New School Board, New Meeting Place

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.

2012 Clarke County School Board (l-r front) Janet Alger, Barbara Lee (rear) Elizabeth Leffel, James Brinkmeier and Chip Schutte - Photo Edward Leonard

“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.

 

Comments

  1. After the previous school board, I would think public participation is a no brainer, so long as it is managed well.

  2. Good Gravy! says:

    Such a poor decision to have SB meetings take place at Primary. Anyone who has spent any time in the multi purpose room ( cafeteria) knows just how poor the acoustics are. All the AV equipment in the world cannot solve this problem. As for wanting to have something to eat and the ability to retrive forgotten items; take a lesson from my child’s teacher:

    ” Eat BEFORE you come to school, and DON”T forget your homework”.

    To give up a beautiful meeting area with complete AV equipment ( and comfy seats for the audience) is
    absurd.

    This appears to be a legal move in which once the SB is own their own “turf”, they can include or ban anyone they so chose from attending meetings on “their” property.

  3. The Printer says:

    It is their Board and they can meet at Old Man Henry’s Barn if they choose to!

  4. This has little to do with the school board. This is once again a case of a superintendent run amok. Murphy keeps making unilateral decisions and forcing them upon the school board and is continually running averse to the state laws that frame his and their responsibilities. To put it simply, Murphy is seemingly unaware or not accepting of his part in the (redacted) relationship.

    • Tony Parrott says:

      DumDum (how appropriate),
      What are you talking about? The SB will meet wherever the SB decides. And if you didn’t notice they needed to meet in a location this is easily accessible to Barbra Lee; pull your head out of your tail pipe. I recall when the last SB decided to use the GOV Center. Great site; sometimes the audio didn’t work and the projection system didn’t work either. These are small kinks in the first meeting of a new SB; relax!
      As for Dr. Murphy you obviously have some personal vendetta DumDum. My hope is he will move from “firemen” to superintendant and be allowed to do his job. Just like in the business world a CEO you can’t be successful without the support of the board.
      Truly if location of the SB meeting is all people have to complain about then this is going to be a GREAT year.

      • Good Gravy! says:

        Tony,

        As a parent of a handicaped child, I find your remarks about Ms. Lee and your defense of Dr. Murphy ( on the handicaped accessibility of Primary) offensive.

        The new government center is completely (and state of the art) ADA compliant..

        My child has had no problems pushing the buttons in the elevator and navigating the building, and I assure you his condition is far more debilitating than Ms, Lee’s.

        • Yes, but unfortunately when meetings run late the elevator is often shut down and we had to use the stairs because we did not have the key to operate the elevator. It would be awful to be up there at 11pm with a wheelchair and an inoperable elevator.

          I was at the meeting on Monday night and I am not crazy about the Primary multipurpose room either, however, our children use that building every day. It really was not that terrible. And the idea that people could have coffee, water, cookies, etc. was a nice touch. It was meant to be welcoming. Unfortunately some find it just one more reason to beat up a hard working man who has our children and our system’s best interest at heart and has done an amazing job in spite of the constant contention.

          The new Board had a good first meeting and seem to work together well. Ultimately it will be their decision if they wish to change the location of future meetings.

          By the way, the “editor” is well aware that the “large format screen” that has already been ordered was ordered for school related purposes aside from the meetings. It was $1800. The principles have been asking for it for a long time and will put it to good use. At least our other local news source puts editorial commentary on the editorial page under the heading “Our View”.

          Finally, I understand that those of you who use an alias have good reason to fear being stalked by individuals who do not appreciate your comments but it does make one wonder how many different monikers are attributable to one individual.

          jennifer

          CDN Editor: The only purpose mentioned to CDN for the large format screen was for School Board meetings. Other uses may be envisioned but that information was not related by school officials nor was CDN aware of it, if the reader’s suggestion is, in fact, correct.

