Monday, February 28, 2011

Rites of spring

Psy ops

It’s that time of year again. The days are longer, hardy daffodils emerge from the ground and Goochland’s school administration is girding for battle with the Board of Supervisors over next year’s budget.

For the past few years, the supervisors have requested the schools to prepare proposed budgets based on expected revenues. Instead, the schools demand more money than is available giving little justification for the increase. Each time the supervisors ask for line item salary information about all school employees, especially those in the central office, they get vague response and all salaries lumped into one line item.
At budget time, the school board and Superintendent Dr. Linda Underwood become combative. What should be a reasonable discussion turns ugly.
In recent years, the schools have manipulated parents to harass the supervisors into increasing school funding. Parents are told that if the school budget is cut, their children will suffer. Believing that their children’s education is at risk, the parents fall into line. It’s hard to fault their concern.

For example, the follow email was circulated among parents and teachers on February 25, 2011.

“The agenda packet for the Board of Supervisors meeting for Tuesday has been posted.

The proposed school budget is $1.425 million less than the School Board requested. Working from the PowerPoint slides in the packet, I only see the bottom line, not the by-category recommendation.

The $1.425 million consists (roughly) of the $693,000 reduction requested by the county at the beginning of the process, the $444,000 VRS increase, and the increases requested to restore 2 furlough days and the math specialist.

I usually have plans b, c, and d in my back pocket. Many of you have heard me say that I just don't have those plans in this case. The only place we have left to go is (again) positions to make up that kind of shortfall. We will certainly have to look at some of the possibilities rejected earlier in the budget planning process in order to perhaps reduce the number of positions we will be forced to eliminate.

The Board of Supervisors may set the tax rate at the Tuesday meeting. That means that it will be too late to do anything about revenues after that date. If anyone wants the supervisors to hear his/her opinion on school funding or the tax rate, Tuesday could be the last chance.

If you need to forward this email, feel free.

Thank you -Linda

Linda A. Underwood, Ed.D.
Goochland County Public Schools”

This tactic is very reminiscent of psychological warfare, sometimes referred to as psy ops.

Wikipedia comment on this form of battle:
The U.S. Department of Defense defines psychological warfare as:
"The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.”

Underwood’s message contains at least one piece of information that is false.

The supervisors will not and cannot set the tax rate on March 1. The tax rate will be voted on by the supervisors at their April 5 meeting. A public hearing on the county budget, which includes school funding, will be held on March 29 at 7 p.m. In past years the rate and budget allocations have been changed, literally, at the last minute.

In an ironic twist Underwood complains that the county budget does not contain by item budget recommendations, something that she and her stooges on the school board have refused to supply to the supervisors for years.

The proposed county budget is upfront on its website The proposed school budget may be lurking somewhere on the school system’s website but it’s not readily accessible. How is that transparent operation?

As Goochland County prepares to enter yet another fiscal year with declining revenues the attitude of school administration is troubling. Public education is a worthy expenditure of tax dollars. However, there must be a high level of trust that those funds are well and wisely spent. The lack of transparency in the school budget, especially in difficult economic climates, does nothing to dispel concerns that the money is not going where it is needed the most.
We all need to remember this nonsense at the polls in November.


Anonymous said...

Clearly some thought provoking points... particularly about detailed line items.

I'm not sure I'd agree that her letter was psy ops. That's a bit of a stretch. It's her job to advocate for the schools. She's doing what she's paid to do.

I'm also not convinced that her letter was "false." She said the BOS "may" set the tax rate. By this I assumed she meant that if the BOS is going to propose an increase, they will likely make it known at that meeting. Of course it will take discussion and voting before it becomes final; but how often do those numbers change once they are put out there for the record...?

Sandie, I think you're asserting 'falsehood' where nothing intentional of that nature exists. Sort of a psy ops of your own, perhaps?

And, are the members of the school board her stooges? Or is she theirs? And just who elected the Board? We always want to blame government for what we do with our votes.

