Sunday, February 28, 2016

Another Night, Another Meeting

For lovers of meetings, serving on the School Board during budget season can't be beat! I feel like I should start this post with "It was a dark and stormy night."
Monday night, Feb. 22, was a closed joint meeting with the City Council on the George Mason/Mary Ellen Henderson campus project. The meeting began around 8 pm and ended after midnight. I voted against going to into closed session.
Tuesday night, Feb. 23, was a budget work session, public hearing, and regular meeting. The budget discussion covered any questions on work packet #5, the salary scales for teachers and others, the problem of employees who are "topped out" and don't even get COLAs, additional support for the gifted program for TJ, and central office staffing. More on these issues below.
On Tuesday night VPIS also gave the school a check to pay for a study about installing solar power in a school or schools. Principals Byrd and Harris also discussed the outcome of their discussions about coordinating Middle and High School schedules for next year, to make it easier for students to take courses in either school and to help faculty coordination. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end of that discussion due to a personal matter.
Saturday morning, Feb. 27, was budget work session #6 and public hearing #4. Interestingly, the main subject of public comment was increasing support for the GMHS debate team. Several people, including two students, spoke, and the kids were spectacular. My high school didn't have a debate team, while a neighboring one did, and I envied my friends who went there.
The budget session was a very productive one, focused on what to add and what to take out of the budget. The main subjects were central office staffing, a climate survey, topped-out employees, the gifted program for TJ, redirecting money to classroom supplies and materials, and the amount of contingency funding.
Nothing is decided yet, and the Board will formally approve the proposed budget for submission to the City Council on Tuesday night, March 1. I will write more after Tuesday, but I'll cover one of the subjects here. There are a very few support staff and administrative personal who would get no pay increase at all this year, and some of them also received no increase - not even a COLA - last year, because they are at the top of the scale due to being with our kids for a long time. Last year these folks actually lost money because their health insurance premiums went up. There seems to be strong support on the Board for paying these folks a small bonus to thank them for their years of service, and the total amount under discussion is relatively small - $19,700. You can see the packet of information and proposals we discussed here: http://www.boarddocs.com/…/$f…/FY17BudgetPacket%236Final.pdf
I also raised questions about Jessie Thackrey tuition, and the amount we spend on technology, but unfortunately these appear questions more for next year than this year. For example, we are in the second year of a three-year lease for the student laptops. In that regard, next year I think we need to undertake a full-spectrum examination of our use of technology.
This will be a very tough budget year, but I hope we can work with the City Council to accomplish some key things, including increasing the number of special education and gifted education professionals, paying our teachers competitively, and improving the transparency of our schools.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

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