Friday, June 15, 2012

School Board Update

Dear Friends,
Today is the last day of school for our students. I'm enjoying going to graduations, convocations and awards ceremonies and only regret that I can't make it to all of them. Congratulations, Graduates!

Here's the latest news from the School Board.

Budget: We approved a $2.4 billion FY2013 budget on May 24 that included raises for our teachers and other dedicated employees, elimination of athletic fees, more extended time for students (such as summer school) and videotaping of School Board work sessions. Much of this year's funding increases are needed for continued enrollment growth and the opening of two new schools, including Mason Crest Elementary in Mason District.

Compensation this year was greatly complicated by new state requirements that we eventually take 5% out of most employees' pay for retirement but make up for this with 5% pay increases. The Board decided to phase in this requirement, starting with 2% this year. Combined with picking up more of the employees' local retirement contribution and providing a 1.25% market scale adjustment, the net for most employees will be an added 2.2%. Got that? I know, as I said, it got complicated.

Athletic Fees: As you know, I've wanted to eliminate these $100 per sport fees for the entire time I've been on the Board, because I believed they discourage students from participating in sports and can be a burden on many families. My amendment to end the fees in the coming fiscal year was included in our Advertised Budget in February. There were two attempts to reinstate the fees during deliberations on the final budget in May, but these were defeated, and so we are finally done with these fees from now on.

Extended Learning: The Board also approved my amendment to add funding for the equivalent of another week of summer school for needy students. This extra week, or extra time during the school year, will be important for our at-risk children. We will get a report in September as to exactly how the funds are being used.

We were able to add in the tiny amount needed to videotape School Board work sessions. Much of the Board's deliberations take place at these work sessions, not just at our regular Thursday night Board meetings, but until now the only way members of the public could see and hear them was to be physically present during the day on Mondays. Recording these sessions and making them accessible to the public is important to transparency and community engagement.

Superintendent Search: The Board has taken the first steps in our search for a new Superintendent when Dr. Jack Dale retires next June. At our June 11 work session (hopefully one of the last not videotaped), we decided to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a search firm to help us, with the intention of issuing the RFP in July. We hope to have the search firm in place by October. Strong community engagement throughout the process will be important in finding the right leader for the future of FCPS.
Here's a link to the documents posted as part of this discussion. Board members generally liked the approach taken in the RFP issued by Montgomery County in its recent search, and that (posted here) will serve as a model for ours:

Later High School Start Times: At our June work session, the Board chair created a new Ad Hoc committee to help us figure out the best way to move toward our goal of creating later morning high school start times. I'm pleased to be one of four School Board members appointed to this committee, which will have its first meeting next Thursday night (June 21) immediately following our regular School Board meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School.

Student Discipline/Parent Notification: The Board postponed consideration of several new efforts to improve our student discipline policies, including stronger parent notification, for nine months. At the June 7 meeting, the Board approved a committee to do a comprehensive review of the entire Student Rights and Responsibilities, the document that contains our discipline policies, and it will report back to the Board next March. This committee will include parents, students, school administrators, teachers, and specialists such as counselors, social workers, psychologists, hearings officers, School Resource Officers, and juvenile services experts.

I strongly support strengthening parent notification when a student finds him or herself in serious trouble at school. My amendments to the SR&R would have required principals or other administrators to contact parents as soon as a student was suspected of an infraction that could result in a 10-day or more suspension, recommendation for expulsion or criminal charges. The amendments specified that "reasonable efforts" would be made to notify parents before the student was questioned, asked or told to make a written statement or when the student is referred to a School Resource Officer or other police for a potential criminal charge. Exceptions were made to these requirements in cases where there was a danger to students or others.  

A different amendment on parent notification was offered by School Board member Elizabeth Schultz. (see link below for details)  

Another amendment by SBM Ilryong Moon (at-large) would have allowed the principal to keep a suspended student at school while an appealed case went through the hearings process, to reduce the amount of time the student is out of class, as long as the principal believed the student didn't pose a danger.

Finally, another proposal by SBM Megan McLaughlin (Braddock), modeled after a successful program in Arlington County, would have enabled expedited reviews in first-time marijuana possession cases to see if special circumstances exist to allow a punishment other than expulsion. In addition to any suspension or other penalty, it would have required students in those cases to attend an intensive, five-day Alcohol and Other Drug Intervention Seminar.

High school and middle school principals came out in force against the proposed amendments.

A motion to postpone action on the amendments until the new review committee has reported was offered and approved in a 7 to 5 vote. I voted against postponement. After more than a year of debate and consideration of stronger parent notification rules, I believed the Board should have been ready to vote on that issue at least.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the findings of the review committee and will hope that further conversation with principals, parents, students and other stakeholders will yield more consensus on best approaches to student discipline issues.

Here is a link to the SR&R Agenda item, with School Board member proposed amendments at the bottom:

Mason Crest Tours: It's not too late to get a tour of the new school (at 3705 Crest Dr., Annandale), opening this September. The public is invited to come see the new school tomorrow (June 16) 9 am-1 pm and on June 19 and 21, 9-11 am or 5:30-7:30 pm.

Congratulations, Graduates!  

Have a great summer, everyone!