You finish your post by reminding us to think about what we do at the polls in November, but Underwood is not up for election. I think you're upset with the wrong person or people. How about investigating our school board representatives. We hear about Underwood because she's the paid, public face of the administration. But who is really in charge? And again - who put them there? Time to start working on your fellow citizens instead of making Underwood the scapegoat for our personal failures as involved citizens.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the Superintendent and School Board are content with sending a budget (just like last year) that is over what the BOS is asking for. How did that work for the schools last year? I agree with Sandie in that Dr. Underwood has launched a psy ops campaign to win the hearts and minds of parents and try to make the BOS look like the “bad guys”. I am not the biggest fan of the BOS, but the budgets the schools have proposed the past couple of years seems to try and take the fiscal responsibility for their monies from the school system and put it on the BOS.

Businesses all over have had to make reductions while maintaining customer satisfaction. It’s called doing more with less and the private sector seems to do this better than the public sector. Why is the school’s budget void of a line item analysis? Corporations have to document what they are spending? I don’t want to go so far that there is improper handling of the money, but I do believe that GCPS is top heavy compared to other systems. How many cuts really came at the central office last year versus positions being shifted around? Why can’t the budget and it’s cuts by position be laid out for all to see?

Hopefully when the dust settles after this budget cycle, there is minimal impact on our county’s students and our education system as a whole. It’s hard to imagine people putting political games ahead of our young people.

Patrick said...

I had a quick exchange with Ms Underwood. She stands by her email and offers a few points that I will share:

1) The school's budget is put out in the same detail as the county's. The public sees the same budget detail she does.

2) The School Board's position is that they adhere to VA's code. They have to submit a budget that represents what the schools need for the coming year. She asks (a bit sarcastically) if the Board should submit a budget that doesn't represent what the schools need...

3) She points out that when she wrote her email Friday afternoon the county's budget was not yet posted. The first time they were able to see the detail of the county's budget was Monday. So there was no false-hood.

4) She agrees that it is her job to 'rally the troops' and it's not her favorite part of the job, but it's a critical one since nobody else will speak in favor of the schools. She reports that last year only one person from the community spoke FOR the school's budget at the BoS meetings. Does this lack of public support mean that the community doesn't support the schools? Let's hope not.

5) So what is in stock for us as a county? People moved here because we have (had) good schools. We have no tax base aside from residential development, so what happens if the schools continue to deteriorate as they have in the last couple years? Will this improve our economic growth? Will people continue to move here if the school quality degrades? If they stop moving here, then where is the revenue going to come from to fix the problem? We're on our way back to the 1980s'.

You know, it's not that hard to get 'the rest of the story.' All you have to do is ask.


The Truth Teller said...

People don't come here for the "good schools" they come here because of the low tax rate. A good percentage of residents don't even send their children to Goochland Public Schools. Leave the tax rate alone (unless you are going to lower it). Having said that no one should blame the Sup or the School Board for doing what they can to build their kingdom. The blame should always be leveled at those who fall for all of the "End of Days" messages that are spewed year after year by those same kingdom builders.

Linda Wise said...

I have not followed the Underwood horse and pony show this year, but after going to many of the School Board meetings and BOS meetings last year, I agree wholeheartedly with Sandie's assessment of the School budget process.

Several members of GEPA and many citizens like Sandie and myself, did alot of detailed study and research concerning Underwood's budget last year and found her attitude arrogant and her presentation of the so-called facts to be more than questionable. Last year her attempts at manipulation and propaganda failed to a great extent, thanks to concerned and informed parents and citizens who took the time to really look into the details of Underwood's budget proposals and cut through the smoke and mirrors.

She was uncooperative and less than forthcoming with information and in fact many of us had to use the FOIA threat in order to get any information from her and her staff at all. Even then they found ways to deny us the information we are entitled to.

One of you "anonymous" folks talked about not blaming poor Underwood, but blaming the School Board instead, since surely she is the pawn of the Board. If you ever attended a School Board meeting or a presentation by Schools to the BOS, you would surely know how wrong your assumption is and how right Sandie is. Sandie once wrote that you could almost see Underwood pulling the strings, and it's true.

