Letter: Blame the school board, not the supervisors
I would like to thank Kenneth E. Hogge Sr. for his April 13 and May 29 letters (Readers Write) exposing the bad decision making of the school board and its soon-to-be-former school superintendent and their subsequent attempts at cover-up and finger pointing. More taxpayers of Gloucester County should submit letters expressing their frustration with the failure of accountability at the school board.
Before proceeding further, some disclosure: I support good education in Gloucester public schools. My children attended them. I support base pay increases for teachers to levels equivalent to counties in Virginia of similar size and location. I support performance-based bonuses for teachers and staff who significantly exceed the requirements of their jobs.
I oppose the wasteful spending on the currently-being-constructed new Page Middle School, when less expensive alternatives providing full gymnasiums were available. I oppose the school board expenditure to create a monument to itself at T.C. Walker School. I oppose the elitist attitude of some school board members (e.g., Ms. Hensley’s public opposition to selling the site of the former Page Middle School and alternative of building a swimming pool and recreation center, rather than paying down debt taken on by the school board).
In early April, the soon-to-be-former superintendent and his minions on the school board organized a public charade at a board of supervisors’ meeting considering the upcoming budget. Most of the speakers supporting a budget increase were school employees and staff. The charade was slick. It made people overlook the divided role of the two boards.
Despite the clear statement of the current board that there would be no budget increase, the soon-to-be-former superintendent submitted a budget request for significantly more funds. The board of supervisors does not approve line items of the school board budget (much the pity), but provides a lump sum and suggestions. It is the school board that must work to prioritize the lump sum into line items. If the school board had spent less on the new school, there would have been more money for teacher and staff pay raises, as well as scholastic equipment. Similarly, if the school board had not spent exorbitant funds at T.C. Walker School, which it had closed, it would have had more money. It was not the supervisors, but the school board who created these problems. This school board could teach the current administration in Washington a few things about avoiding accountability.
Members of the school board publicly attacked Supervisor Bazzani’s suggestions for privatizing some school services in order to save money; remember the supervisors cannot direct the school board individual expenditures. Instead of appreciating the offer of assistance from Bazzani, the school board focused on job losses by local employees. It is a fact that virtually all of these same persons would have been hired by the private company; however, the private company has more experience in running such services and in using bulk purchasing power to obtain supplies and equipment at lower cost.
The school board needs to consider carefully the new environment in which it is operating. No longer will the board of supervisors blithely increase funding. The school board will need to develop its tools to extract value from existing funding and demand standards of performance that provide excellent value at reasonable cost. The money allocated to the school board is that of the citizens of Gloucester County; not that of the school board. If Ms. Hensley wants a swimming pool and public “country club,” she is free to donate one. Citizens of Gloucester County have significant pressing needs to keep up with the basic costs of life. Increasing taxes, thereby reducing the standard of living of the old and disabled of this county and saddling our youngsters with future debt they will have to pay, is simply not an option.
We can improve the school board by finding and supporting candidates for those positions who are realists and who understand the business of education. Unopposed candidates who win elections by default do not ensure capable school board members. Should this situation persist, there is precedent in the Commonwealth for providing the board of supervisors the power to appoint an independent school board. This is an option that deserves consideration.
Lawrence G. Cohen