Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Special Education, Mt. Daniel, and Public Input into the RFP

The Monday, Oct. 13 School Board began with a closed session that ended a bit after 9 pm, and the meeting itself didn’t end until about midnight.  I can’t cover everything that happened in the meeting, but will discuss three of the most important points, with more to follow shortly.

First, the meeting was very well attended, with about 20 members of the public present, a number of whom spoke during the public participation part of the meeting.  The topic that they wanted to discuss was the Special Education Advisory Committee.  If you were not aware, there is a significant dispute between the School Board and the chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee (and others), which has many elements, but is primarily focused on their different views about the role of the committee – is it an advisor to the Board that reports to the Board through the Superintendent, or is it an independent entity that sets its own course and over which the Board has very limited authority?  This has led to a court action in Arlington by four people, including the chair of the committee, which also led to the cancellation of the initial Special Education Advisory Committee meeting.  Personally, I find it very sad that things have come to this; I recommend that you watch the video of that portion of the meeting, so you can see the full discussion.  The video is available at School Board Oct 13 Meeting from about 4:20 to 32:30.

There is one point that I would like to call out – one public commentator indicated his intent to file additional petitions for review of School Board and school administration actions in court.  If I understood correctly, and please see the video yourself, he intends to regularly use court review as a means of objecting to decisions by the Board or school administration.  I fundamentally disagree with this approach, because I believe litigation is a poor way to solve disagreements.  Litigation costs a lot of money, and distracts people from doing their jobs.  Going to a judge should be a last resort.

At the end of the meeting, the School Board decided to allow the Special Education Advisory Committee to proceed with having a meeting, given its important work, even with the pending legal action.  I think this is the right action by the Board – while a court will now ultimately decide whose view of the committee’s role is right – its work should proceed in the interim.   The Board cautioned that the committee, at least until the judge renders a decision, must comply with the law and the new policy on advisory committees (Policy 5.12), and that the Board would continue to look at options for improving the committee.  I am sure there will be new disagreements and conflicts, but I hope that they can be amicably resolved.

Second, on Mt. Daniel, the Superintendent noted that there was nothing new to report.  The Schools are waiting until the Nov. 4 Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing to determine a path forward, and working with the City Council on the matter.  There was no public discussion of Plan B or steps being taken to increase the likelihood of a favorable decision by Fairfax (see http://www.reitinger.org/2015/10/my-letter-to-school-board-on-mt-daniel.html). 

The last topic for this report is the upcoming process to select a company to rebuild George Mason and expand Mary Ellen Henderson under the “RFP.”  I recently applauded the School Board for scheduling two public meetings in December, both before and after the selection of “short listed” companies that would be asked to submit bids on the project, http://www.reitinger.org/2015/10/more-good-news-about-transparency-and.html, with the thought that these meetings would be used to take public input and provide the public with information.  Now, however, it isn’t clear what the purpose of those public meetings is.  The contractor helping the schools with the RFP process indicated not very much could be presented at these meetings, the Superintendent was not even sure whether the listed meeting dates were correct, and the efforts of Board Member Kieran Sharpe to ensure there was adequate public input were rebuffed.  In short, I think there is a real risk that public input on the first set of proposals will be minimal at best.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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