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School Board shenanigans OR That time when your school board voted against helping not one but two overcrowded schools

July 24, 2018

Stafford County politics is an enigma, a mystery that great scholars of the future will study, ponder to themselves and think....quoi?  That is certainly my reaction after the recent meetings of the Stafford County School Board.  But before we jump into this most recent display of questionable judgement on the part of our fair leaders, I should say that I am so very sorry for my prolonged absence.  My life has been ridiculously upended this year and I have simply not had the time nor mental capacity to attend to the tumultuous world of Stafford County politics.  New full time job after years as a SAHM, building a new home, selling the old one of 15 years, PTO President duties and not to mention the typical family stresses...suffice it to say it's been a physically and mentally grueling year.  I think things are such that I can contribute to this dialogue on a more regular basis from now on.  Thank you, wonderful readers, for not unfollowing me on FB or unsubscribing to my blog during this time.  I genuinely appreciate your continued support.

 

To be completely honest, I didn't think I would be missed.  Longtime activists like Amy Hall at Stafford Growing Pains and new ones at Hartwood Hardass are more than capable of shedding light on the activities of our elected leaders.  Certain elected officials were surely happy to see me on hiatus.  Of course, I never intended to leave for good but I felt like when I stepped out to attend to my real life, things were on an even keel.  The School Board and Board of Supervisors had a joint CIP and a burgeoning heathy relationship.  Everyone seemed to be on the same page, both boards had new blood and while nothing is ever perfect, I had a general impression that things were on the right track.  

 

Recent events have made me feel a bit like Mr Incredible here:

Avert your glance for an instant and all the brilliant work done by so many people collapses like a flan in a cupboard.  Not to imply I take any credit, I just sit behind my screen and do my level best to get information out to the public.  Others do the heavy lifting while I sit back in relative obscurity.  If my personal life hadn't finally settled down literally just this week (house SOLD!), I might not have responded to a FB message from a longtime friend, amazing lady and Stafford Schools advocate who said "Hey...did you know.....?"  I might not have spent a day diving down the rabbit hole of SCPS...watching meetings on YouTube and reading documents, everyone's favorite way to spend a Saturday, don't cha' know.  I'm not all the way there, I have not been immersed in this world for a while.  But dang, people, some things just ain't right and this most recent vote by the SB is one of them.

 

Now, I'm sorry but I have to talk about the world's most confusing and probably most boring topic...school capacity numbers.  This is an issue that never seems to get settled: physical capacity vs. program capacity, which to use, how do we determine it, ratios, math and spreadsheets, OH MY!  The SB voted unanimously to approve a capacity methodology at the January 23rd meeting earlier in the year.  Isn't this great news?  No longer do we need to have this ridiculously confusing conversation about a topic that affects all students but no one agrees on.  The SB went to the BoS and said "Eureka, we've done it!  THESE numbers are the right numbers, we firmly stand behind them and we won't haphazardly change them for no reason!"  Mission accomplished... stick a pin in this, we will be back.

 

 If you haven't seen The Critic, you are missing out

 

Fast forward to the June 26th SB meeting.  One of the issues the board voted on was moving a learning cottage (trailer) from Colonial Forge to Hartwood Elementary.  According to the capacity projections by SCPS, Hartwood Elementary is bursting at the seams and is looking at starting the new year at 110% capacity.  This comes as no real surprise to anyone who has lived here for any measure of time and has seen homes pop up all over the Hartwood district.  Holly Hazard, Hartwood's SB member,  went to bat for HES, which also happens to be the second oldest in the county.  This is meaningful because the antiquated set-up according to Scott Horan, Assistant Superintendent of Operations at SCPS,  allows for much less flexibility in the use of various areas than more modern schools. Multiple options were presented to the board to address HES' issues but according to Horan, 1) the staff analyzed the data and determined HES had the most need and 2) the trailer is not being used at Colonial Forge and could be utilized to alleviate the potential overcrowding at HES.  

 

While it would seem to be any easy decision, it was not.  Chairwoman Healy of Rock Hill asked what other schools also might benefit from a trailer and Horan mentioned two: Winding Creek Elementary and Rocky Run Elementary.  Ms Healy seemed unconcerned about RRES but mentioned WCES multiple times.  She also raised the issue that the Superintendent could easily relieve this situation with a spot redistict, something that is authorized if moving a very small number of students.  Of course this hardly seems advisable when a full scale redistricting will likely happen next year as it could create additional unnecessary complications.  Dr Chase mentioned that these numbers would no longer be valid once redistricting happens.   Ms Decatur made the excellent counter-point that the redistricting wouldn't happen until next year and that this measure is "for the kids." After all was said and done, the measure failed; Hazard, Decatur and Egan voted for the measure, Healy, McOskar, Yeung and Chase voted against.  Alas, no trailer at Hartwood for no particularly good reason.

 

Enter the BoS.  In an act of efficiently meeting the needs of the community at a pace typically unheard of in the government sphere, they had a meeting and decided to give SCPS almost 100K to purchase a brand new trailer for the students at Hartwood Elementary.  This money comes from the County's Administrator's discretionary fund.  All the SB needed to do at the July 17th meeting was vote to accept the funding for the trailer.  Keep in mind, this is money given to the SB by the BoS outside of the funding already allotted to the schools in their budget.  SCPS is always complaining that they don't get enough funding from the county, seems like a no-brainer to me!  

