Citizens Concerned Over Education Program Cuts

A small group of citizens and four administrators from Clarke County Public Schools met on Tuesday night to discuss the future of the county’s International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs. One School Board candidate was present at the meeting. And while no School Board members attended, one School Board member still managed to make her presence felt.

About a dozen county citizens involved with the educational funding support group, Concerned Citizens of Clarke County (CCCC), met at a private residence on Tuesday evening to hear Clarke County Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Lisa Floyd, Clarke County High School Principal Jeff Jackson and International Baccalaureate (IB) program administrator and language instructor, Thom Potts express their views on the state of the IB and Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum as well as the future of IB and AP at Clarke County High School.

Based on questions posed from the group, Murphy described a school system that has experienced significant funding cutbacks and continues to struggle with an uncertain funding future.

Murphy cited advanced program testing fees, which had been paid by the school system prior to 2008 but were then eliminated, and participation in the Mountain Vista high school program, which focused on students with engineering aspirations, as examples of damage caused by funding cuts. Murphy said that between the Mountain Vista program and advanced program testing fees alone, the school division has lost around $200K annually.

Murphy said that stipends for sports programs have also seen cuts, but not to the extent that the advanced education programs have seen.

“From 2010 until now, if I understand, the funding for gifted education and IB has been cut from $100K to $10K,” one citizen asked. “During the same time how much has funding been cut for the athletic expenditures? Has it been 90%?”

“Oh no,” Murphy replied. “It goes back to what I said earlier. What do we value, what are our priorities? Athletics and stipends in general have taken some cuts. But, it certainly hasn’t been 90% in any one area or category. It’s the opposite. Our stipend budget may be down 10%-20% but that’s for a $230K-something budget. So, you could be looking at $20K-$25K over the last three years.”

Murphy said that “stipends” are used to help cover not only athletics but VHSL athletic competitions, Knowledge Bowl, musicals and other extracurricular activities. Stipends are also used for other requirements like webpage design and instructional assistants working in teaching roles.

However, Murphy cautioned that pitting advanced education programs against athletic programs can be very divisive in a community and said that the root of the problem was elsewhere.

“I think that the root cause of the conundrum we’re in is that we are a very poorly funded school district,” Murphy said. “And I know that there are folks out there that will debate that until the cows come home. But Table 15, which is the indicator that the Virginia Department of Education uses, puts us at 119 out of 132 [Virginia school districts].”

“We’re as close to the bottom as you can get,” Murphy said. “Nine years ago we were $53 less than the state average in the Commonwealth.   We are about $1,800 less per student than the state average right now, which is about $3.6 million dollars. In the last decade we’ve seen our funding slowly and continually decease. And I certainly wouldn’t advocate that if $3.8M appeared tomorrow… I probably would want to put it in the bank… and have a lot of conversations because, to be perfectly honest with you, in my opinion, this is what’s missing in Clarke County. It’s the conversation. It’s the ability to sit down and dialog with people who are concerned about their kids and education and where all of this is going. ”

“But when you consider that we are 119 out of 132 in funding but that we are 20 out of 132 in our ability to pay, it’s a horrible argument,” another meeting attendee replied.

Murphy pointed out that the cost of switching from advanced programs already in place to something new would also be very expensive, a task, he said, that none of the administration looked forward to doing in a down economy.

Murphy and his school administration have recently found themselves at the center of a broader, division-wide School Board review aimed at determining whether the school system should continue to support advanced educational programs, and if so, to what degree. Since no formal School Board decisions have been made regarding the mix of future advanced and vocational programs, at least one School Board member has expressed concern about school administrators meeting with citizen groups prior to policy decisions being decided.

At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s meeting, CCCC co-founder Laura Dabinett read an electronic mail message from an unnamed Clarke County School Board Member.

“The School Board has not been informed about any of our employees’ presence  at your meeting, and would not have known about it without your e-mail.

You should be aware that the Superintendent and the employees  indicated are not speaking on behalf of the School         Board, and their answers  may not represent the board’s position.

Your group has been very helpful for our school division financially, and  your continued efforts in this regard are greatly appreciated. May I urge all of you to come to both our 2nd work session and our retreat.”

The Clarke Daily News has learned that the message originated from School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post).

