Friday, April 16, 2010

The new normal

Following many months of warnings that money would be tight for the foreseeable future, comments at the April 13 school board meeting indicated that county education administration is finally going to “look” at ways to economize.

Following the adoption of the county budget for fiscal year 2010-11, the school system was told that it must identify additional budget reductions to the tune of $317,099 and present them at the June Board of Supervisors’ meeting.

For a full recap visit Andrew Meng, District 4, was not present.

The recognition period at the start of the session provided a reminder of what the whole enterprise is about — the kids.

Perhaps school superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood is required by law to formally notify the school board of the supervisors’ budget action. Her remarks sounded as though she believed that the school board had been out of town, on Mars for instance, and had no knowledge of the vote on the tax rate prior to the April 13 meeting.

In fact, Underwood and the board acted as though the budget process was a bad dream , best forgotten.

Board chair Raymond Miller, District 2, reported on the drubbing he took from certain supervisors following an eleventh hour plea for full funding of the proposed school budget. He also recommended that, in the future, the schools should prepare a contingency budget if requested to do so by the supervisors within the confines of the law.

Underwood said that the school system has hired consultants to find ways to economize on energy use and that sometimes “you have to spend money to save money.”

Perhaps they could start with on/off switches.

On Sunday, February 28, for instance, all of the computers in the high school media center were turned on, turning the electric meter. Could no one turn the computers off on Friday afternoon and start them up on Monday morning?

Why do school board meetings need to be held in the high school auditorium with all of the lights on? Surely there is a more modest space that could be used for these meetings that rarely draw more than 30 people.

This is one more indication that Underwood did not, as prudent practice would seem to dictate, examine all school system expenditures and identify ways to economize. The school board should have at least asked if Underwood sought energy saving strategies when she complained about the high cost of electric in her budget. This would have been more effective than spreading rumors that popular programs would be cut to enrage rather than engage parents.

In addition to saving precious dollars, wasting energy is contrary to lessons about “being green” and sends a mixed message to students.

Assistant superintendent Gretz and faculty member Grace Creasey presented the proposed school calendar for 2010-11. They worked with a group comprised of parents and teachers to provide a thoughtful approach to scheduling the needs of students, families and faculty.

Why was the school administration as a whole not able to sit down with parents and work through a school budget in the same manner?

For all of the arrogant pronouncements that school administration knows best what needs to be funded, the budget process was conducted with so much obfuscation that it is hard to believe that much thought was given to any item beyond that which administration wanted.

Greater inclusion of any parents, including those pesky GEPA folk who tend to ask detailed and embarrassing questions, could well have resulted in a budget that better serves both the students and taxpayers.

Underwood and the school board act as though they successfully whistled past the graveyard and it’s back to business as usual. Perhaps it will be. Attendance at the meeting was abysmal. It will be interesting to see if entreaties to post proposed changes in the bus schedule, such as staggered pick up times, on the school website will bear fruit. It’s also time for greater inclusion of all parents in the school budget process.

It is the school board’s job to work with the supervisors. Relations between the two boards could be better. The arrogant conduct of the school board weaves a web of suspicion about school funding instead of building bonds of trust with the supervisors and community.

Both boards should use this budget crisis to find common ground and work together for the benefit of the community.


Richard Saunders said...

Dr. Underwood and the School Board will continue to whistle pass the graveyard for the next 19 months. Then they will be placed in the political graveyard where they deserve to be.

The Truth Teller of Goochland said...

I don’t really understand why people are shocked and surprised when the School Board/Superintendent take positions on financial issues opposite of those held by the community as a whole. It is sort of like expecting a lion and her cubs not to kill other animals and eat them. The SB/Superintendent’s main purpose and function is to procure money by any means necessary and build the largest school system possible.

So what is a concerned citizen to do? It is simple actually; if you are a concerned, taxpaying citizen in this county you should simply ignore the SB/Superintendent. Now I know this may seem strange but allow me to use the lion analogy one more time. A lion is a lion and you can’t make it something else by talking to it. Focus your attention on the Board of Supervisors. As we have seen during this budget year, when the correct amount of attention is focused on the BOS, then even the mighty School Board/Superintendent can be managed and on a good day, even reined in a little.