There is no question that the School Board members should ask more questions and do their own research instead of always taking Underwood's word on things, and they are certainly very much to blame for the mess we are in; for the misuse of taxpayer money; and for good teachers losing their jobs. But Underwood and some of her staff are unquestionably the ones who develop this buget, so the bulk of the blame lies with her.

By the way, there's certainly no question in my mind that Underwood knows very well what the BOS agenda is and when tax rates are set. I've seen her innocent victim act before, but apparently some of you fell for it.

And lastly, any Superintendent who continues to refuse to cut the waste and excess at the top (administrative positions) and instead cuts instructional positions, should hang her head in shame. And yet this woman defiantly dares you to question her authority and continues to show nothing but contempt for parents who respectfully attempted to develop a dialogue with her and took the time to be involved and to care about their children's educations.

All of you naysayers take a look sometime at the list of existing positions and salaries in our schools and you'll see what Sandie means. Oh wait.....that is if you can find it anywhere. Tranparency and honesty from Underwood and her've got to be kidding.

Linda Wise

Anonymous said...

The tax rate has stayed the same and the schools have deteriorated and no one has come to Goochland. You do the math . You assert that no one sends their children to public schools here in Goochland . Wrong our buses go to every neighborhood and pick up kids. The private school ratios are dramatically down in the last three years.
There is a huge portion of this county who function solely on the "I don't have a dog in this race "theory. Based on your comments you would only allow residents to move here who are over the age of 50 and rich. I don't know where you find your truth but it is certainly not in the facts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Truth Teller,

Do you actually LIVE in Goochland?
You see, 2009 census figures put children under age 18 as 19.9% of our population of 21,311. That comes to 4241 kids. Current GCPS enrollment is approx 2500. Keep in mind some of these "kids" are still babes in their mothers arms.

You may be the truth teller, but you're certainly not a math major.

The Truth Teller said...

Hey now don’t hate the Truth Teller, hate the truth.

First off yes I live in Goochland (and have for many years). What do you think I am some kind of conservative or libertarian plant sent to GOMM just to cause trouble? Great day in the morning!

Secondly when you have about 2K children attending Goochland County Public Schools (as Sandi states in her blog) and over 4200 children in the county (even taking into account those who are not school age yet) it is more than fair to say, as I did in my original post, that “A good percentage of residents don’t even send their children to Goochland Public Schools.”

And in conclusion please allow me to make one last point. People always equate more money with better schools. There is absolutely no data to support that conclusion when it comes to public education.

jd said...

Truth Teller (Mr. Eads)-
I encourage you to check the facts before making statements about whether the school population is rising or not, and whether new residents consider the school systems before arrival.
Since I'm an actual parent, and know many in the same age range, I can attest that ALL of them I conversed with (and I talk alot) considered the school system before moving into the county. That fact isn't mutually exclusive to consideration of the tax rate, but it is noteworthy.
The number of students within the school system has consistently risen for a decade at least. Many parents who once sent their kids to private schools are now sending them to GCPS due to economic hardships.
When was the last time you set foot in the schools during the day or a PTA event? I've never seen you there, or heard of it either. Such an event would be news in the truest sense of the word.
Last, do you truly think that when comparing Goochland's tax rate with all of the surrounding counties, that $0.55/$100 of assessed value makes it any less attractive than the neighboring counties? Heck, we would still be the "cost leader" if that were the case. That is, if the potential buyer can afford to pay more per acre in the first place. And if they can pay more per acre in the first place, does 2 cents/$100 really put a dent in their wallet that they can't afford?

The Truth Teller said...

Well actually I never made any claim about the school population increasing or decreasing so I am a little confused by this latest attack jd. And no (just for the record) I am not Jim Eads.

Really the only message I have is what could be referred to as the silent majority point of view.

In other words the wallet of the taxpayer is dented quite enough already.