“There is a Board work session on October the 5th at 9:30 in the morning at Enders Fire Hall for the purpose of setting Board goals,” Murphy replied. “This is a task that I have tried unsuccessfully to do over the last three and a half years on multiple occasions. But the Board has decided now that it’s time to set goals as they move into the twilight of their tenure as a Board.”

“Are these goals binding on the next Board,” asked unopposed White Post School Board candidate Chip Schutte.

Murphy continued, “Chip will remember the letter that his School Board received a few months before the last election where basically the old Board was told if they passed or made policy decisions between the time of the election and the time of the new Board they’d be sued. And not much took place during that time. Which I thought was an interesting play on democracy.”

Murphy concluded, “History’s important, but also integrity is important. And Jeff and Thom and Lisa and I are here because we have incredible integrity and we don’t need permission to meet with community groups in our community. You are our constituents.”

Murphy and the other administrators received strong support from the CCCC members who appeared to unanimously endorse the funding needed to support and rebuild both of the school division’s advanced programs.

“I want to keep both the IB program and the AP program,” said Chip Schutte after the meeting. “I’ve been talking to college admissions programs with my children and I think that I know what they are looking for. We have to have a balanced program.”

“The IB program offers a wonderful educational approach and I am behind it always,” said CCCC co-founder Laura Dabinett. “I also think that the AP program can be a stepping stone into IB. The funding for the programs needs to be reinstated.”

Comments

  1. Travis Goodwin says:

    I’m glad to see Dr. Murphy and his staff out there advocating for our kids. Still – unless funding is increased locally – more staff will be lost, outdated textbooks and other resources won’t be replaced, new resources won’t be purchased, and programs the students need (such as both a rich advanced curriculum AND a rich vocational curriculum for those who want it) won’t be there, either.

  2. “About a DOZEN county citizens involved with the educational funding support group, Concerned Citizens of Clarke County (CCCC), met at a PRIVATE residence on Tuesday evening to hear Clarke County Superintendent, Dr. Michael Murphy, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Lisa Floyd, Clarke County High School Principal Jeff Jackson and International Baccalaureate (IB) program administrator and language instructor, Thom Potts express THEIR VIEWS on the state of the IB and Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum as well as the future of IB and AP at Clarke County High School.”

    “DOZEN,” “PRIVATE “and “THEIR VIEWS” are typical of the current CCPS Admin/School Board.

    It does not serve the students to have such divisiness in the community. Fourms such as these promote
    ill will.

    • Travis Goodwin says:

      Especially when someone like yourself seeks to create a tempest in a teapot. “Divisiness”? Really?!? They met with reps for the CCCC, which is a group of citizens who have raised a considerable amount of money, from a larger group of citizens, to support some very worthy programs. How is that divisive?

      • I’m sorry you fail to understand how “private” meetings by a “private” group of people with PUBLIC school officials – seeking to influence the PUBLIC school curriculum for ALL children with financial contributions for a UN affiliated program is divisive.

        I suppose you wouldn’t mind then if Tea Party members met privately with elementary school Principals and wrote checks in order to get the schools to teach Intelligent Design, right?

    • So if I understand Sunny, the administration should not take the opportunity to meet with a group of a “dozen” taxpayers and parents to hear and respond to their concerns at a “private” home. Perhaps they should remain locked down in their school buildings by day, and not allowed to converse with the parents and taxpayers who pay them. If administrators are precluded from hearing “their views” and make recommendations and decisions in a complete vaccum we will somhow be better off.

      Okay, I get it.

    • Dr. Murphy and his team met with 12 citizens who, on their own volition, pulled together a group of concerned citizens to help raise funds (because funds were cut by the BoS) to offset programmatic costs of the IB & AP program, and which benefit students. (Sounds a bit like you’re jealous of whatever “pursestrings” they have.) The CCCC absolutely IS like the PTO, or the Athletic or Band Boosters, or the EAA; it is a group of like-minded individuals who have joined up to support a program financially. The 4 who spoke, as you said lower down, have every right to meet and speak with whomever they choose. It was a conversation, and no “policy” was decided that night. Get over your pettiness and “divisiness” yourself.

  3. livein22611 says:

    Sounds to me like Dr. Murphy is a bit bitter. Frankly, the results of the school system fall on his shoulders and he is failing. He cannot continue to blame everything on Robina. Maybe it’s time for him to look for a new job. He sounds as divisive as the old superintendent. Stop passing the buck and take some responsibility.

