The 2012 Clarke County School Board’s first meeting on Tuesday night offered not only new faces, but a new location as well.
But apparently the citizens in the audience were not the only people in attendance wondering why the School Board 2012 kickoff meeting was taking place in a Berryville Primary School multi-purpose room rather than the County’s modern public meeting space located just a few blocks away.
“I had a question about the location [of the school board meeting] being moved to Berryville Primary school. So I just thought we could clarify?” asked Dr. Elizabeth Leffel, the School Board’s newly elected Buckmarsh representative.
“While we have been delighted and excited to use the Government Center, we actually like to eat, drink, and be merry and we can’t really eat drink and be merry at the Government Center,” responded Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy. “So, for the purpose of coffee and reception and tea and cookies and stuff like that, this school is a very appropriate venue.”
Murphy continued, “The Government Center has been delightful and we certainly will extend, if the School Board agrees to adopt Berryville Primary’s multi-purpose room as its venue, our thanks to both the town of Berryville and the Board of Supervisors for its use. But, there’s just something about being in a school. I think that a lot of people know that and realize that, and it’s also extremely convenient for staff when we realize that we’ve forgotten something at 6:55pm to be able to run over to the School Board office and pick it up. The change in venue was basically to create our own space, to be easily accessible – handicapped accessible – with the opportunity for receptions and other events, for students and the like. It’s a bigger space and a lot more flexible for our purposes.”
However, should the School Board adopt the new venue, it will not be without added cost at a time when school budgets continue to be tight.
Berryville Primary’s multi-purpose room – where last night’s meeting was held – is currently not equipped with audio-visual facilities as are currently in place at the County’s Government Center location. When later asked about the lack of video screens for sharing computer presentations Murphy pointed to an empty wall on the side of the room where a large format screen, which he said has already been ordered, would be mounted.
Acoustics also proved to be challenging at last night’s meeting, although it is not clear whether anything short of a complete renovation of the space will solve the problem. Although each member of the School Board was provided with a microphone, a combination of the room’s 25-foot high ceiling, the drone of the industrial-sized HVAC fan mounted overhead and a row of several soda machines at the rear of the room (which noisily dispensed clunking soft drink cans during the meeting) conspired to make much of the meeting discussion inaudible for the public and School Board members alike.
At one point during a motion School Board member James Brinkmeier (Berryville) said, “Dr. Murphy, I’m only sitting ten feet away from you and I can’t tell whether you just said ‘instruction’ or ‘construction’.”
The change in the School Board meeting venue took place without public input or discussion, however Tuesday night’s meeting did publicly address other proposed meeting changes and highlighted differences in School Board member’s view on citizen participation. One proposed change that resulted in a split vote would have restricted public input into the decision making process.
During the previous School Board’s tenure, public meetings were held twice per month with a public comment period at each meeting. However, last night the School Board agreed to modify its meeting schedule to include a monthly School Board meeting and a monthly “work session” meeting.
During discussions about the rules that will govern the work session meetings, School Board member James Brinkmeier repeatedly called for agreement that the public be allowed to speak at the sessions. Brinkmeier cited increased public participation and improved School Board transparency in asking for agreement.
However, School Board member Janet Alger (Russell) resisted Brinkmeier’s request saying that she believed that there were other channels for the public to make their opinions known to the School Board. After Brinkmeier persisted in his position, School Board member Leffel asked for a vote on the issue. The subsequent vote resulted in a three-to-two vote in favor of allowing public comment at School Board work sessions with Alger and Chip Schutte (White Post) opposed and Leffel, Barbara Lee (Millwood), and Brinkmeier in favor.
Much of last night’s meeting was devoted to organizational appointments for the coming year:
Janet Alger was elected School Board Chairman with Elizabeth Leffel elected as Vice Chairman.
Chip Schutte and Dr. Murphy were appointed to the Joint Administrative Services board.
Barbara Lee will act as Virginia School Board Association delegate and as Special Education Committee member.
Janet Alger and Elizabeth Leffel will serve on the Finance committee and Policy committee.
Community Relations committee will be led by Chip Schutte and Barbara Lee.
James Brinkmeier will lead the Career and Technical committee.