachers and increasing class sizes will have a negative impact on the students that need small classes, with maximum teacher contact, most.
Teachers from all three county elementary schools report that Goochland schools cannot be equated with those in Henrico’s west end, for instance.
A significant number of Goochland students come from single parent families so busy struggling to survive that there are few resources to reinforce school achievements at home. These kids need more teacher attention, not less, to ensure that they succeed.
A speaker from the Virginia Advanced Study Strategy, an organization that works with school districts to prepare and encourage students to take advanced placement courses in high school. Elimination of the gifted center, another goody in the proposed school budget, removes a proven conduit that prepares students at the elementary level to move toward this achievement at the middle and high school level. Perhaps if the kids in the gifted center didn’t have such uppity parents this program would not have been targeted.
In response to a request from GEPA that Underwood’s performance be reviewed by the school board and the results made public, Miller stated that the school board follows state law and has reviewed Underwood’s performance. He did not say when the last review was performed and declined to comment on the making it public part.
Then school board members turned their attention to the long running farce known as the bus garage. Currently, the bus maintenance facility, located opposite the old football field on Sandy Hook Road, is in a sad state of repair and has been for some time.
Air must be let out of bus tires to get them into the maintenance garage and mechanics often work outside in the elements. Its drain field is failing. It has needed to be replaced for a long time.
For at least eight years, the school board and supervisors have tap danced around the matter, with the county spending at least $250,000 in design fees about three years ago on a central garage that was intended to service all county vehicles. That proposal was abandoned when the estimated cost exceeded $12 million.
Initially, a new bus garage was to be located on the 100 or so acres around the high school/middle school complex. When the supervisors deemed the cost of necessary site work, $600,000, too high, everyone went back to the drawing board.
Last year, the county suggested that a prefabricated metal building be used as a temporary measure in spite of the fact that metal buildings are not permitted in village overlay districts, which includes the existing bus garage.
After the county’s design review committee rejected the metal building unless sheathed with acceptable materials and heavily screened, which would add as much as $100,000 to the cost, the school board is considering vital repairs that would keep the existing facility limping along for another few years.
Very recently, the county has suggested that the bus maintenance function be relocated to the old middle school.
The school board, properly, wants more information before endorsing this proposal. Stay tuned. The bus garage adventure has more twists and turns than the Sopranos!
This should be old news for the school board, the issue was on the table long before Underwood arrived.