    • Berryville resident says:

      Dr. Murphy may be overpaid, but he is not failing. He is open minded and our school system is fortunate to have his leadership. I hope he stays. There is too much tax burden on the property owner. We need a broader tax base, such as from a Wendy’s by Food Lion. New technology gadgets are expensive! Do they distract or enhance student learning?

  4. nancy martin says:

    Goodness! If the adults in the room can’t behave, how the heck do we expect the children to do so? And speaking metaphorically: before I put my kid on the bus, I want to know who’s driving it. Don’t you?

  5. Because I Care says:

    Now wouldn’t funding be much easier with a broader tax base? Such as a few well placed chain businesses at the major intersections in the county?

    • You don’t place these businesses. They place themselves where their demographic studies tell them the customer base is sufficient to justify the decision to expand.

      • B-ville Native says:

        I’d say, that would be the most sufficient spots! Don’t you think, Bob?

        • I’m sorry; I don’t understand what you mean by “the most sufficient spots.” That being said, imho if chain business had any desire to locate in Clarke they would have done so in better times when Alton Echols and Wilkins (?) were developing the large Berryville expansion.

  6. It’s the fault of the BOS, people.

  7. “to be perfectly honest with you, in my opinion, this is what’s missing in Clarke County. It’s the conversation. It’s the ability to sit down and dialog with people who are concerned about their kids and education and where all of this is going. ”

    I would agree wholeheartedly, but the pretext for such conversations is acknowledging that we all have shortcomings and together we can advance the entire system. What we get instead is a false sense of “everything is fine, but let’s see how we can make it even better.”

    Until that conversation can be rooted in reality, no one will be interested in devoting the time and energy needed to actually solve the difficult problems facing our little school system. There are many layers of brokenness in the system that can be fixed, but until they are acknowledged by the administration as broken, and the people responsible for oversight and administration of those areas are held accountable, there is no hope of improvement.

    I think Mike Murphy has done a good job with a bad situation. He needs help and if we can sand off the varnish and get real, there are many people out there that will volunteer their time and energy to help.

    • Very well said, James. I too am hoping to hear some acknowledgement and accountability from Dr. Murphy and the school board.

      A little less cheerleading and a little more acknowledgement at school board meetings from someone other than Robina ( who, despite her style, is simply doing what we’ve asked of her) would be a good start.

      But, until as you say, the conversation is “rooted in reality”, I see no promise of community support.

      And, BTW, I do not consider myself a constiuent of Mr. Potts or Drs. Floyd, Jeffs or Murphy. I am however a consituent of my my elected school board member. Dr. Murphy, while an officer of the commonwealth, is NOT an elected offical. ( Not that I wouldn’t mind a good speech on a soapbox @Church and Main)

  8. CollegeKnowledge says:

    The comment made by CCCC co-founder Laura Dabinett needs to be corrected. The IB Programme and the AP Program are both different in their structure, but very similar in their intent – they both give high school students an opportunity to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Depending on the college they attend, these courses can lead to advanced placement (skipping entry-level courses) or sometimes even receiving college credit for the coursework completed under these programs. http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c21984.htm

    College Admissions Officers regard both these programs in an equal way when looking at potential students’ transcripts; neither program is a stepping stone into the other program – they are both college-level courses taken by high school students.

    It is important for groups such as the CCCC group to disseminate accurate details about these two programs when being asked for comments; otherwise, confusion and inaccuracies will only cause further divisiveness.

  9. Tammy Lanham says:

    Thanks to the CDN for reporting on meetings and work sessions supported by community members- it is great to know Clarke County parents and administrators are working together to support our little school system! It is so true the BOS have limited our potential tax revenues the past few decades – and as a result they have also severely limited services and facilities Clarke citizens want and need.

    There are many layers of brokenness but it is not in the school system. By continuing to devote time and energy to improving our community, I have no doubt citizens will find a way to work together and bring about positive change. I have seen strong support for the Senior Center, FISH clothing and food banks, fire and rescue services, the community center programs as well as for public education. We are blessed to have so many” concerned” citizens who are willing to have “conversation”s in private and public settings on a regular basis. That’s what makes us a strong community!