        • Tony Parrott says:

          Good Gravy,
          If I offended I’m sorry. My comment was not met to be offensive to people who are handicapped. It was merely an observation. The distance between the handicapped parking and the multipurpose room (cafeteria) is much shorter. I had no idea about the elevator issue.
          As for Ms. Lee I talked to her Monday night and I don’t believe she would be offended by my comment.
          I do find it ironic however that people in our community have issues with using a school facility. If it is good enough for the children then you can also endure.

  5. Uncle Jessie says:

    Where’s Robina when you need her- (redacted ) wouldn’t of pulled this trick on her watch.

    “Forgot something at 6:55”, “Coffee, tea, cookies..”- come on seriously?

    How about skipping the BS and run an efficient, transparent meeting that’s clear in its agenda and allows for community feedback?

    • Tony Parrott says:

      She was in the audience with me, thank GOD.
      Mark my words allowing public feedback during a work session will be a problem. How much work will get done when someone hijacks the meeting or they bring 40 friends with them to complain about parking, bus loops, lack of macaroni and cheese during lunch, etc. If I heard correctly even Robina thought this was a bad idea; at least when she was on the other side of the table.
      The public has the ability to voice opinions. Email, phone call, public meeting even hear on the CDN. Other than the CDN you would have to use your real name….Is that a problem?

      • Mr Mister says:

        I have seen Robina on both sides of the table. It’s a shame there are people like you who disrespect her on both sides.

        • Let us know the reasons why you don’t like which side of the table she is one? It’s not a secret!

        • Tony Parrott says:

          Funny, I have never considered disagreeing with Robina as a lack of respect. On the contrary, I actually have a lot of respect for Robina and we have also had a lot of disagreements.
          Now, am I funny and sarcastic from time to time? Yes.

          I actually believe hiding behind an alias to make comments about people in our community is DISRESPECTFUL. What do you think?

      • RasputinSays says:

        The change of venues is simply odd.

        If you do a straight up comparison of the facilities in question for ADA compliance Primary falls far short of the government center. It may be easy to get in the door at Primary but the bathrooms are certainly not ADA compliant. As to the elevator access after hours point brought up in another comment, I am confident that problem could be navigated with the appropriate parties if it was addressed formally.

        However the real problem with Primary is that it’s just not a good place for the public to hear a School Board meeting. The acoustics are horrible, the ice machine is loud, and the whole point is to have the meeting in a place where the public can attend and hear the proceedings. If we can’t do that, there is a problem and apparently the Board members couldn’t even hear each other.

        It seems like the decision was made in a void when there were other voices could have contributed some wisdom to the selection of an appropriate location

  6. Government works best when those elected understand their job requirements. The public commentary needs to be well ordered and respectful. My only comment to ANY person wishing to hold public office is that if you don’t want to hear feedback directly from the public, perhaps you should reconsider holding public office. This is not the school system of five particular people, I have met and spoken with Janet Alger; While I find her both intelligent and capable of the position, I think that she needs to hear public commentary AND be able to defend decisions she makes on our behalf.. She has that capability and would do it quite well.
    I think Mr Parrot’s point that the meetings could get out of hand is valid. There must be a way to conduct a public meeting with feedback.

  7. A note concerning Public Comment:

    Indeed, you do not want a public comment session to get out of hand. This has in fact happened only once in my four year term, where happily a Federal Court jury upheld the Chairman’s ability to control the meeting if the crowd got rowdy.

    I would also like to draw everyone’s attention to a school board policy regulation 2-36A Rules of Decorum for Public Comment at School Board meetings. , which clearly outlines the dos and don’ts of the public comment period. It’s very straightforward, and under the Chairman’s control.

    RRB

  8. Just Sayin says:

    RRB, Perhaps you could be available during SB meetings to control the public response?

  9. livein22611 says:

    The article shows that the decision to move the meeting place was Murphy’s decision, not that of the school board. He is telling them where to meet. Looks like a powerplay to me. Time wil tell……

  10. My 2 Cents says:

    Dr. Murphy:

    Please know that you have the support of most in this community. For some reason people always B***H and Moan and want an axe to grind! I have spoken with you several times and find you very refreshing and a great person leading our schools. Just know that for every Tom, Dick, and Robina that bashes you, there are plenty more that supports you! Thank you for your hard-work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!