Hartwood member Hazard motioned to approve accepting the money, Aquia's Egan seconded.  Egan acknowledged that she has been staunchly against trailers for her entire tenure on the SB but changed her mind in this case based on the strong need at Hartwood Elementary.  Griffiths-Widewater member Decatur also urged the SB to accept the money in her comments.  Falmouth member Chase was not present but with 3 clear votes for the measure, it would seem to pass no problem.  Again, this is money the SB would not be assured to get from the BoS down the line (although it is possible the BoS could allocate some of it to schools as they wish.)  But here is where things go cock-eyed. 

 Steve Buscemi is a national treasure

 

First, DeWayne McOskar, George-Washington member, made his comments.  Now, I know Mr McOskar.  He has been very supportive of the blog from the beginning.  But I watched his comments at the meeting twice, once with an extremely trusted advisor and there was no cogent argument made we could determine.  I reached out to Mr McOskar for comment and he was kind enough to clarify his thoughts.  His main concern seems to be that there was simply not enough data presented to the board to make this decision.  He is concerned that while there may be need at HES,  it might be greater at another school.  He went on the explain that there is a lack of procedure in determining these needs and that the board needs more time to get a clear assessment from staff.  He was very clear in his desire to place a trailer at Hartwood Elementary later this year if data is presented to him that it is required.  

 

Then, Chairwoman Patricia Healy made her feelings known.  She was pretty clear in her opposition but for a very confusing reason.  Ms Healy stated that she had been doing some research and that she determined that there were "alternate methods" to determine capacity in the schools...again, quoi?  I thought this capacity method issue had been settled by the board nary months ago so why bring this up now?  Without getting way in the weeds and turning this post into a dissertation no one will read, I will give a brief explanation of this issue as I perceive it.  Here we go:

 

1) Title I schools in the county (Hartwood Elementary is one) get a grant if they meet Capacity Reduction Program ratios.  That ratio is 1:19 licensed teachers to students with a cap of 24 students in one classroom. 

 

2) Potentially, but this isn't clear, the Title I schools have been staffed at this 1:19 ratio but the classrooms haven't been filled with 24 students.  We need more documentation from SCPS to determine if this is the case.  If it is true, then the argument is that these schools have potentially 5 more students per classroom that can be added while also keeping the funding from the CRP.  

 

3) When you add 5 more students to each Hartwood Elementary classroom (and every Title I school)  you are effectively adding approximately 25% more capacity to those schools, meaning Hartwood Elementary has plenty of room to accept the new students it will likely see next year.

 

Ms Healy, again, kept mentioning another school without this Title I status that might have a more immediate need for a trailer because it doesn't have this potential extra capacity, Winding Creek Elementary.  

 

In no way do I support pitting one school's needs against another in this manner.  It should come as absolutely zero surprise to anyone, certainly not the SB, that WCES is also bursting.  It doesn't surprise me and I haven't watched a SB meeting in over 10 months.  That area of Rock Hill has seen a drastic increase in development just like Hartwood.  It seems highly disingenuous to pull out these "alternate methods" of measuring capacity when you seem to be attempting to take resources from one needy school to give it to another.  

 

Worse though is that this seems like a problem with an obvious solution.  If both schools need a trailer because the most recent AGREED UPON projections show it to be true based on the approved method of measuring capacity AND the BoS is willing to fund one AND Colonial Forge can provide the other, what's the problem?  Two trailers, two schools in need, problem solved.  Why make the kids and teachers suffer based on this last minute mumbo-jumbo? Is this not basic common sense?

Mr McOskar stated that maybe this discussion should be tabled for the next meeting to give time to determine the true needs.  Ms Hazard pointed out that not only was this a one time offer to be accepted or rejected at the meeting, it would be incredibly hard to get a trailer up and running before the start of the school year if the SB delayed. Ultimately, the SB shot down the measure: Decatur, Hazard and Egan for, Healy, Yeung and McOskar against (a tie according to Robert's Rules in this instance means a measure does not pass.)  Ms Yeung didn't speak to the subject so we have no idea why she opposed the measure.  I'm not the only one nonplussed by this display.  In an absolutely brilliant moment of calling applesauce, Ms Decatur called Ms Healy's reasoning "absurd" and Ms Egan left the dais after the vote in clear disgust.  I did reach out to Ms Decatur and I can say that she sounds very discouraged by it all.  

 

I leave you with some food for thought from Ms Hazard's FB page regarding the vote : "The reasons {for the vote} proffered by several Board members can be condensed to this sentiment "the schools can tough it out for one year while we wait for redistricting."  Yes, full scale redistricting is on the horizon for next year (look for an upcoming post on that), but why make students and teachers wait for relief when an perfectly viable option sits ignored?  The message that you send to parents is that you don't care that the kids are in class on top of each other.  The message to teachers is loud and clear and not just to the teachers at HES: the SB won't give you the support you need even when they have the money thrown at them!  Doesn't seem smart when the number people willing to be teachers shrinks by the year.  Am I wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

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