    Bottom line: under Dr. Murphy’s leadership our school system has held up well despite severe funding cuts the last couple of years. It is actually incredible how our school system’s leaders have continued to make advances in public education while facing the sad reality of inappropriate funding.

    As long as we have community leaders who are genuinely interested in the people they have been entrusted to serve, I do have hope. Success is not just about funding priorities, I believe success is a mindset. And by working together we will continue to improve!

  10. @Tammy Lanham “There are many layers of brokenness but it is not in the school system”

    I’m afraid it is the school system. While there are other contributing factors, the school system has the ability to fix what’s broken and this kind of deflection is exactly what we are already getting instead of honest discourse about the nature of the problems. The symptoms of the problems are everywhere. SOL scores that are indefensible, failure to pass AYP again (which if it happens again will allow the state to step in to begin real changes) and advanced high school courses that have questionable value and results.

    The actions we have seen thus far to mitigate these problems are tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    But it is not a hopeless situation. It does however, require some very frank and honest assessments that we simply are not seeing. The propaganda that comes out says, “everything is great, let’s make it even better.” We who watch and have real discussions amongst ourselves with people involved and the people impacted by the current state of affairs can all see it is not great. We are also eager to help but cannot help a system that refuses to be forthcoming about the nature and depth of its problems.

    The attempts to stifle real discussion with cheer leading do not advance discussion and certainly make the likelihood of real discussions occurring extremely slim.

    • All you need to do is look at the policy of allowing late assignments and test retakes to see why CCPS and other school systems are having failures at standardized tests that don’t allow retakes.

      Winchester Public Schools is the latest school system to join this utterly ridiculous policy.

    • Tony Parrott says:

      James,
      “It’s the ability to sit down and dialog with people who are concerned about their kids and education and where all of this is going.”
      Isn’t that what the CCCC and anyone else who wanted to join the meeting were doing? Having a conversation?

      As for the shortcomings in our educational system I can honestly say Dr. Murphy has never painted a rose colored picture that “everything is fine” to my knowledge. I would even invite you to have that conversation with him and see if that is what you hear. I hear we are doing well with the resources we have available but that is far from where we want to be.

      Also I respectfully disagree with you if you believe the school system is the only problem and they have the ability to “Fix” everything that’s wrong. I believe it’s the school system, SB, BOS and ultimately the voters/tax payers of Clarke County. That means me and you and everyone else. You can’t cut education to the bone and expect tremendous results just as you can’t throw money at a problem and expect it to magically get better. You have to have people in place with a plan (and I believe we have that) that are also frugal and good stewards of the tax dollar (I also believe we have that too). Then you have to be willing to invest; at least to the state average. We have the means to do better but we choose not to. For real change to happen that must be part of the equation.

  11. Tony Says:

    James,
    “It’s the ability to sit down and dialog with people who are concerned about their kids and education and where all of this is going.”
    Isn’t that what the CCCC and anyone else who wanted to join the meeting were doing? Having a conversation?

    No, Tony they are not. They are a select group of individuals with a selective adgenda without pubic invitation and more importantly- pursestrings. The future of IB is a decision of PUBLIC SCHOOL POLICY for the School Board, AND ONLY the School Board . This is how democracy works.

    This is not the PTO or Athletic Boosters. The invited attendees rom CCPS are appointed members from our ELECTED school board . While they are free to meet with anyone at anytime; a press release smacks of bad politics and dissention.

    • Tony Parrott says:

      “This is how democracy works”
      Well Sunny, you are right. That is how democracy works. Citizens getting together to voice their opinion about something that is important to them. A lot like Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party and so on. But this is local and grass roots so I assume you disagree with them as you believe they are a select group of people.

      It is not a select group of people with some hidden agenda. I’m sure if you wanted to know more you could get invited to their next meeting. If you reply back with your email address I’m sure they will add you to the mailer. I was invited but had a football team to coach that night. The agenda was simple; fundraising and a discussion on IB and advanced programs with school officials. Doesn’t seem earth shattering to me.
      As for the future of IB and advanced programs you are also correct, it will ultimately be a SB decision but if a SB makes the decision in a vacuum not taking into account the citizens of the county, their constituents, then it isn’t democracy at all. It’s a one vote mandated dictatorship. Fortunately for my kids it’s a board and not a kingdom.